The Whole Systems Networking Fund is a unique research fund that seeks to improve equity, diversity and inclusion in energy research. In this report, we provide a brief overview of the fund including its aims and successes, and then include a summary of each of the projects awarded during this iteration of the programme.

The Whole Systems Networking Fund (WSNF) is a unique research fund that seeks to improve Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in energy research. It aims to broaden both the people and institutions that the UK Energy Research Centre engages with, connecting new partners and amplify fresh voices in the conversation around our future energy system.

In this report we provide a brief overview of the WSNF and then provide a summary from each of the projects awarded during this iteration of the fund.

WSNF overview

UKERC previously ran the WSNF in Phase 3 (2014 -2019), during which the key focus was building gender parity in energy research. At its conclusion, 80% of the funding had been allocated to projects led by women. Due to its success, the fund was delivered again in UKERC Phase 4 (2019-2024).

Throughout 2021, we conducted a range of activities to consult the wider community on how best to use the fund and a decision was taken to broaden the scope of the programme. The call theme was ‘advancing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in energy research’ which could be adhered to in several ways, for example through research topics, project partners, stakeholders involved, beneficiaries, or activities conducted. In the previous round of the WSNF we ensured that early career researchers (ECRs) could lead projects and this is something we continued to maintain, as it can be hugely impactful for careers.

Specific aims were to:

  • Improve EDI across the energy research space,
  • Widen participation to share experience across disciplines and the four UK nations,
  • Undertake collaborative research with non-academic partners to investigate policy-relevant challenges that could be solved through a whole systems approach,
  • Offer career enhancement opportunities for ECRs.

The call for proposals ran from Jan-April 2022, allocating up to £400,000 of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to fund projects via grants that ranged in value up to £60,000.

Overall, 30 proposals were submitted, seven of which were awarded funding, with project teams welcomed into the consortium.

Data analysis

At the point of application to the WSNF in 2022 we asked projects to complete diversity monitoring forms, thereby capturing data from prospective applicants. In 2023, we also initiated a UKERC wide EDI survey, circulated to all individuals who are currently or have been associated with UKERC phase 4. In this report we provide a brief comparison of these data sets, highlighting how the WSNF was successful in meeting its aims, in particular reaching a more ethnically diverse group of applicants than that reported in the wider UKERC survey. Interestingly the data does not identify a difference between reported disability, which highlights that further efforts need to be made in this area to reach and support applicants with disabilities when applying for the WSNF.

Project summaries

The report contains summaries from each of the following authors and projects. You can also access their project webpages below: