What does Working Together mean for you as an applicant?
When you need to consider Working Together
Projects which address the Working Together priority can be found across our portfolio. Working Together is relevant to researchers in every area.
Working Together is, with one exception, not compulsory for applicants to the ICT Theme. But it is a key part of many successful projects. Over the last two years we have found that proposals which address the Working Together priority have at least as much chance of receiving funding as those which do not.
As an applicant you should feel confident and comfortable in citing the Working Together priority in the proposals you send to us, and in using it to help guide your research projects. As a reviewer you should feel a similar confidence in EPSRC's willingness to support this kind of work.
If you are applying for an ICT Fellowship your proposal and interview will need to explain how you will contribute to the aims of the Working Together priority. Programme Grant applicants should normally be able to explain how their ideas require more than just a supersized project, meaning that our largest investments usually contribute to Working Together.
How you can contribute to Working Together
There are many ways of working together which, on their own or in combination, might reflect the aims of this priority. We recognise that Working Together is very broad, and that when writing a proposal it might be hard to identify exactly 'what EPSRC wants'.
We are deliberately not specifying particular actions or activities that applicants should build into their proposals. Instead we want you to do whatever you feel is necessary to help shape the UK's ICT research landscape towards a state in which it is working together more effectively. This, as far as can be said, is 'what EPSRC wants'.
Some examples of funded projects which we feel are relevant to Working Together can be found on this website. The concepts below are examples of what working together might mean for a particular person or in the context of a specific proposal. They are not exhaustive and should not be seen as a check-list. In the end, Working Together applications need to make the case for benefit to ICT research as a result of working together in new ways. The exact nature of those ways is very much up to applicants to describe.
Progress in research does not often come in the form of leaps forward which are unsupported by advances in other areas. Dependencies are the rule rather than the exception, and ICT is no exception to that rule. Working Together proposals might reflect the fact that advances in one area of research will often rely on parallel progress in others, or on particular pieces of new knowledge or understanding developed within them. Research is not necessarily a relay process in which a baton is passed; often it is more like a team game where each member has a defined role of their own to play and depends on others to ensure overall success.
Different areas of research or groups of researchers sometimes find themselves working on the same problem using similar techniques but perhaps starting from different places. For instance, is the question of how to get a robot to correctly identify, say, the buttered side of a piece of toast an AI issue, a robotics issue, a machine vision issue or something else? In reality all those areas of research and more might have something useful to say or exciting and novel to add. Rather than each researcher developing a separate approach it may sometimes be more useful to draw on each-others' expertise and converge a solution from the best component parts.
Upstream - downstream
Sometimes research is more like a relay than a team game. Work which is 'upstream' - further, in some sense, from application, in some way - needs to be handed over effectively to someone who can take it 'downstream' - closer to application in some sense, even if the application is in further research - if it is to fulfil its potential. Sometimes this happens naturally and easily, sometimes it does not. Whose responsibility is it to make sure that the baton is passed? Working Together is an opportunity for researchers to ensure a smooth handover and to allow upstream research to move downstream.
Inside - outside ICT
Inter- and multidisciplinary working is a perennial challenge and a particularly important one for ICT research, which is so often an enabler for broader impact or advances in other areas. The interfaces of ICT with other fields continue to provide rich sources of innovative ideas and challenges of all kinds. ICT research can be as much a beneficiary of work in these areas as the related disciplines. Working Together is a good vehicle to support collaboration of this type, as long as it has exciting new ICT work at its heart.
There are numerous acknowledged problems or issues in ICT which can be described as 'shared challenges'. For example, there is a 'big data' challenge, an autonomy challenge, an energy efficiency challenge, a security challenge... The list goes on. These challenges are often not well defined but researchers tend to understand what they mean, in the context of their work, sufficiently well to address them without the need for a formal call or funding mechanism. Working Together asks researchers from a broad range of disciplines to address shared challenges, whatever they are and however they are described.
Although EPSRC is 'the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences' we are not the only one, and in some areas are not even the major funder. By aligning EPSRC funding with support from other sources, offered with different aims, new connections may be made or new pathways to impact opened up. Working Together is an opportunity to build on, widen and strengthen work funded by other organisations.
International collaboration is another aspect of research that is universally agreed to be a) potentially very valuable and b) almost always difficult to do. For more information on international working, see the International partnerships page.
The dimensions outlined above are not definitive, comprehensive or tidily delineated. They tend to smear into each other and share some aspects. Other ways of fitting the aims of the Working Together priority are doubtless possible, as are combinations of those outlined here. What matters - and works - is the aim and spirit of the priority, not box ticking to fit to as many dimensions as possible.