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How we fund research

The Modern Slavery PEC funds impactful research. Learn how our funding works.

The Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (the Modern Slavery PEC) was created by the investment of public funding to enhance the understanding of modern slavery and transform the effectiveness of laws and policies designed to address it.

The Modern Slavery PEC is funded and actively supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), with support from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), on behalf of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), from the Strategic Priorities Fund. The Centre is a consortium of six partner organisation led by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law.

The Modern Slavery PEC is designed to provide independent, impartial and authoritative insight and analysis on modern slavery based on high quality research it commissions, aiming to have a transformational impact on the understanding of modern slavery and the responses to it.

To do this, the Modern Slavery PEC funds cutting-edge research, as well as working with researchers funded from other sources and carrying research internally. The priorities for our research are defined in our strategy, formulated after an extensive and inclusive consultation on our research priorities, involving detailed feedback from academics, policymakers, and other actors from the sector, including people with lived experience.

Our research is underpinned guided by our three guiding principles.

  1. Effectiveness: the aim that research should address evidence gaps relevant to policy and improve understanding of what works.
  2. Equity: the aim that research should address structural inequalities, root causes and wider issues of social justice alongside a more equitable approach to allocation of research funding.
  3. Survivor-involvement: the aim that research should involve people affected by modern slavery at all stages, from selection, through design, production and implementation.

Funding mechanisms

We have developed three mechanisms for delivering our research. These differing but complementary mechanisms enable us to meet our research priorities based upon urgency, scale, type of research required, level of curation needed and the resource available.

  1. Modern Slavery PEC open research calls.
    This mechanism is based on commissioning of research through open calls, administered directly by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The calls are focused and targeted to a specific research priority of the Modern Slavery PEC and look at broader themes around modern slavery, over a longer period of time.
  2. Responsive Research
    Research funded and administered directly by the Modern Slavery PEC, where we commission researchers to answer specific questions and evidence gaps through responsive and agile research projects. We will promote diversity, relevance and transparency across our work by opening this mechanism up to non-traditional research partners, including non-academic and early career researchers.
  3. Partner-led Work Strands
    Research undertaken by our six Consortium partners involving multiple pieces of work, such as evidence reviews and rapid response policy briefs, carried out around set themes.

Learn more about each mechanism of funding our research, and how you can apply for funding below.

1. Modern Slavery PEC open research calls

What is it?

The Modern Slavery PEC open research calls are publicly advertised research opportunities, open to any eligible research organisation (see below), administered directly through the Arts and Humanities Research Council in close collaboration with the Modern Slavery PEC.

This mechanism uses established processes within the AHRC to fund projects that work over a period of six to 24 months. The Modern Slavery PEC open research calls are run approximately once per year with multiple projects being funded per call. This research covers the broad themes of the Centre with projects generating high-quality evidence and establishing partnerships across the sector. You can see the projects from the PEC’s two previous open calls on the impact of Covid-19 on modern slavery and on survivor recovery.

Who can carry out the research?

Research must be led by a research institution eligible for funding under the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) guidelines. Principal Investigators - people in charge of the research projects - must be based at or affiliated with a UK-based research institution and this institution must host the project. Hosting the project means that this organisation is responsible for submitting the application form, and, if successful, all contracts and funding will flow through this institution. This organisation is ultimately responsible for the research being delivered.

Projects under this stream might include a range of Co-Investigators, individuals who make significant contributions, but don’t have overall responsibility and authority for the project. Under UKRI rules these must also be researchers working at eligible institutions, which are often referred to as the collaborators. It is encouraged that projects under this stream collaborate across a variety of disciplines, but that all projects have an arts, humanities, and social sciences element to their team.

If you come from an organisation that is not eligible to be a host or a collaborator under UKRI guidelines (for example from an NGO), you are still able to take part in Modern Slavery PEC open research calls as a project partner. This means that you are involved in the research and your costs for taking part in the project are included in the project’s application. In fact, in order to facilitate wide collaborations within the sector working against modern slavery, partnership with a third sector organisation is a required condition of funding under Modern Slavery PEC open research calls. Inclusion of people affected by modern slavery will also be an important element in assessing research proposals. The details of required collaborations will be set out in the specific documentation for each call.

It would be expected that, should a project proposal be successful, these collaborations and partnerships would be codified in a contract (sometimes called a collaboration agreement) between the host, collaborators and partner organisations. This would set out the role of each organisation, their deliverables and budget allocation. This would be initiated by the legal team at the host organisation.

Research costings

Projects funded through the Modern Slavery PEC research calls usually have a maximum budget of around £250k at full economic cost (fEC) (subject to the requirements of the funding call and limits set by the AHRC). This budget must be split between the host organisation, collaborating organisations and partner organisations. The call document will outline what is and is not an eligible budget item for each call.

