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Call for Proposals for Exploration Pilots of the BUA Next Grand Challenge "Responsible Innovation in Times of Transformation"

Researchers from the Berlin University Alliance (BUA) can now apply for start-up funding as part of the Next Grand Challenge initiative "Responsible Innovation in Times of Transformation".

Call opens: January 10, 2024

Call closes: April 29, 2024, 10 a.m.

Earliest start of funding: July 01, 2024

Latest end of funding: October 31, 2026

Duration: 24 months

Total available funding volume: max. 200,000 € in 2024 and max. 600,000 € in 2025 and 2026 (funds available until October 31, 2026)

Intention to submit a proposal: March 21, 2024

With the Berlin University Alliance (BUA), Freie Universität Berlin (FU Berlin), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU Berlin), Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin), and Charité –Universitätsmedizin Berlin are pursuing the ambitious joint goal of creating an integrated research environment dedicated to addressing global grand challenges, among other priorities.

Identified in a participative process between science and society, the third BUA Grand Challenge Initiative, addresses the challenge of Responsible Innovation in Times of Transformation. In times of overlapping and interlinked societal challenges, research on sustainable innovations is as much needed as research on implementation and transformation processes for noticeable changes and successful renewals in society.

By funding exploration pilots on the topic of Responsible Innovation in Times of Transformation, the BUA strives to further strengthen Berlin as a center of cutting-edge research by exploring innovation as a means for adaption and prevention in times of major challenges. Grand Challenges of this kind can, presumably, only be addressed through integrated, innovative and creative research collaborations between research, society, politics, economy, and culture.

Accordingly, the BUA awards funding to high-risk collaborations that focus on innovative methods, questions, directions and formats and integrate the expertise of multiple disciplines and practices.

  • Proposals can cover the following areas: natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, medical, technical, or environmental sciences.
  • Proposals must state clearly how the approach addresses at least one of the following aspects of the Grand Challenge:
  1. emerging innovations: e.g. technologies, procedures, philosophical perspectives, social practices.
  2. barriers to innovation/transformation: e.g. causes of rejection and conflicts/increase of acceptance
  3. inclusive innovation/transformation: e.g. transfer, marginalised knowledge, global cooperation
  4. acting in times of uncertainty: e.g. disinformation, resilience
  • Proposals must present transdisciplinary collaborations [1] between researchers and relevant non-scientific stakeholders from e.g. industry, non-governmental organisations, the political sector, the cultural sector, or civil society.
  • The application must include applicants from at least two BUA institutions. In the interest of supporting the careers of early stage researchers, consortia are encouraged to include at least one early-career researcher (postdoc, junior professor).
  • Applicant consortia must include at least one applicant from a non-scientific organisation who supports the application by a letter of intent.
  • Proposals must explore the relevance of societal inequalities and discrimination for Responsible Innovation in Times of Transformation. In line with the DFG-guidelines, appropriate consideration of sex and gender dimensions and other diversity dimensions in the development of research questions and the formation of hypotheses and theories helps to enhance the scientific quality of research results. Should sex and gender as well as other diversity dimensions not be relevant to a project in terms of content or methodology, please state so in the proposal.
  • Projects should state their commitment to a research culture which strives for diversity in the research team as well as values diversity of opinions, perspectives, and experiences. The projects should aim at advancing an integrative academic community in which all members are equally valued and integrated, and able to pursue their intellectual goals.
  • Applications must adhere to Open Science principles (see also: BUA’s mission statement for Open Science).
  • Proposals must present a plan towards a follow-up application aiming at acquiring third-party funding for the period beyond October 2026.

[1] The Berlin University Alliance understands transdisciplinarity to mean approaching research questions from several perspectives in critical reflection together with non-scientists and/or non-academic partners (cf. Transdisciplinarity: Between mainstreaming and marginalization. Ecological Economics, 79, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2012.04.017, p. 1-10.


  • A maximum of €1.4 million is available, annual funding as follows: 2024: €200,000, 2025: €600,000, 2026: €600,000.
  • Funding will be awarded to 1-3 projects for the duration of 24 months, ending no later than October 31, 2026.

Based on the formal budgetary requirements of the particular Alliance institution, funding may be applied for covering resources for:
1) personnel costs: academic staff (including student staff) and, to a proportionally smaller degree, for nonacademic staff
2) non-personnel costs: material costs and investment resources (excluding construction costs) as well as rental costs.

Material resources can also be used for the financing of services provided by non-scientific partners (e.g. networking and transfer formats, expertise or public relations activities).

Coordination tasks are to be undertaken by academic staff; positions for office staff may not be applied for within this funding scheme.

Funding is provided as university budget funds (“Haushaltsmittel”), meaning that the German law on fixed-term contracts in academia (Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz, WissZeitVG) applies to staff employed as “Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter*innen”. Such positions come with a teaching obligation (“Lehrdeputat”).

All third-party co-applicants must provide proof of their own funding contribution when submitting their proposal. This may include funding for their own position. It is also possible to nominate additional external eligible cooperation partners. These partners are not required to present proof of their funding contribution. Depending on the procurement laws for budgets at the individual Alliance institutions, it may also be possible to commission work from external sources.

While funds cannot be transferred to international partners there is the possibility of including them by several means e.g., through financed workshops, visiting fellowships or via existing projects/partnerships.

A budget plan must be provided confirming how funding will be divided among the Alliance institutions participating in the application. It is not possible to make substantial changes to this plan once funding has been approved. Funding of the applicants‘ own positions is only possible for early stage postdoctoral researchers (see “Requirements/Eligibility”).

Up to 20% of the annual budget can be transferred to the next financial year, if requested by August 31 of the current year. This does not apply to transfers that extend beyond Oct 31, 2026.

  • Please submit proposals in English using the application template (see download section below).
  • Please ensure that proposals fully adhere to the Eligibility Conditions and Funding Conditions of the funding call.
  • Please send your application to nextgrandchallenge@berlin-university-alliance.de by  April 29, 2024, 10 a.m.. Please submit all templates in the file format in which they were provided.
  • For the purpose of transdisciplinary co-exploration of topics and research questions a series of workshops is organized for applicants and non-scientific experts by the TD-Lab of the Berlin University Alliance. These will take place in February and March 2024. An invitation and a detailed program will be published on the Website. Participation in the workshops is recommended, but not mandatory for application.
  • For the purposes of the review process, applicants are kindly requested to inform us by no later than March 21, 2024 of their intention to submit a proposal. Please send an email to
    nextgrandchallenge@berlin-university-alliance.de with the following information:
    • your name and affiliation
    • a provisional project title
    • a provisional list of PIs and cooperation partners (names and affiliation)
    • 5 major keywords
    • a project outline of max. 1000 characters (count without spaces)

Projects are assessed in a multi-stage process.

  1. An initial check for completeness of submitted documents and formal fulfillment of eligibility criteria is carried out by the Office for Grand Challenge Initiatives of the Berlin University Alliance. In case of formal deficiencies, the applicant has the possibility to correct the deficiencies within three working days.
  2. After the initial check, all proposals will be assessed in a written review by external experts in the field of research and external experts on transdisciplinary research. The review is based on scores and explanations of the funding criteria as well as an overall numerical rating of the application.
  3. Based on scores received in the written reviews the reviewers, advised by the steering committees of Objective 1 ‘Focusing on Grand Challenges, and Objective 2, ‘Fostering Knowledge Exchange’ as well as one additional member of the other BUA steering committees and/or BUA Internal Scientific Council, will create a shortlist of up to 10 proposals. Based on the written and scored reviews the reviewers will come up with the final ranking and funding recommendation during a digital selection session to be held beginning of June 2024. The funding recommendation is recorded and documented. The Board of Directors of the Alliance is expected to make the final funding decision in June 2024.

The earliest start date for funding is expected to be July 1, 2024, and funding will end no later than Oct. 31, 2026.

