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Data access initiatives: stimulus fund

As part of the fourth year of the ODI’s R&D programme, funded by Innovate UK, and our broader programme of work on data institutions, during 2020–21 we will be exploring the design of sustainable, impactful data institutions and other data access initiatives.

We think institutions and initiatives that support access to data are essential to create open, trustworthy data ecosystems that address social, environmental and economic challenges.

Within this stimulus fund we will be providing funding and support for up to 10 data institutions and data access initiatives. The funding will support those data access initiatives and data institutions in exploring one or both of the following key questions:

  • What revenue models, funding sources and cost structures can be adopted to become sustainable?
  • What data infrastructure, including data assets, standards, stakeholders and technology must be created or strengthened in order to be successful at meeting a social, environmental or economic challenge?

The following sections provide more detail on:

  • the types of data access initiatives and data institutions that are eligible for support
  • the goals of the stimulus fund, including more detail on the two main questions
  • how we will provide support to the successful projects
  • the application and procurement process

This is the first stimulus fund we are launching to support data access initiatives and data institutions. We will provide further support and opportunities, focused on different themes, later this year.

What do we mean by data access initiatives?

In every industry or domain, there are common challenges faced by multiple people, communities and organisations across the domain. For example, these might be the need to address anti-microbial resistance or improve health by getting more people to be more active. Efforts to address these challenges can often be supported through better access to data.

Data access initiatives are joint activities and programmes of work that aim to address a specific social, environmental or economic challenge through increasing access to data.

The types of data access initiatives we are interested in use a variety of models that can be found on the Data Access Map, including data portability, prizes and challenges, data collaboratives and other forms of data stewardship. Specific examples might include initiatives like Open Banking and OpenActive.

These data access initiatives often require common data infrastructure, such as data assets, standards, policies, and guides. We are interested in understanding the types of data infrastructure and ecosystems that must be created in order for data access initiatives to successfully address specific challenges.

We are most interested in funding data access initiatives whose goals and activities are aligned with the UK industrial strategy themes of healthy ageing and clean growth.

What do we mean by data institutions?

Data institutions are organisations whose purpose involves stewarding data on behalf of others, often towards public, educational or charitable aims.

They are emerging to play a number of vital roles in the data ecosystem, including:

  • holding data on behalf of an organisation or person, or group of them, and taking on responsibility to share it with others for a particular purpose
  • combining or linking data from different sources, and providing benchmarks, insights and other services back to those that have contributed
  • maintaining shared data infrastructure for a sector or domain, such as by assigning identifiers or developing standards
  • supporting the delivery of a data access initiative, e.g. to govern data provided by multiple actors, manage standards, etc.

There are many existing examples of data institutions to learn from. For example, UK Biobank was set up in 2006 to steward genetic data and samples from around 0.5m people, and support their use for research. In the maritime sector, HiLo takes data generated by around 3,500 ships to generate risk and safety analyses and recommendations.

Regardless of the role they play, designing data institutions to be sustainable in the long term is vital, both to maximise their impact and to provide assurance to the data contributors and users who invest time and effort in dealing with them.

Data institutions may take a number of different legal forms, such as trusts, cooperatives or public bodies. In this stimulus fund we are not limiting applications to institutions with specific types of legal forms. We are also interested in institutions that may not yet have been set up or legally incorporated, where this stimulus fund can help support the design of their business and revenue models.

We are most interested in funding data institutions whose goals and activities are aligned with the UK industrial strategy themes of healthy ageing and clean growth.

What are the key goals of the stimulus fund?

Through this stimulus fund we are looking to support a number of data institutions and data access initiatives to identify:

  • the revenue models, funding sources and cost structures that would help them to become sustainable.
  • the data infrastructure that needs to be created or strengthened for them to be successful.

We intend for this support to contribute to the long term sustainability and success of these data institutions and data access initiatives, and contribute to our R&D programme’s wider goals of supporting innovation, improving data infrastructure and encouraging ethical data sharing.

Through observation across the stimulus fund, we want to explore and better understand:

  1. What types of challenges are faced in achieving sustainability?
  2. What revenue models and funding sources can help initiatives become sustainable, and how do different cost structures impact achieving sustainability?
  3. What types of data infrastructure and ecosystems must be created to address specific challenges?
  4. What types of support, guidance and tools can help initiatives and institutions address these challenges and answer these questions for themselves?

These insights will inform our ongoing research into the topics of data infrastructure and sustainable data access models, and the design of guidance we will produce.

