Frequently Asked Questions

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COVID-19

1. Are topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic response and recovery appropriate for CIVIC?

Yes. COVID-19 topics, and pandemic-related topics generally, may be appropriate for CIVIC if they fall within the focus areas of one of the tracks of the Challenge and will continue to be relevant within the timeframe of the Challenge. You can find additional information addressing COVID-19 in the NSF Dear Colleague Letter.

2. Will projects in the resilience track focusing on COVID-19 be considered more favorable that those that are applicable to other or all disasters?

Both the Communities and Mobility and the Resilience to Natural Disasters Tracks will have sub-tracks focused on COVID, so there will be capacity for both projects that are COVID-related and those that are not. You can find additional information addressing COVID-19 in the NSF Dear Colleague Letter.

Process

1. What is the difference between Stage 1 and Stage 2?

The CIVIC solicitation comprises two stages. Stage 1 (Planning Grants) focuses on capacity-building to prepare project teams to propose well-developed Stage 2 (Full Award) proposals. Stage 1 projects will be selected through an open proposal submission, while only Stage 1 participants will be allowed to submit proposals for Stage 2. The Stage 2 projects are focused on developing and piloting solutions to community challenges in the two tracks.

2. How much time is expected to be put into these projects?

We cannot tell you how much time is expected to be put into the project in order to be successful. However, the goal of the CIVIC solicitation is to fund projects that can produce significant community impact within 12 months (following a four-month planning phase), so teams should expect a significant time commitment across the duration of the award.
There are a range of obligations associated with participation, including travel to in-person events, frequent virtual meetings and exchanges, and content production.
Stage 1 awardees will be required to produce public-facing content, including one-page graphic summary of their project and a video of up to five minutes describing their project.
Details for all of the above are included in section II.C of the solicitation.

3. This is a short timeline; are teams expected to publish in academic journals?

The main goal for the CIVIC solicitation is to achieve concrete impacts in the communities and that will also be scalable, sustainable, and transferable. However, NSF supports fundamental research, and thus encourages dissemination of research findings from Stage 2 in academic journals, conferences, or through other means.

4. What does the collaboration between teams look like during the communities-of-practice activities?

MetroLab Network will foster communities-of-practice through in-person and web-based activities aimed at enhancing the teams’ collaborative networks. These collaborative networks will enable idea sharing to promote greater impact in each team’s community and empower teams to make their projects more scalable and transferable. Required activities are listed in section II.C of the solicitation. In-person activities will be held if public health guidance allows; teams should budget for travel as indicated in section II.C of the solicitation.

5. How will the proposal review and selection process work? What kind of considerations will be taken by review panels in assessing the proposals?

Teams’ proposals will be assessed first by civic leaders and researchers (with expertise reflective of the interdisciplinary character of the proposals) in NSF-led merit review panels. The Civic Innovation Challenge working group–comprised of program officers from NSF, DOE, and DHS–will then jointly select awardees. Details regarding NSF’s merit review process are described in the solicitation in section VI; additional details are available through the following link:
https://www.nsf.gov/bfa/dias/policy/merit_review/ .
NSF panels will assess proposals’ intellectual merits and broader impacts, according to the National Science Board’s merit review criteria. Proposals will also be assessed based on additional solicitation specific criteria, including the capability to have an impact on the proposed community within a 12-month time horizon. Details regarding NSF’s merit review criteria can be found in the solicitation in section VI.A.2.

6. What happens after I submit my proposal?

NSF will manage and conduct the review process of proposals submitted in accordance with NSF standards and procedures, described in Section VI of the CIVIC solicitation. Briefly, Teams’ proposals will be reviewed by civic leaders and researchers in NSF-led review panels. NSF, DOE, and DHS will jointly select awardees. Only Stage 1 awardees will be eligible to apply for Stage 2. Additional information about NSF’s merit review process can also be found through these links:
https://www.nsf.gov/bfa/dias/policy/merit_review/
https://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_videos.jsp?cntn_id=135088&media_id=78526&org=NSF.