  • All professors and postdoctoral researchers employed by Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin or Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin are eligible to apply for funding.
  • Postdoctoral researchers must provide proof of academic independence according to the criteria of their discipline (e.g. junior research group leader, Emmy Noether Groups). It is also possible for applicants at this stage of their career to receive funding for their position if they make a convincing case.
  • Researchers from other institutions in Germany or abroad (who are not affiliated to the Alliance institutions) as well as non-scientific partners can participate as co-applicants or cooperation partners, but are not eligible to receive funding for staff costs.
  • Affiliated institutes (German ’An-Institute’) are not eligible to apply per se. Individuals, e.g. professors at an ‘An-Institut’ affiliated with an Alliance institution are, however, eligible to apply.
  • Doctoral candidates and individuals who have completed their doctorates but are still awaiting doctoral certificates (Dr. Designatus) are not eligible to apply.

In addition to excellence in researchtransdisciplinary research approaches (as described above) are of particular importance for the Exploration Pilots funding program.

Essential funding criteria are:

  • Compliance with the goals stated in the call text for an Exploration Pilot on Responsible Innovation in Times of Transformation (i.e., convincing presentation of the development of a new, highly relevant research topic in transdisciplinary cooperation in Berlin)
  • Research quality
    • Quality of the research project (scientific relevance of the topic, topicality, originality, long-term perspective, preliminary results, and/or previous work)
    • Transdisciplinarity of the project (integration of non-scientific expertise into the research process, methods and formats of the integration of non-scientific knowledge, description of the scientific and societal questions within the project, approaches for the sustainability of the project results and/or societal inclusion)
    • Objectives and coherence of the work program, conclusiveness of the project structure, cooperation between the disciplines, added value of the cooperation
    • Clarity of the plan towards a follow-up application aiming at third-party funding for the period beyond October 2026
    • Diversity of the group composition (in terms of involvement of different interest groups)
  • Qualification of the applicants
  • Expertise and track record in the relevant topic or related topics
  • Promotion of equal opportunities and diversity (e.g., gender balance, inclusion of LGBTQ+ people, international people, disabled people; governance of the project; if applicable: study participants, planned accessibility of content, governance bodies etc.)
  • Involvement and support of junior researchers
  • Adequacy of the funds applied for
  • Management, quality assurance
    • Adequacy of data collection and access; if applicable: quality of data management plan; realistic planning of work, of time and of milestones; realistic planning of dissemination of research results
  • Efforts to provide transparent and reusable research results according to the practices of open science as understood by the BUA’s mission statement for Open Science.

Funded projects must deliver a final report.

Information Events

Digital information events on the call will take place on:

  • January 29 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
  • February 14 from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Registration at: nextgrandchallenge@berlin-university-alliance.de


For the purpose of transdisciplinary co-exploration of topics and research questions the TD-Lab of the Berlin University Alliance organizes a series of workshops for applicants and non-scientific experts from art and culture, organized civil society, politics and administration and business. The aim is to identify specific topics and questions that can be dealt with particularly well in the integrated research environment Berlin, and finally form transdisciplinary partnerships for common research ideas.

The participation in the workshops is recommended, but not mandatory for application. The following workshops will be offered:

  • Idea sprint 1: Monday, February 19, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. (for practitioners from politics/administration and business)
  • Idea sprint 2: Tuesday, February 20, 10 a.m.-15 p.m. (for practitioners from civil society organizations and culture/art)
  • Idea sprint 3: Monday, February 26, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. (for researchers)
  • Theme Day: Tuesday, March 12, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (researchers and practitioners together)

In addition, the TD-Lab of the Berlin University Alliance offers a webinar for a general introduction in transdisciplinary research:

  • Webinar 1: Friday, February 2, 10 a.m.-11.30 a.m.
  • Webinar 2: Thursday, April 11, 3 p.m. – 4.30 p.m.

We look forward to your participation! You are welcome to register for the events: https://con-gressa.de/form/ngc_themenwerkstaetten_2024/

For receiving further information please send an email to Dr. Melanie Kryst, td-lab@berlin-university-alliance.de.


The central point of contact is Dr. Jeanette Schlief, program manager of the Grand Challenge Initiative Responsible Innovation in Times of Transformation.
E-mail: nextgrandchallenge@berlin-university-alliance.de

Individual counselling sessions for applicants

Individual consultations for applicants regarding all questions of the research proposals will be offered between March, 18 and April, 26. Registration at: nextgrandchallenge@berlin-university-alliance.de