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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 time frame of the Challenge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
No, there is not a limit to the size of the team.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Both approaches are appropriate.