The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) is one of several new funds that provide significant opportunities for social science research. The funding landscape is going through a period of rapid change and social scientists must be suitably prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that funds such as ISCF provide.

We have provided further information about the changing funding landscape and how you can prepare yourself for applying for the new funds:

Opportunities for social science

There is huge potential for the social sciences to make meaningful contributions to the ISCF challenges.

Social science provides insights into many aspects of the business environment, including:

  • consumer behaviour and public attitudes
  • identifying opportunities for new goods, services and business models
  • improving supply chain relationships
  • maximising the value of consumer, health and other data
  • understanding sector workforces and the capacity for transformation.

Social science also has a pivotal role to play in understanding the challenges themselves so that solutions take the economic, psychological, social, legal, geographic and wider implications for people and communities into account.

For example, in the Healthy Ageing challenge, this may mean understanding how older people make choices about the things that they buy and how these things can be designed to be usable by them. It may also mean that in addressing the need for healthier ageing there is also deep awareness of the huge impact of social isolation and how new business models, community practices and services need to tackle loneliness. 

Some of the research needs for each challenge might come in unexpected places. For example, the Transforming Construction challenge looks at how we could be more productive in creating homes and public buildings (such as schools and prisons) by using off-site manufacturing, digital technologies and energy-generating technologies. As well as developing the technology, we also need to understand the impacts of these innovations on the users of the buildings (residents, teachers, students, inmates and prison officers), drawing on expertise from across and beyond the social sciences.

    About the ISCF

    In 2017, the government launched a new Industrial Strategy aiming to boost productivity and earning power throughout the UK. The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) was developed to support this aim. 

    A key aspect of this new, additional funding is its multidisciplinary approach with social science research often at the heart of the solutions.   

    Funding for the challenges is creating new ways of working between industrial partners and academia, and between disciplines. There are opportunities for a diverse range of projects and activities, such as research programmes, collaborative research and development projects, new centres of excellence, networks and demonstrator projects. In most of these, social science has a leading role to play in understanding the challenges, looking at the impacts of innovation on society, addressing behaviour or cultural changes, looking at adoption challenges, addressing local economic growth or understanding supply chains and the global market.


    The ISCF aims to bring together leading researchers and businesses to tackle major industrial and societal challenges. The Industrial Strategy has four Grand Challenges, to which all of the ISCF challenges are aligned: 

    • Artificial intelligence and data 
    • Clean growth
    • Future of mobility
    • Ageing society

    Each ISCF challenge is being defined in collaboration with industry, researchers, national, local and regional governments and many others. Each year, a new wave of ISCF challenges is announced. A key component of the supported activities is the need for engagement and collaboration with businesses and industry.

     The first wave of challenges was launched in 2017. A second wave was launched in 2018. A third wave was launched in 2019. For more information on specific challenges, see the UKRI ISCF website at the following link:

    How much funding is available?

    Each challenge has a dedicated fund ranging from £20 million up to £246 million. Many of the funds will be matched by a similar sum from industry.

    Within the dedicated funds, each challenge will have specific opportunities. UKRI will publish details of specific funding opportunities as they are announced.

    Current ISCF opportunities

    We will publish links to ESRC ISCF funding opportunities when they are announced. We publish the most relevant opportunities for social science in the funding opportunities section of our website but there may be other calls led by others in UKRI (e.g. InnovateUK, NERC or EPSRC) which may be of relevance to you. We encourage you to check all of the funding opportunity pages regularly:

    Other opportunities are published on the UKRI and websites:

    Who can apply?

    Specific rules and guidance for applying will be detailed in each funding call. Each call varies and will include details of where industry-led or academic-led collaborations are welcome. 

    How to apply and get involved

    The ISCF is an interdisciplinary initiative, which means that there will be opportunities for social scientists to get involved in calls that are led by ESRC and also by other UKRI councils. For example, a call led by Innovate UK or EPSRC may still be relevant to social scientists. There are no discipline restrictions on research calls. If you are eligible and can contribute to the challenge, you can apply. Opportunities will be published on the ESRC and UKRI websites.

    Most opportunities will have consortium-building and brokering events run by the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN):

    The short timescales involved, and the need for collaboration with businesses, mean that it’s important to start building relationships now with organisations if you carry out research in an area which could be covered by the ISCF. This could include building relationships with businesses and industry groups as well as with colleagues in other disciplines who might already have business connections.

    Key dates

    Opportunities will continue to be announced until at least 2021.

      Further information

      If you have any questions, please email our ISCF team: