NGI Policy-in-Practice Fund

Announcing our new Next Generation Internet (NGI) Policy-in-Practice fund 

Do you have an idea for an experimental policy intervention or practical tool that could help empower governments to build a better internet? The NGI Forward project is awarding grants of up to €25,000 to trial bold new solutions on a local level. 


Aims of this fund

We believe that the internet can be a force for positive change in the world. But we are not doing enough to tap into the great, ever-expanding potential of connected technologies. From the internet’s underlying infrastructure to the gatekeepers that decide what content we read and see, power over the internet is increasingly centralised. A small number of players, representing a fraction of the world’s population and diversity, are incentivised to protect their position through behaviour that has a long-term negative impact on social trust and cohesion, competition and innovation. This means that fewer and fewer people are able to reap the full benefits of the digital economy. Fewer still believe that it works in their interest. We want to change that.

While there is consensus that a serious and coordinated response is needed to remedy the internet’s many problems, we still lack the tools to take effective action. Some of the challenges we see require top-down interventions on the global or national level. But to make the Next Generation Internet a success we will also need more bottom-up efforts, action at the local level and the mobilisation of the whole innovation ecosystem.

One of the key goals of the NGI Forward project is therefore to provide a platform for policymakers, innovators and civil society to join forces and collaborate on key digital issues through collective action, knowledge-sharing and joint investment in new solutions.

This fund intends to contribute to doing exactly that.


What we are looking for

We are looking to fund a minimum of four trials that put into practice our vision for a more inclusive, resilient, democratic, sustainable and trustworthy future internet by experimenting with concrete solutions on a local level, and ensuring that insights from these trials can be shared or scaled among the NGI community. 

Policymakers have more levers at their disposal to spur innovation in the internet space than often thought, and can play a powerful role in shaping new markets for ethical tools. We particularly believe that local experimentation and ecosystem building are vital if we want to make alternative models for the internet actually tangible and gain traction. But finding the funding and space to undertake this type of trial is not always easy- especially if outcomes are uncertain. Through the NGI Policy-in-Practice fund, we both want to provide the means to organisations to undertake a number of these trials, but also make the case for local trials more generally. 

We are open to creative ideas. Not sure if your idea qualifies? Here are some fictional examples of the type of ideas we might fund: 

  • A city hall working with app developers to deploy a tool to help with local information sharing, coordinating community volunteering and general resilience in the face of a crisis like COVID-19. 
  • A collaboration between two cities that want to collectively procure an open-source solution to democratise mobility data in their respective communities. 
  • A start-up working together with a local government, trialling how online identity systems might be used to make sharing public health data more trustworthy and privacy-sensitive.
  • A digital rights group and a neighbourhood council working with local citizens to co-design community rules and consent models for a new, to-be-deployed smart city system. 


What we offer

  • Funding: Funding up to €25,000 (total funding available €100,000).
  • Networking: Dissemination of results among the wider NGI community, specifically our policy network and an opportunity to present your findings during one of our annual NGI Policy Summits.
  • Support: While successful applicants are expected to conduct their work independently, Nesta will offer support and guidance on effective project design, pathways to impact and communication of final results.  


A note on COVID-19

The internet has proven to be an invaluable resource for many communities, including the most vulnerable, during COVID-19. Therefore NGI Forward feels an even greater responsibility to progress its efforts to build a more inclusive and trustworthy internet that works for everyone. In light of this, Nesta and NGI Forward have decided to go ahead with launching this fund as previously planned. Though trials do not need to solve a problem related to COVID-19 directly, ideas that actively engage with the new reality each of us is operating in will be looked on favourably.


Selection criteria

Though there are no hard and fast rules of what constitutes a good application – we are interested in experimental approaches after all! – we do specifically look for proposals that demonstrate:

  • Alignment with the NGI mission: The application sets out how the proposed project helps to answer a question or trial an approach that contributes to building a more inclusive, democratic, resilient, trustworthy and sustainable future internet. 
  • Novelty: The project seeks to answer an underexplored question, trials an experimental solution, or tests specific new use cases for a tool or intervention. 
  • Potential for impact: Applications provide a clear explanation of how the outcomes of the proposed work could generate a tangible impact beyond the project itself. 
  • Scalability and transferability: Applications demonstrate that the project can generate meaningful insights that are either scalable, replicable or otherwise relevant to contexts outside the project itself (particularly for other local governments and policymakers). 
  • Flexibility: Experimental approaches mean that failure is a possibility. A good application outlines how the project can still generate useful insights, even if outcomes are different from the ones intended. 