In addition to providing funding and support from the ODI team, by convening a variety of data institutions and data access initiatives, we hope to form a peer network that will facilitate further collaboration, shared learning and support.

How will the stimulus fund be organised, and how can the funding be used?

The stimulus fund will provide direct funding for existing data institutions and data access initiatives, as well as expert support and advice from the ODI team.

Applicants to the stimulus fund can request financial support to address both themes – the revenue models, funding sources and cost structures that would help them to become sustainable, and the data infrastructure that needs to be created or strengthened for them to be successful - however we recommend focusing on one as the primary theme.

We expect to carry out regular, fortnightly meetings with each project to provide support and guidance throughout the fund. In addition to providing direct support to the individual data institutions and data access initiatives, we will organise a series of virtual and/or in-person workshops. These workshops will explore issues of sustainability, mapping data ecosystems and exploring the topic of data infrastructure.

Applicants should expect to dedicate time for 3–5 half-day workshops and regular monthly check in meetings over the funding period of July 2020 to March 2021.

We will also encourage and facilitate knowledge sharing and collaboration between projects through online tools, such as mailing lists, group chats and other knowledge sharing opportunities.

Summary of key information

  • Aim: The purpose of this fund is to prompt experimentation and learning from data institutions and data access initiatives in a range of different contexts, focusing particularly on sustainability and data infrastructure for sectoral challenges.
  • Audience: Existing data institutions or data institutions in development, and organisations involved in data access initiatives, across the public, private and third sectors. This is only open to UK organisations.
  • Duration: 1 July 2020 to 31 March 2021
  • Value of award (excluding VAT): We expect to make up to 8–10 awards, ranging from £15k to £20k depending on the number of awards. Applicants should highlight where there is flexibility in their budget in their applications.
  • Briefing webinar: 19 May 2020 14:00–15:00 (GMT+1). Click here to register for the webinar on Zoom.
  • Questions to the ODI by: 5pm on 29 May 2020
  • ODI responses by: 5pm on 2 June 2020
  • Costed proposals by: 5pm on 19 June 2020
  • Tender decision by: 5pm on 1 July 2020
  • Contracts awarded: 5pm on 6 July 2020
  • Final work delivered by: 31 March 2021
  • Tender Reference: RDPM-041
  • Contact: [email protected]

Terms of payment

Payment of the agreed contract price will be made at two milestones:

  • 50% at the halfway point (please specify in your proposal if some funding up front would be helpful as that can be considered)
  • 50% will be paid upon completion of the work, including satisfactory responses to all feedback from the ODI


The deliverables will be:

  • a final public report of no more than 10 pages that documents the experiences and lessons learned by the initiative/institution team, in a way that enables their data institution or data access initiative to be replicated in other areas
  • a short report for the ODI of no more than two-to-three pages that describes the strengths and weaknesses of your approach, identifying any challenges that you have faced and how your approach has changed over time. To encourage candour, this output will only be shared with the ODI. We will summarise these, along with our other research in our final report
  • a minimum of two blogs, one published at the start and ideally at regular intervals during the stimulus fund
  • participation in regular workshops (likely to be every two-to-three months) during the course of the stimulus fund, that will bring together teams from across the funded projects to share plans and lessons learned

Any outputs published through this fund, whether public reports or data, should be released under an open licence, to enable the widest possible reuse. We will provide advice and guidance to initiatives/institutions around open licensing.

We expect project teams to:

  • attend regular, fortnightly meetings to monitor progress
  • attend 3–5 virtual and/or in-person workshops during the funding period, with at least one at the beginning and one at the end of the funding period
  • participate in peer networking events over the course of the stimulus fund
  • contribute to the development of a final case study

The ODI will provide:

  • funding to the level agreed in the contract
  • additional advice and support as agreed with individual initiatives/institutions
  • support with promoting the initiative/institution and its impact, including through the publication of a case study for each initiative/institution
  • opportunities for peer networking and knowledge sharing amongst the funded initiatives/institutions

Applications can be on behalf of consortia of organisations. Interested parties should submit a costed proposal (in English) to [email protected], which includes:

  • the tender reference in the email subject line
  • a short (no more than five pages) explanation of your proposed activity, including a clear indication of which priority theme the activity would be addressing, what work is already underway and why you are well-placed to participate
  • a description of the team who will be involved, including biographies
  • an indication of whether public funding has previously been granted for this or similar initiatives/institutions
  • a writing sample of a research report or impact study.

If you have any questions about the tender, please contact [email protected], quoting the tender reference. The ODI reserves the right to make both anonymised questions and answers public or shared with other organisations having stated their interest.