Full economic cost is a term used in research funding to refer to the full value of the funds being spend on a grant. This is important as different types of organisations are funded at different rates. UK Higher Education Institutions and UKRI registered Research Organisations are funded at 80% of the fEC. This means the remaining 20% of the funds come from within their institution. It is important to note, that even when organisations are funded at 80%, they must be able to demonstrate that the 100% value has been spent on eligible expenditure (as per the original call guidance and their contract with the AHRC).

Partner organisations that might be eligible for funding include NGOs, non-profit organisations and international research institutions (eligible non-academic partners will be specific on call documentation). These partners are eligible to receive funding and are funded at 100% fEC. This means that they receive 100% of the budget and must demonstrate that this has been spent on eligible items at the end of the project. For-profit organisations are not eligible for funding under this mechanism.

Funds for partner organisations are eligible costs and should be included under “Other Directly Incurred Exceptions” within project’s applications through the AHRC’s Joint Electronic Submission system (J-eS) for funding applications. These costs cannot normally exceed 30% of the total budget for the project, however, exceptional cases may be considered where the research impact activities require additional work by partners which fall outside their normal activities. Queries about costings should be directed to the AHRC during the call application period, with contact details specified in the call documents.

How do you apply?

Applications to Modern Slavery PEC open research calls are run in an open, two-stage process. Calls are advertised on the Modern Slavery PEC and AHRC websites throughout the process. The Modern Slavery PEC will also run a special applicant webinar to talk potential applicants through the call details, which will include a chance to ask questions on the call’s scope and processes.

The first stage involves submitting an expression of interest to the Modern Slavery PEC using an online form (via modernslaverypec.submit.com), setting out how the proposed project meets the criteria for the call. This expression of interest might vary with each call, but in general will require:

  • Project title
  • Project scope
  • Overview of project details including:
  • Aims and objectives
  • Methods (and how these relate to the Modern Slavery PEC’s guiding principles)
  • Policy influencing opportunities

The Modern Slavery PEC team will assess these expressions of interest. Only projects that are within scope will proceed to stage two of the application project. Any feedback from the PEC on the overview of the project will be given to applicants before a full submission is required.

Stage two involves a full application through the AHRC’s Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S). The call document will outline all of the elements of the application, but Je-S applications typically include:

  • A short summary of the research project, its objectives, outputs, context and contribution to research and policy
  • Full list of project investigators and partners
  • A case for support (which is a longer document outlining why the research should be funded, the headings required in the case for support will be outlined in the call document)
  • A full budget, breaking down all costs
  • A justification of resources, outlining why each area of the budget is necessary
  • Curriculum Vitae and publication lists for investigators
  • Letters of support
  • A data management plan
  • Ethics statement
  • Beneficiaries of the research

Once submitted through Je-S, applications will be assessed by a panel of external independent experts in the sector, run by the AHRC. Decisions are made on a portfolio basis, meaning that the panel will aim to fund projects across a variety of topics within the budget. The Modern Slavery PEC is not involved in the final selection of the projects.

2. Responsive Research

What is it?

The Responsive Research mechanism has been created to fund targeted and agile research projects that are reactive to the needs of the sector.

Responsive Research is a funding mechanism administered directly by the Modern Slavery PEC. In this funding mechanism, the Centre, in collaboration with partners, defines the scope of and writes funding calls, runs our own call process and assessment panels. Successful projects are then funded directly by the Modern Slavery PEC.

Calls in this funding stream are aimed at responding to specific questions and policy needs within a short timeframe. As such, for each call, typically only one project is funded to address the research problem. These projects are shorter in duration, between three and six months, and will require specific outputs set out in the call document. We anticipate funding a maximum of eight projects per year through this mechanism, with budgets and timeframes set in relation to the needs of the calls.

Who can do the research?

Research must be led by a research institution eligible for funding under the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) guidelines. Principal Investigators must be based at or affiliated with a research institution and this institution will agree to host the project. Hosting the project means that this organisation is responsible for submitting the application form, and, if successful, all contracts and funding will flow through this institution and this organisation is ultimately responsible for the research being delivered.

If you come from an organisation that is not eligible to be a host organisation under UKRI guidelines, you are still able to take part in responsive research as either a Co-Investigator or a partner. Projects within responsive research must collaborate with partners from relevant sectors. The collaboration will be set out in the call document as a requirement of funding. For example, a business-based call will be required to collaborate with businesses.

To meet the Modern Slavery PEC’s guiding principle of involving people with lived experience in research, calls will also require collaboration with a non-academic partner in the project. Inclusion of people affected by modern slavery will also be an important element in assessing research proposals.

If you are interested in collaborating on a research proposal, but do not have contacts with either an eligible research organisation or a partner from the relevant sector, the Modern Slavery PEC email group can be helpful to find relevant academic partners.

