Strategic innovation partnerships

To achieve our vision and goals, we help users across all sectors of business, government and society to find and use world-class environmental science so they can deliver innovation and economic growth with responsible environmental management.

Strategic partnerships are just one of the ways we achieve this. A strategic partnership is a formal arrangement between NERC and one other organisation (a company, non-governmental organisation or charity, government department or agency).

Benefits of partnership

For NERC, engaging in partnership crucially provides:

  • The opportunity to accelerate impact within key NERC priority areas by gaining insight into the immediate and longer term research requirements of the sector, that are appropriate to be delivered by publicly funded environmental science.
  • A comprehensive view, not only across the business partner's strategy but also the broader sector in which it operates. This allows a clear perspective on where the breadth of the current NERC science portfolio can address specific challenges and allows NERC to plan opportunities to translate science, thus providing the potential to accelerate impact through a variety of routes.
  • Understanding of sector specific challenges to inform the development of strategic science priorities.
  • A means to articulate better the impact of environmental science across a broad range of sectors in front of key government and other business stakeholders by both parties.

For business partners, engaging in partnership primarily provides:

  • Ease of access to the research base and the opportunity to co-design and jointly support the translation of research so that it can be used to address challenges relevant to the strategy of their organisation.
  • A 'one stop shop' and increased bandwidth for the breadth of knowledge and expertise within the NERC-funded portfolio embedded in research centres and universities.
  • An opportunity to influence NERC research and postgraduate training investments by articulating long-term research, translation and training needs, so contributing to the development and maintenance of a skilled workforce.
  • A route for input into the NERC forward look approach, raising awareness of the challenges faced by the sector and, where appropriate, ensuring that outcomes of NERC-funded research are accessible and relevant.

Funding for activities

The NERC portfolio of activities related to strategic partnerships will access £2 million per annum of innovation funding to support knowledge translation and to take forward topics identified as being of interest to partners. Funding will be offered in open competition under standard research council terms and conditions, and opportunities will be balanced to support the breadth of the remit of existing partnerships. Adherence to 'state aid rules' is a requirement of any funding involving industry participation.

What is expected from strategic partners?

In return, we would expect our strategic partners to:

  • Allocate resource within their organisations to manage the relationship. Typically this would be a senior board level sponsor with appropriate operational support for the collaborative activities. We envisage two meetings per year to discuss, review and agree the portfolio of collaborative activities.
  • Nominate 'champions' for each activity within the partnership to manage and contribute to the project progress by working in close collaboration with the academic partners.
  • Act as advocates for the importance and value to the UK economy and society of environmental science funding and, occasionally, for NERC itself.
  • Attend bi-annual meetings of all NERC's strategic partners.
  • Work with us to develop case studies of how NERC-funded science has been used by and benefitted the organisation.


The partnership is managed by a steering board that meets at least twice per annum. Membership of the steering board consists of at least one senior representative from the partner organisations and from NERC, and the operational relationship managers from each organisation.

Each partnership is managed on a day-to-day basis by a NERC relationship manager who will work with the partner to develop a clear partnership plan outlining planned activities. The steering board will have oversight of the agreed plan, ensuring a transparent approach to the development and operation of partnerships.

The partnership plan is developed on an annual basis, outlining a planned programme of activity driven by the needs, issues and challenges agreed by the steering board. Wherever possible, planned mechanisms are used to allow NERC to capture reporting information and programme calls internally, to maximise resource efficiency.

Strategic partnerships can in principle invest in any form of existing NERC people exchange or innovation mechanism, as outlined in the diagram below:

Strategic partnerships exchange mechanism diagram

Text description of the strategic partnerships exchange mechanism diagram:

NERC innovation mechanisms are divided into three sections: 'people exchange and development', 'innovation projects' and 'other'. These sections divide further: 'people exchange and development' includes the long term (covering CASE studentships and knowledge exchange fellows) and short term (covering Knowledge Transfer Partnerships and innovation internships); 'innovation projects' includes hackathons / sandpits, innovation project calls and innovation challenges; 'other' includes panel / board membership, call engagement / forward look, signposting, workshop / showcase, research base interaction mapping, and research landscape synthesis.

Using existing mechanisms means that resources can be managed efficiently through planned call processes and mechanisms are recognised by the academic community. The partner benefits by the possibility to specify in a more directed way the specific challenges and issues that they would like to address through these mechanisms.