7. What is the expected start date for Stage 1?

Projects are expected to begin around three to four months after the deadline for proposals.

8. Does my team need to submit a proposal to Stage 1 (Planning Grant) in order to be eligible for Stage 2 (Full Award)?

Yes, only awardees of Stage 1 will be eligible to submit a proposal to Stage 2. You can find a checklist of proposal requirements on page 10 of the Civic Innovation Challenge solicitation: https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2020/nsf20562/nsf20562.pdf

9. Will events for the Civic Innovation Challenge be held remotely or in-person?

We will be following official health guidelines relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. For budgeting purposes, include travel for at least one of the workshops. Teams will be able to make changes to their budget if all events are virtual.

Proposals

1. Is there an advantage to applying earlier in the application window?

No, submitting your proposal earlier does not increase your team’s chances of funding. All proposals will be reviewed after the close of the application window.

2. Can my city or university submit multiple applications?

Yes, there are no restrictions regarding the number of proposals that may be submitted by an organization, including a research institution or civic organization. However, there are restrictions regarding the number of proposals submitted by individuals (PI or co-PI). For Stage 1, individuals may participate as a PI or Co-PI in up to two proposals. For Stage 2, an individual may participate as a PI or Co-PI in only one proposal.

3. The solicitation mentions Broader Impacts – what does that mean?

The Broader Impact criterion encompasses the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes. Respondents may find overlap between their civic engagement activity and the Broader Impact of their project. For additional detail, refer to the solicitation and the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG).  

4. For the Stage 1 proposals, are you looking for a description of Research Questions and Activities that will be conducted specifically in the 4 month planning grant period, or that also carry over to the Stage 2 period?

Stage 1 proposals should focus on questions that will be answered by the end of Stage 2. Describe what gaps or deficiencies your team has to address before it can answer those questions, and define a plan for how you will use Stage 1 to address those gaps.

5. Can my proposal be a deployment of an existing technology?

Projects can be based on existing technology, but there should be a clear “discovery” element to the research. Express in your proposal what elements of your project are innovative and how those elements will impact your community.

6. What are examples of outcomes expected from Stage 1? For example, should teams have collected any initial data sets on issues/problems, or should teams have conducted any pilots? Or are outcomes strictly planning related?

Those are all potential outcomes of Stage 1, but NSF’s priority is to identify proposals that have a clear vision for their project, demonstrated capability to address likely challenges, and cohesion between partners to follow through with the plan in Stage 2.

7. Is there preference towards teams with “Results from Prior NSF Support”?

No. However, every NSF proposal requires a sub-section called “results from prior NSF research” intended to demonstrate the team’s capability to execute their vision. If your team doesn’t have prior NSF research to demonstrate this capability, teams are encouraged to offer other evidence that shows they can successfully deploy the proposed project.

8. The solicitation mentions the words deployment and sustainable. What do these mean in the context of the proposal?

Deployment means that the project needs to be implemented in the 12 month time frame supported by the NSF awards. After the 12 month scope, projects will continue to be refined, scaled, and transferred to other communities. This long-term project development must be sustainable, meaning the team doesn’t rely on NSF funding at that point. Teams can leverage other funding sources or partners to support their long-term efforts.

9. What type of patent or intellectual property protection will be provided to the participants if any?

NSF allows teams to define the intellectual property they want to preserve. Proposals are strengthened, however, by the availability of research artifacts that could be made available to the research community at-large.

10. Can we build our proposal on an existing NSF SCC grant?

Yes.

11. Where can you find a sample letter of collaboration or form?

12. What is required for Stage 1 proposals? Do they need to include all components listed in the PAPPG?

Yes, all components listed in the PAPPG must be included: https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/policydocs/pappg20_1/index.jsp. Note that Stage 1 proposals are submitted in FastLane as Full Awards, not as Letters of Intent or Preliminary Proposals.

13. How should proposals balance the goal of intellectual merit and integrative research with community impact? To what extent do projects need to reflect both technical and social sciences along with strong civic partnerships focused on deployment?