Research costings

Maximum budgets for Responsive Research will vary depending on the question being asked in the call, length of project and activities expected to be undertaken. This budget must be split between the host organisation and partner organisations. The call document will outline what is and is not an eligible budget item for that particular call.

Full economic cost is a term used in research funding to refer to the full value of the funds being spend on a grant. This is important as different types of organisations are funded at different rates. UK Higher Education Institutions and UKRI registered Research Organisations are funded at 80% of the fEC. This means the remaining 20% of the funds come from within their institution. It is important to note, that even when organisations are funded at 80%, they must be able to demonstrate that the 100% value has been spent on eligible expenditure (as per the original call guidance and their contract with the AHRC).

Partner organisations that might be eligible for funding include NGOs, non-profit organisations and international research institutions (eligible non-academic partners will be specific on call documentation). These partners are eligible to receive funding and are funded at 100% fEC. This means that they receive 100% of the budget and must demonstrate that this has been spent on eligible items at the end of the project. For-profit organisations are not eligible for funding under this mechanism.

Funds for partner organisations who are not a research institution as defined by UKRI (e.g. an NGO or business partner) are eligible costs and should be fully listed on application budget under “Exceptional Other”. These costs cannot normally exceed 30% of the total budget for the project, however, exceptional cases may be considered where the research impact activities require additional work by partners which fall outside their normal activities. Queries about which costs are and are not eligible should be directed to office@modernslaverypec.org.

How do you apply?

Calls for Responsive Research funding will be published on our website. The Modern Slavery PEC will also run a special applicant webinar to talk potential applicants through the call details, which will include a chance to ask questions on the call’s scope and processes.

All applications will be made through an online form at modernslaverypec.submit.com. Applications will include:

  • Background information on the project
  • A project narrative, including the scope of research, methods, timelines, team description, partnerships
  • Ethics and safeguarding statements
  • Budget (using the Excel template provided on the website)
  • Justification of resources
  • Equality, diversity and inclusion data (to be filled in by all team members, circulated following submission of application)
  • Additional documentation (such as GANTT charts, visual evidence, risk registers) as appropriate

Applications are completed by the Principal Investigator and host institution, in collaboration with the whole project team.

The Modern Slavery PEC will convene a panel to review applications for each responsive research call including members of the Modern Slavery PEC team and external reviewers appropriate to the funding call. Panels will always include a person with lived experience of modern slavery. During these meetings, the panel will declare any conflicts of interest which will be managed appropriately through the Modern Slavery PEC’s conflict of interest framework.

Once applications are submitted, they are read by the panel and scored using the AHRC grading scale against the following headings:

  1. Project narrative:
    1. Scope
    2. Methodology, and how it relates to the aims and objectives of the call
    3. Timeline, milestones and deliverables
    4. Breakdown of team, organisations involved and inclusion of third sector organisation
    5. Equitable partnerships between higher education organisation and third sector organisation
    6. Alignment with the Modern Slavery PEC’s guiding principles for research: equity, effectiveness, and survivor involvement
  2. Ethics, including ways of working with third sector organisations and vulnerable people, with specific attention given to safeguarding policies
  3. Budget and justification of resources, including the distribution of funds and tasks between organisations

All applications will be reviewed by the panel, applications must score an average of four out of six (very good) or higher from the majority of panel members against each point in headings one and two in order for it to be assessed at the panel meeting.

At the panel meeting, every application scoring over an average of four will be discussed and the panel will vote on which project to fund. In an event of a tie, the chair of the panel (who will be a member of the Modern Slavery PEC’s senior leadership team) will have the final vote.

3. Partner-led work strand

What is it?

Partner-led work strands are collections of work, led by a Modern Slavery PEC Research Fellow at the six partner organisations of the Modern Slavery PEC Consortium. The strands are defined in the Centre’s strategic priorities and reflect the wider research objectives of the centre.

Who can do the research?

The Modern Slavery PEC is a consortium of six partner organisations: the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull, the Centre for the Study of International Slavery at the University of Liverpool, the Bonavero Institute on Human Rights at the University of Oxford and the Alan Turing Institute.

Each of the partner organisations is leading a work strand in collaboration with the Modern Slavery PEC core team focused on a distinct theme to cover a wide range of topics within the Centre’s research objectives. Research will be carried out by a PEC Research Fellow, appointed within each institution. The work strand topics for each partner are as follows:

  • Supply chains, business models and worker voice - Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law
  • Effective antislavery governance - the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham
  • Law enforcement - Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull
  • International development - Centre for the Study of International Slavery at the University of Liverpool
  • Human rights, including criminal justice; victims' and survivors' rights - Bonavero Institute on Human Rights at the University of Oxford
  • Enabling data flows and data science for modern slavery policy innovation - the Alan Turing Institute

What are the outputs?

These work strands will deliver a mixture of evidence reviews, policy briefs and other outputs and offers an avenue to deliver rapid outputs.