People at the Heart of ICT

Aim of the Priority

Research in ICT affects people daily, whether it is electronics, communication systems, computer science or many of the other types of ICT, people engage with ICT either as commissioners or as direct users and often without even knowing it. The aim of the 'People at the Heart of ICT' priority is to encourage researchers to consider the relationship people have with ICT and ICT-enabled systems whilst developing and during their research proposals. This ranges from considering the needs of the user, through to the impact these technologies could have on people. We are asking researchers to acknowledge these relationships and explore ways to ensure that the role of people informs their research.

Summary

The priority encourages applicants to consider all stakeholders, and their needs, perception and experience of ICT, in their research. Researchers are asked to carry out research in a responsible manner, to produce technologies that are trusted, safe and ethical, as well as considering unintended impact.

Why now?

EPSRC have led a number of previous initiatives designed to encourage the consideration of people in ICT research and there are many examples of this approach in the current portfolio. However, as information communication technologies continue to pervade our lives at an ever increasing pace, now more than ever there is a need for the whole ICT community to consider the needs of anyone who will interact with and/or be impacted by the technology throughout the research process.

Is this impact?

Whilst many communities have an understanding of the importance of articulating the potential impact of a research proposal, People at the Heart of ICT is aimed at designing all ICT research proposals with people in mind. The consideration of people before and throughout a research project can increase the richness research leading to exciting challenges and opportunities and improved take-up of the results.

The aim of the People at the Heart priority is to encourage researchers to move beyond abstract notions of 'the user' and develop a more detailed and realistic understanding of the stakeholders in their research and thus design solutions with their specific needs in mind. Researchers are asked to consider the implications of designing ICT systems which meet the different needs of a diverse range of people with varying degrees of expertise and which benefit a wider set of society. In addition, consideration of people should lead to a focus on Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) and an exploration of the desired and undesired consequences of ICT research.

Which ICT research areas does this apply to?

This priority is about all researchers across the ICT landscape considering the potential impact of ICT systems on people throughout the lifetime of their research, as part of the core of their methodology, and changing their approach as necessary.

For some elements of the ICT portfolio considering the diverse range of people which are impacted by a given piece of research is a significant change. The ICT Theme will continue to develop further guidance for applicants and examples of best practice as this becomes embedded practice.

How is the Priority being used by EPSRC?

This priority is primarily about encouraging a long term behavioural change in the community. Applicants are encouraged to consider the priority when submitting any proposal to the theme through the Council's schemes.

Long-term behaviour change requires leadership. The ICT theme therefore expects all applications for Fellowships and programme grant to the ICT Theme to address this priority within their proposals.

What does this mean for applicants?

The People at the Heart of ICT priority will mean different things for different research projects. For Programme Grants and Fellowships there are specific requirements, detailed below. For other applicants we would hope to see reference to People at the Heart of ICT within the Case for Support.

How and where to address in your proposals

The role of people in informing a research proposal will vary across the portfolio and from project to project. Different areas of research can be considered to have different levels of impact on people and on different timescales. The level of consideration of the priority in the proposal writing and ultimately in a research project, should be proportionate to this; supporting high quality research is still the Council's primary aim.

Where included in a proposal, alignment with People at the Heart of ICT can be expressed within the National Importance section alongside discussing alignment with other relevant EPSRC priorities or research areas. In the spirit of the priority, it is expected to influence the programme of work and outputs, and so could also feature in the research methodology or Pathways to Impact.

We have provided some examples of how to apply to People at the Heart of ICT (PDF), alongside a framework of questions which may help applicants consider how this is relevant to their proposal.

Fellowships

When applying for a fellowship please include a cover letter, for EPSRC office staff, which details how you have addressed this priority; this should also be apparent in the proposal. You should address this in terms of your specific research but also in your role as a leader in the community. The fit to this priority will be considered by peer review both at the sift and interview stage.

Programme Grants

When applying for a programme grant please detail in the proposal how you have addressed this priority. The fit to this priority will be queried by the office at the pre-outline stage, where further guidance will be given. You then be required to articulate how you have addressed this priority in a cover letter at outline stage and only proposals that have make a suitable commitment will be invited to submit a full proposal. Interview panels will also be briefed on the requirement for applications to contribute to this priority and may question applicants as part of their assessment against the Importance assessment criteria.

Who are 'People'?

The priority asks researchers to consider the people whom will be affected, positively or negatively, by the proposed research and the ICT or ICT-enabled systems that would be developed as a result. Research should be proposed with these people in mind. The priority is not about making sure that the outputs are disseminated to the appropriate audiences, rather it is about designing the research with people in mind.

There can be no definitive list of people to think about but applicants might want to consider:

  • The general public, as users of ICT or ICT-enabled systems
  • Specific sub-groups of the general public, such as adults, women, minority groups, children, elderly people, rural communities, patients, disabled people, etc.
  • Expert and non-expert users
  • Government and government agencies
  • Service providers (e.g. city councils, NHS, telecommunications companies)
  • Regulators and standards bodies
  • Manufacturers and those involved in maintenance
  • People who could unintentionally be impacted by the research

Researchers are asked to remember that multiple individuals and/or groups might interact with, have an interest in, or be affected by the research and are encouraged to think about the needs, perceptions and experiences of them all, not just a primary 'user' or stakeholder.

How?

In the Questions document (PDF) below you will find examples as to how this priority might be addressed. These are based on discussions with the community, and ideas that have come forward so far, but do not provide a checklist of what to do and are by no means a complete list of options. They are simply meant to help explain the priority further and give some initial guidance about how to align a proposal with it.

In addition, in this link you will find a set of questions designed to help applicants explore the notion of People at the Heart of ICT and how it applies to their proposal. This does not represent an exhaustive list of considerations, nor would every proposal require answers to all of these questions.