Projects must advance technical and social sciences and find ways to integrate research across disciplines. Because of CIVIC’s fast time frame, teams will need to find a balance between novel research and research ideas with momentum with cross-disciplinary partners ready to be deployed to meet the 12 month time frame. Teams should consider the novelty of their research, the ability of their team to collaborate with its community partners to deliver impact, and the clarity of the team’s plan for developing the project to completion if awarded a planning grant and full award. Teams should also consider the specific steps they will take to address gaps in the project during the planning grant period to achieve measurable impact. As teams consider how to balance the various parts of their proposal, and also what this program is looking for in terms of intellectual merit and broader impacts, they are strongly encouraged to consider the questions listed in the solicitation’s Project Description section for Stage 1 and Stage 2.

14. My organization has never received an NSF award, what would it look like for me to participate in the Civic Innovation Challenge?

You can find information for new awardees here: https://nsf.gov/pubs/2020/nsf20032/nsf20032.pdf. Additionally, be sure to understand the technicalities of the FastLane submission process in advance of the proposal deadline.

15. If civic partners are included as senior personnel, is it required to include for the civic partners the content listed in the PAPPG such as a biosketch?

If teams list civic partners as Senior Personnel, they will be required to include the associated documents listed in the PAPPG; NSF understands that these documents may have limited content for the civic partner(s), since the documents are generally intended for academic applicants. Teams may instead choose to not include civic partners as senior personnel. Regardless, it is essential to clearly demonstrate the role of the civic partner(s) on the core team. As noted in the solicitation, teams should provide these details in the project description and are encouraged to also do so in letters of collaboration.

Team Composition

1. Who can submit a proposal?

The Civic Innovation Challenge (“CIVIC”) requires teams that include researchers and civic partners, but only certain types of organizations may submit proposals and receive funds directly from NSF. These are:


  • Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) – Two and four-year IHEs (including community colleges) accredited in, and having a campus located in the US.
  • Non-profit, non-academic organizations: Independent museums, observatories, research labs, professional societies and similar organizations in the US associated with educational or research activities.


Eligibility is limited to these organizations largely because of delays that would likely be caused by the time required to qualify as a “new awardee” for those who have not received NSF funding in past five years. This eligibility restriction will allow for timely progression of CIVIC’s ambitious schedule, and is not to be interpreted as a signal that civic partners, or other collaborating organizations, are “lesser” members of the team. Stage 1 and Stage 2 proposals should be submitted by a single organization, from which partnering individuals and organizations may receive funding via subawards. For additional information about subawards, access this link: https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp

2. Who are civic partners for the purposes of this solicitation?

Civic partner(s) may include local, state, or tribal government officials; non-profit representatives; community organizers or advocates; community service providers; and/or others working to improve their communities.


A “state” means any of the states of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, any territory or possession of the United States, or any agency or instrumentality of a State exclusive of local governments. A “local government” means a county, municipality, city, town, township, local public authority, school district, special district, intrastate district, council of governments (whether or not incorporated as a nonprofit corporation under state law), any other regional or interstate government entity, or any agency or instrumentality of a local government.

3. Is there a limit to the size of my team?

No, there is not a limit to the size of the team.

4. Where can our team find partners?

Teams can visit https://nsfcivicinnovation.org/ for ideas on finding potential academic or civic partners and building successful teams. Questions about team building may be directed to MetroLab Network (Innovate@MetroLabNetwork.org).

5. How can Civic Partners and other collaborators receive funding?

Although only Institutions of Higher Education and non-profit organizations are eligible to receive funds directly from NSF, other civic partners and organizations (including local, state, and tribal governments) may receive funding via subawards from the awardee organization. Although NSF will not dictate how teams allocate their budgets, teams are encouraged to consider how to fairly distribute funds to or on behalf of all team members.