Practical project design 

On a more practical level, we ask applications to clarify the following: 

  • Scope: Proposals should make a convincing and realistic case for what is possible within the proposed timeline and budget. Though €25,000 is no small sum, we do not anticipate the budget would provide sufficient scope for substantial R&D activities (instead, we recommend trialling already existing tools) or deployment on a very large scale. Similarly, while evaluation should always be part of projects of this type, we do not expect academically rigorous experimental set-ups or evaluation frameworks.

    Match funding is not needed nor an award criterion, but can be a good way for projects to achieve greater scale and more ambitious goals in the long term. Applicants who intend to make their project part of a larger or co-funded piece of work should note this in their application. 
  • Duration: All projects need to be completed by August 2021. There is flexibility in start dates and project duration. Applications should outline their preferred timeline in their application, and note any external deadlines and dependencies that cannot be moved.
  • Outputs: Explain in detail the exact outputs the project will generate (a report, a series of blogs, a prototype, a toolkit, series of workshops, etc.), and how these outputs will help disseminate learnings. 


Who can apply

  • Eligibility: Any organisation based in the European Union or in eligible third countries can apply. Individuals are also eligible to apply, but only as part of a consortium and cannot be the project lead. 
  • Consortia: Applications from individual organisations are welcome, but preference goes to small consortia of 2 to 3 partners. We are particularly keen on collaborations between government (such as cities or regional bodies) and non-government actors  (such as civil society groups or SMEs). 
  • Experience: While we welcome consortia that involve newer or less experienced partners, the proposal overall needs to provide evidence the intended project team has the necessary resources and skills to carry out the proposed work. 


How to apply

Deadline: The deadline for applications is 3 July 2020. We reserve the right to consider applications on a rolling basis, as match-funded projects in particular may need to launch before our anticipated June start date (as do experiments that are responding to current urgent dynamics). If this is the case, please note this in your application. 

We do not anticipate all funding will be given out before the deadline, and will update this page with a current tally of funded projects to ensure full transparency for prospective applicants. 

Application form: Applicants are asked to fill in the application form. Please direct any questions to ngipolicylab@nesta.org.uk


What happens after you apply 

Review: Applications will be reviewed by an expert panel within Nesta, consisting of members of the NGI team and experts working on experimentation and practical trials across the organisation. You will hear from us by mid-June.  


Indicative timetable

Our provisional timetable is detailed below. This is intended as guidance only.

  • March 26, 2020: Launch of the fund, we are open for applications.
  • July 3, 2020: Deadline for applications.
  • July 10, 2020: Shortlisted applicants will be notified and invited to a remote interview.
  • July 2020: Anticipated start date for first round of experiments*
  • September 2020: Presentation of initial results during the NGI Policy Summit – projects that finish later are invited to join the second edition of the summit in 2021.

* We are flexible with start dates, and will agree on project timelines and milestones collaboratively- we also recognise that you might have to make some changes to plans, depending on how long the current crisis lasts. Please note that all projects need to be finalised by August 2021. 


Terms and Conditions

By sending us your proposal, you are agreeing to confirm you have read and understood our privacy policy. Terms and conditions available on request. 

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at ngipolicylab@nesta.org.uk


About NGI Forward

This fund is part of the Nesta-led NGI Forward project, the strategy and policy arm of the European Commission’s flagship Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative, which seeks to build a more democratic, inclusive, resilient, sustainable and trustworthy internet by 2030.

Our mission as a project is to build an alternative, citizen-led model for the internet. We are doing that by setting out an ambitious vision for what we want the future internet to look like, identifying the concrete building blocks (both policy interventions and technological tools) we need to get us there, and convening the right ecosystem to bring us closer towards our vision.