Spark grants

The call for applications for the September/October 2024 cohort is now open. The application deadline is Monday, 2 September 2024.

Spark grants aim to stimulate unusual collaborations to address societal challenges. The grants offer initial financial support to start building a committed project team and explore the potential of an idea and/or test whether it can be taken further and developed into a project application, for an Unusual Collaborations grant or another funding scheme.

Spark grants are thus a low-threshold stimulus to support connection with others outside one’s own disciplinary background, to initiate collaboration around a research idea, to share knowledge and best practices, and to develop something together.

Our Spark programme consists of two phases: a series of four half-day workshops (phase one) followed by a period of time in which a research topic can be explored with a team (phase two).

Spark phase 1: Developing interdisciplinary research competences and finding research team members 

The first step in the learning journey – what we call Spark phase 1 – comprises four half-day workshops that serve the dual purpose of interdisciplinary research competence development and of connecting researchers with one another as potential Spark collaborators. Participants enter Spark phase 1 with a couple of ‘unusual’ research interests that excite them and – while they may perhaps already have some team members in mind – they are open and keen to meet others within the Spark phase 1 training cohort and to explore developing a research idea together. The idea emerges within and through the interdisciplinary collaboration, rather than being the starting point.

Participation in these workshops is a mandatory step in the Spark grant process for at least two members of an eventual Spark team; the rest of the team is not required to take the workshops. The workshops for the September/October 2024 cohort will take place at CUCo’s Nest at the Utrecht Science Park from 13:00 – 17:00h CET on:

  • Monday, 16 September 2024
  • Monday, 23 September 2024
  • Monday, 30 September 2024
  • Monday, 7 October 2024

The dates for the spring 2025 cohort have already been set: Monday, 10, 17, 24, and 31 March 2025, all from 13:00 – 17:00h CET. If you’re interested in signing up, please let us know by email (hello@unusualcollaborations.nl) and we’ll send you a reminder when the call for applications opens.

Registration
Registering for entering Spark phase 1 can be done via completing the form below. We strive for participation that offers diversity in terms of disciplinary, epistemological and institutional backgrounds, gender and career stage. 

Eligibility criteria
The Spark grants are intended for mid-career academics (researchers, lecturers, assistant/associate professors) who have research hours at their disposal to participate in the initial workshops (phase one) and a research team (phase two).

Please note that PhD salaries cannot be paid through the UCo granting scheme; it is therefore not possible for PhD students to join Spark.

Diversity and inclusion
CUCo strives to achieve and contribute to an inclusive academic culture in which there is no place for conscious or unconscious barriers due to cultural, ethnic or religious background, gender, sexual orientation, health or age. CUCo encourages and trusts applicants to take additional effort to increase the diversity within research teams. If the team is having trouble with increasing diversity, please contact CUCo for support. 

Spark phase 2: Assembling a team and developing a research topic

After completing Spark phase one, participants can enter phase two, in which they form teams across disciplines and identify and develop a research topic for their project.

Teams must include researchers from at least three of the EWUU alliance institutes (TU/e, Wageningen University & Research, Utrecht University, and UMC Utrecht) and its members should form a truly interdisciplinary combination together. CUCo encourages interaction between the humanities, social and natural sciences, and everything in between. The main applicant of a Spark phase two proposal should be past the postdoc stage.

Proposals are reviewed by the Spark criteria outlined below. Teams whose proposal is approved will be supported with a € 9.000 lump-sum grant. This grant can be used to finance meetings and events, project assistants, facilitators, field trips, et cetera.

Prospect of the team

  • Unusual team composition
  • Complementarity of disciplines represented in the team
  • Fit of expertise with the proposed idea

Process for developing the idea

  • New, unique, unusual in terms of approach and methods 
  • Promising and adequate process for for getting to know one another and building trust amongst team members 
  • The envisioned outcomes of the process are clear and convincing

Interdisciplinary learning approach

  • The competences for interdisciplinary learning are reflected in the ambitions outlined in the proposal
  • Adequate self-assessment of the availability, and approach for strengthening, of the required competences 
  • Convincing strategy to embed reflection and learning throughout the Spark phase 2 process

Throughout Spark phase 2, teams, individually and collectively supported by process coaches, will to be able to:

  • Together explore, ‘test’ and reflect on individual competences;
  • Set individual intentions with the project;
  • Co-create a common working language, with support from an external facilitator that can be covered by the Spark grant funds;
  • Work towards a joint proposal for an Unusual Collaboration (UCo) grant and/or deliver an unusual project output that brings together topic- and/or process-specific insights acquired throughout the collaboration process.

Additional members may be added to the team throughout Spark phase 2 in line with the team’s needs.

A Spark grant is a prerequisite for applying for the larger Unusual Collaborations grant: Spark teams may apply to an Unusual Collaborations call for proposals as soon as the Spark project has finalised by submitting an end report (which may be in written, video and/or visual formats, in a podcast, a training, a theater performance, or otherwise). Spark teams, however, are also encouraged to seek other funding sources if they should be available. Through the EWUU alliance support is available for exploring other funding sources, please contact CUCo if needed.

Follow-up

Spark phase 2 teams will meet with the CUCo team and Board during check-ins at the start and end of the duration of the grant. Spark teams are also asked to give an update about their progress at a CUCo event (ideally halfway through the project duration). This is an opportunity to receive feedback, get new members on board, and/or ask for input. At the final stage of the project, process learnings and, if available, research results will be presented in a self-chosen format (e.g. blog, video, infographic, report) that can be made available on the CUCo website. 

The CUCo team and Board will keep in touch with the project team to help them move forward with the collaboration and will organise support, training, et cetera. Teams are encouraged to approach CUCo about roadblocks, complications, and other issues hindering the process.

Discontinuing projects that end up not being feasible is okay, as this will free up budget for others to start new projects.