Due to the short timeframe for Stage 1, teams may find that it is more efficient during that stage to have funds flow to the primary grantee only, and to directly cover any costs on behalf of civic partners or other collaborators, which may include costs like travel expenses or video production. Teams who do choose to include civic partners or other collaborators as subawardees during Stage 1 are encouraged to ensure funds will flow in a timely manner to support the teams during the funded period, which may include setting up partner organizations as subawardees within their institutions as soon as possible. For Stage 2, it is strongly encouraged for civic partner(s) and other partners to receive an appropriate distribution of funds as subawards in the project budget. For additional information about subawards, access this link: https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp

6. Can teams partner with a private company? What are potential roles for private companies?

Yes, teams may choose to engage with industry partners. If industry partners seek to receive funds, they should work with an organization that is eligible to submit proposals (see question 1) as a subawardee.

Private sector partners can be valuable team members in a number of roles, and their presence could help transition an idea from research to implementation by providing expertise, technology, or additional capacity. Whatever their role, It is important for teams with private sector partners to express the roles of each partner and describe how they will manage the collaboration.

7. Can we have a team with an international component?

For this solicitation, academic and civic partners and the associated civic engagement activities and project deployment must be based in the US. The only exception is the following: If the proposal includes funding to be provided to an international branch campus of a US institution of higher education (including through use of subawards and consultant arrangements), the proposer must explain the benefit(s) to the project of performance at the international branch campus, and justify why the project activities cannot be performed at the US campus.


Although subawards are not permitted to international entities (with the above exception), teams are encouraged to engage international partners and collaborators where synergies will advance the projects and research directions. Teams may especially want to leverage their existing international partnerships.

8. How does the accelerated timeline affect the composition and funding of teams?

Because the project timeline is shorter than many other NSF solicitations, teams must be prepared to assemble teams and undertake projects quickly. The Stage 1 activities are designed to give teams time to refine their projects and gather additional partners that will help with rapid implementation. Because the Stage 2 timeline is 12 months with awards up to $1 million, teams may find that they are resourced to offer substantial support to civic partners and research teams across disciplines. The Civic Innovation Challenge is designed to be more of a sprint than a marathon — and project teams and plans should reflect that.

9. Should teams be 1-on-1 civic-research partnerships, or is it better to have groups of civic partners with groups of research partners?

1-on-1 partnerships may be more simple to establish and maintain, while grouped partnerships may allow for projects to more quickly scale but introduce challenges in project coordination. If there is to be a more complicated partnership, proposals will need to show exactly how the collaboration will be managed to successfully produce a measurable impact. As part of CIVIC, MetroLab will be fostering communities-of-practice among Stage 1 and Stage 2 awardees, so all funded projects will have opportunities to share projects and scale approaches across sites.

10. Are PIs required to be employees or affiliates of the awardee university or non-profit organization?

Yes.

11. Can we add new partners in Phase 2 if we get asked to move forward?

Yes.

12. How can I avoid wasting the time or resources of civic partners, given that not all teams will be selected for funding in both Stages 1 and 2?

Before starting to work with civic partners, establish a foundation of clear communication by having a conversation about the potential of not being funded and allow them to decide for themselves if the partnership is still valuable. During the process of developing stage 1 and 2 budgets, keep in mind that civic partners will be responsible for transitioning the idea from research to the community, so projects will need to have a shared vision and therefore some shared funding.

13. Do we need to have community partners committed (e.g. letter of support by partner in submission) by the time of proposal in order to be considered for selection?

If you have a partnership, provide clear evidence to show why it is a strong and cohesive partnership, which may involve a letter of collaboration but this is not a requirement.

14. Would a community college, with only two year programs mostly focused on vocational training, be an eligible partner with the PI?

Yes.

15. Can a non-profit 501-C3 qualify as the lead institution and have partners in the private sector?

Yes. In addition to Institutions of Higher Education, the solicitation states: Non-profit, non-academic organizations: Independent museums, observatories, research labs, professional societies and similar organizations in the U.S. associated with educational or research activities.

16. Is it okay for someone from a government agency, program, or FFRDC to be a partner on proposals. And, could they receive funds?