Decision criteria

All proposals will be assessed as described in our public procurement policy. In addition, for this procurement we will also require the following:

  • The application should be supported by a named senior level champion in the organisation
  • The stimulus fund is available to support all members of a consortia, applications should highlight how money is being spent across the organisations involved and the roles each consortia member will be taking.
  • Evidence that the initiative/institution collaborates with other organisations and key stakeholders, such as letters of support
  • Alignment with our goals to explore the industry strategy challenges of healthy ageing and clean growth
  • Where funding is being used to support existing work, the applications should demonstrate how this funding will build on the existing work that is already underway.

Applications should clearly address how they align with the goals of this stimulus fund (as outlined above).


We will update this announcement with public answers to questions received during the tender process.


  • Can non-UK based organisations apply for this stimulus fund?
    • No, unfortunately we can only fund UK organisations through this stimulus fund.
  • Can organisations who are registered overseas, but have staff in the UK, apply for this stimulus fund?
    • No, unless you have a UK organisation/subsidiary or a partner you can apply through/with.
  • Are there any restrictions regarding co-funding (ie projects drawing money from other sources)?
    • No. It is simpler for us to fund a single organisation, but we are interested in collaborative bids where you are working as a series of organisations
  • What is the scoring around the sample report/impact study, and how vital is that?
    • We don’t have any formal scoring around that, but we like to see evidence of how you’ve worked openly and previous outputs you’ve produced.
  • What is the timeline for the Microsoft/ODI funding?
    • We don’t have a specific date for this yet, but it is likely to be around August/September. There are likely to be several cohorts through that so there will probably be opportunities both this year and next year).
  • Are data institutions always non-profit or non-commercial entities, or can they be data mediators operating on a commercial basis?
    • They can be either, and we’d be interested to explore the dynamic around commercial data institutions.
  • Will the ODI fund initiatives aiming to change the law? For example, to institute independent audit of decision-making systems?
    • There has to be a strong data element to what we’re funding. For data institutions, that would mean stewarding and management of data in some form. For data access initiatives, we’re looking at ones that would be increasing access to data to solve a problem. If the initiative was looking at increasing access to data to help support audit arrangements, then that would fit the criteria.
  • Is there a formatted application template available as a word document?
    • There is no formal template so you can design it yourself. We ask for a proposal of no more than five pages.
  • Would it be possible to put in more than one proposal? For example, one individually around the organisation's sustainability and one in partnership with another organisation around infrastructure?
    • Yes, you can submit multiple proposals.
  • Can you give any more detail on the scope of the writing sample that you are looking for?
    • We don't have any specific requirements around the writing sample but would recommend that you make sure it's representative of the range of work you have produced in the past and is aimed at a more general audience than, for example, an academic one.
  • Does the 5 page limit on the proposal include the description of the team and their biographies?
    • No, the 5 page limit doesn’t include the team description.
  • If there is flexibility in the budget being proposed, should this be outlined in detail in the proposal or can it be referenced at a high level and included in detail in the project finance totals?
    • This should be included in detail within the proposal.
  • Would there be any issues with the project being completed earlier than the end of March, as long as the project team still engaged with the fortnightly reviews, the peer events and the workshops?
    • No, there are no issues with the project being completed earlier as long as the team still engages with reviews, events and workshops.
  • Is there anything that would preclude an ODI node from successfully applying to this stimulus fund?
    • No, ODI nodes are very welcome to apply.
  • We are looking to make some focused impact studies of the effect of YouTube videos on child development, using the ODI’s Data Ethics Canvas. Does this fit the scope of this stimulus fund call?
    • This doesn’t fit with our current call as it sounds like a specific research project which doesn’t align to our criteria of:
      • How to improve the sustainability of a data institution or data access initiative
      • How to develop the data infrastructure necessary to support a data access initiative in tackling a specific challenge
  • Would a project whose outputs were a set of proposals for standards, certification and independent audit fit the scope of this stimulus fund call?
    • Our call covers providing support for data access initiatives exploring how to understand and develop the data infrastructure required to address a specific challenge. So developing recommendations for standards and other forms of infrastructure are within scope. However, we are looking to fund initiatives and institutions that involve increasing access to, or improving governance of data, in order to address a specific challenge. So a proposal under this theme would need to outline how access to or use of data is part of addressing a specific social, environmental or economic problem and how developing this infrastructure will support that goal.
  • Can you share the terms and conditions upon which any award for the stimulus fund would be made?

Video: overview of stimulus fund