Upload - ICO grants programme

16 October 2018

The ICO grant programme is intended to fund research into privacy and data protection issues affecting the UK public.

Under the scheme, there is funding available of up to £100,000 to fund projects which will have a direct benefit to the UK public. 

Previous projects funded include: 

  • a digital tool to help people enforce their data protection rights
  • an online tool to evaluate the risk of re-identification of pseudonymised data
  • research into the secure sharing of medical information and supporting research
  • research into issues related to children’s online privacy.

So far there have been two rounds of funding (the second round has recently closed and applications are being assessed) and it is anticipated that there will be at least two further rounds of funding available. 

Based on previous years, the application window for the third round of funding is likely to be in July or August 2019. If your organisation is in the planning stages of a project which will consider UK privacy issues, now may be a good time to consider whether the project may be eligible for an ICO grant.

Who is eligible for funding

Grants are available to a wide range of organisations including (but not limited to) academic institutions, organisations with a genuine commitment to public benefit outcomes, trade and industry associations, and civil society groups. The organisations can be UK based or international, but the research must have a direct benefit to the UK public. 

Political and religious organisations, current or former employees of the ICO, and anyone who has been disqualified as a director, subject to insolvency or bankruptcy proceedings, or the subject of any enforcement proceedings by the ICO, will not be eligible for funding. 

What types of research are covered

The ICO is looking to fund projects which will assist it in working towards its five strategic goals, which are: 

  • increasing the public’s trust and confidence in how data is used and made available
  • improving standards of information rights practice through clear, inspiring and targeted engagement and influence
  • maintaining and developing influence within the global information rights regulatory community
  • staying relevant, providing excellent public service, and keeping abreast of evolving technology
  • enforcing the laws the ICO helps shape and oversee. 

For the first two rounds of funding, the ICO particularly sought solutions to implementing privacy by design and accountability. There was also a focus on AI, big data, machine learning, blockchain, and issues relating to the use of children’s data. In 2018/2019 there was also a focus on safeguards in the use of biometric and facial recognition data, data trusts, and challenges for SMEs. These seem likely to remain key issues for the following round of funding. 

In the majority of cases, funding will be capped at £100,000 and last for 12 months, however, the ICO does have discretion to award a higher sum or extend the time period if it believes that the project is of sufficient complexity and importance. If you know that your project may take longer than 12 months or require more than £100,000 to complete, you must explain why and justify this in your application. Extended funding is very unlikely to be granted retrospectively, unless there are exceptional or unforeseen circumstances.

What costs are covered by the grant

The grant is intended to cover the direct costs of carrying out the project such as salaries, administrative costs, reasonable travel costs and minor equipment which are required for the project (such as software). 

The ICO will not fund general overheads, equipment which costs over 25% of the sum awarded, or any costs incurred before or after the funding period.

Can organisations commercialise the results of their research?

The ICO will not fund research which is for commercial purposes. As the grant is a source of public funding, the results of your research must be made available to the public free of charge. 

How and when to apply for the next round of funding

Based on previous years, the application window for the 2019/2020 round of funding is likely to be in July or August 2019. 

You will need to send the ICO your completed application form, any supporting evidence, and a 500 word summary of your proposal. It is important that your application sets out a clear and detailed methodology, explains the project deliverables and outcomes, and provides key milestones and timescales. The application form and guidance from the 2018/2019 round of funding are available on the ICO website. 

When assessing your proposal, the ICO will consider the overall quality of the application, how relevant the proposal is to the Strategic Plan, the feasibility of the project, whether it provides value for public funding, and whether it sets out clear outcomes and benefits focussed on UK data protection issues. 

For further information or advice, please contact Nicola Gulrajani or a member of Birketts' Corporate Team.

This article is from the October 2018 issue of Upload, our newsletter for professionals with an interest in technology. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. Law covered as at October 2018.

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