Government agencies, national labs, and FFRDCs (with the exception of DOE and DHS), can partner and receive funds as sub-awardees, but not as primary awardees.

17. Can a private sector company (who already manages other NSF awards) and has PhD researchers on staff apply as the PI with a community group as the co-PI? Or do we need a university involved?

The solicitation states that proposals can be submitted by any 2- or 4-year academic institution, nonprofit, or research center; the PI must be an employee of one of these institutions. The entity in question would not able to submit the proposal nor would their researchers be able to serve as PI. They would have to partner with one of the eligible research partners, and it is recommended to partner with one that has already qualified by NSF to receive funds. Teams should consider that the competition (and Track 1 in particular) will move at a very fast pace, and getting qualified by NSF’s financial division can take several months.

18. Are civic partners required to be paid as subawardees?

No, civic partners are not required to be paid. However, NSF is looking for strong relationships between research and civic partners, and civic partners should hold an important role on the core team. Teams must demonstrate the strength of their relationship whether or not the civic partner is receiving funds. 

Tracks

1. Can my team apply to both the Mobility and the Resilience tracks?

In Stage 1, yes, teams or individuals (PI or co-PI) may apply to both tracks. In Stage 2, teams or individuals (PI or co-PI) may apply to only one track.

2. What if I have another idea that does not fit in the tracks?

If project ideas do not fit to either track, teams may want to consider NSF’s Smart and Connected Community program or other related programs at NSF:
https://www.nsf.gov/cise/scc/ or
https://www.nsf.gov/ere/ereweb/urbansystems/.

3. When you designed this program and settled on these two tracks; what were some specific examples of problems that you identified in each track that you believed worthy of being the subject of this competition?

The tracks were identified during our “Ideas Competition” last year, where we distilled more than 100 submissions into universal themes that cut across all communities of diverse sizes and geographies. Here’s one example of a problem we identified in the Communities and Mobility track: take an individual who needs transportation to a doctor’s appointment but can’t drive or doesn’t own a vehicle. How do you build a transportation system that accommodates this individual? How can new approaches like on-demand mobility, for example, be incorporated? How can we design approaches with equity considerations for residents without the necessary income, technology, or skills to take advantage of innovative mobility systems.
In the Resilience to Natural Disasters track, we sought to address the fact that 3 in 4 Americans were affected by disasters in the last 3 years. The topic of this track has become even more relevant, as now all of us have been affected in some way by COVID-19 and its impact on our health system, economy, and society. The need to invest in resilience in communities is clear.

4. Is Track B: Resilience to Natural Disasters limited to disasters such as floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and heatwaves? Or, could it also include public health related disasters such as pandemics and other types of disease outbreaks?

Projects in Track B can focus on any type of natural disaster; projects are not limited to the natural disasters listed in the solicitation. Projects that focus on resilience to public health disasters, including pandemics, are appropriate for Track B. Contact the NSF program directors if you are unclear about the fit between your topic and CIVIC.

5. If our proposal has both mobility and resilience aspects, will one be given any greater consideration? To which track should we apply?

Both tracks are treated equally, so submit your proposal to the track in which you believe you can have the most significant impact in your community.

6. How can projects applying to the Communities and Mobility track approach innovation across the entire transportation system in this short time frame?

Patterns and behaviors in transportation systems can take a long time to change. CIVIC is designed to achieve concrete impacts in communities that will be scalable, sustainable, and transferable. Projects developed in the 12 month time frame can be prototypes, but it is important for teams to define a realistic plan for how they will scale the prototype, make it transferable to other communities, and sustain it after NSF support is complete.

7. For the resilience track, can the project include both shocks (short term) and stresses (long term), or should it be focused on specific natural disaster events?

Both approaches are appropriate.

8. How will the recently announced increased funding for the challenge be used?

The increase in funding from $9 million to $11 million is expected to be used to fund additional awards in both Stage 1 and Stage 2, based on the quality of proposals submitted.