How to win with the ESRC’s Secondary Data Analysis Initiative

By Michael Reilly


ESRC Research Grant success rates for business and management researchers are challenging. For the last few years, roughly 1 in 20 applications get the nod. But other ESRC funding opportunities offer much better rates of return. Of 96 outline bids submitted to the Secondary Data Analysis Initiative, 18 were fully funded. A briefing session organised by venerable Research Services Funding Officer Brian Lingley that also starred Dr Tina Haux of SPSSR on the 4 February 2016 offered valuable advice.


Your project should have a time-scale of up to 18 months. Funding up to £200K is available. Applications are evaluated in March, July and November so apply 3-4 months in advance of these dates.You can also use non-ESRC datasets where appropriate. But the research should be UK-focused unless theoretically justified. You’ll also need an ECR attached to the project. The ECR should not be just a “data monkey but should have a substantive role – author, dissemination, skills development, possibly training opportunities etc. Take note that development opportunities for the next generation of researchers are very important to the ESRC. On balance though, making the ECR the PI is probably a stretch.

Both impact and innovation are important

Try to identify and communicate with potential consumers of the research. Be creative about this – involve stakeholders from the start and collaborate throughout the project. Use sophisticated dissemination – plain vanilla seminars are deemed no longer sufficient. Letters of support from non-academic stakeholders will help your case for funding. Be innovative with the data or your method. Think about combining data sources. For example, look at data linkage done by ADRN Network.

How are proposals assessed?

Shortlisting is carried out by 2 academics and 1 user review who will subsequently introduce these proposals to a Review Panel. The Review Panel also has 2 academics and 1 user who could be economists, sociologists, political scientists, industry experts, govt folks etc. By now you will need a supporter in the room – and so be clear in communicating your proposal because no one will necessarily be an expert in your field. Introducers use a 10 point scale to assess, whereas Reviewers use a 6 point scale. Costs tend not to be discussed unless people from other countries are involved in your bid.

In practice what are the criteria for success?

In no particular order: 1) Contribution to knowledge; 2) Innovation; 3) Letters of support/external collaboration; 4) ECR role; 5) Important topic; 6) You can deliver i.e. publications, impact; 7) Clarity on case for funding; 8) Professorial Lead. Dr Tina Haux who is often asked to sit on the Review Panel is  happy to informally peer review any proposals. Examples of funded projects can be found here –,

Good Luck!

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