The NSF Convergence Accelerator program addresses national-scale societal challenges through use-inspired convergence research. Using a convergence approach and innovation processes like human-centered design, user discovery, and team science and integration of multidisciplinary research, the Convergence Accelerator program seeks to transition basic research and discovery into practice—to solve high-impact societal challenges aligned with specific research themes (tracks).
NSF Convergence Accelerator tracks are chosen in concordance with the themes identified during the program’s ideation process that have the potential for significant national impact. The NSF Convergence Accelerator implements a two-phase program. Both phases are described in this solicitation and are covered by this single solicitation and corresponding Broad Agency Announcement. The link to the Broad Agency Announcement can be found here. The purpose of this parallel activity is to provide increased opportunities for proposals that are led by non‑academic entities. Proposals that are led by Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs), non-profits, independent museums, observatories, research labs, professional societies and similar organizations should respond to this solicitation. Proposals led by for‑profit or similar organizations should respond to the BAA. Phase I awardees receive significant resources to further develop their convergence research ideas and to identify important partnerships and resources to accelerate their projects, leading to deliverable research prototypes in Phase II.
This solicitation for FY 2021 invites proposals for the following Track Topics:
Networked Blue Economy (Track E)
The overarching goal of Track E is to interconnect the Blue Economy and accelerate convergence across ocean sectors. This track aims to create a smart, integrated, connected, and open ecosystem for ocean innovation, exploration, and sustainable utilization. It will provide a highly innovative set of interconnected tools, techniques, methods, and educational resources, as well as improve human engagement with ocean resources. The cohort of projects supported through this track will ultimately lead to a range of innovative partnerships involving stakeholders in ocean-related science and engineering, coastal communities and a diverse set of entities and organizations engaged in the Networked Blue Economy. Collectively, this cohort will produce products, processes, and resources that will allow the US to develop avenues for a more sustainable engagement with the ocean both as an environment and as a resource. The cohort of synergistic projects funded through this track will help our nation and our citizens effectively combat challenges in the ocean while simultaneously unleashing the power of the Networked Blue Economy.
Trust & Authenticity in Communications Systems (Track F)
The overarching goal of Track F is to develop prototype(s) of novel research platforms forming integrated collection(s) of tools, techniques, and educational materials and programs to support increased citizen trust in public information of all sorts (health, climate, news, etc.), through more effectively preventing, mitigating, and adapting to critical threats in our communications systems. The cohort of projects supported through this track will catalyze innovative partnerships involving the full range of information consumers and a diverse set of organizations focused on engendering trust and authenticity in communications systems. Collectively, the cohort of projects will produce products, processes, and resources to enable a more trustworthy communications ecosystem by focusing on the range of content platforms, new and enhanced services to improve the fidelity of communications between platforms and information consumers, and education and training materials to create better informed consumers.
In each track (E or F) it must be evident how the proposed work will be integrated to achieve success of the entire track. Each proposal should include a description of how the proposed project will contribute to an integrated environment that will deliver beneficial outputs for the track. It should also be clear how the projects will convergently align with the overarching goal of each track rather than as independent projects.
Proposers are required to submit a Letter of Intent in order to submit a Phase I Full Proposal. The information required in the Letter of Intent is described in section V.
Letters of Intent should identity a team with the appropriate mix of disciplinary and cross-sector expertise required to build a convergence research effort. Letters of Intent must identify one or more deliverables, how those research outputs could impact society at scale, and the team that will be formed to carry this out.
Phase I proposals must describe the deliverables, a research plan, and the process of team formation that will help lead to a proof-of-concept during Phase I.
If selected, Phase I awards may receive funding up to $750,000 for 12 months duration, of which nine months includes intense hands-on activities, centering around the Program’s innovation curriculum (for additional details regarding the innovation curriculum refer to section V.A.), and three months of other activities such as participation in the NSF Convergence Accelerator Pitch Presentations and Expo.
During the nine-month intensive planning phase, teams will participate in a curriculum that will assist them in strengthening team convergence and accelerating the identified idea toward Phase II. The curriculum provides modules on innovation processes, including human-centered design, user discovery, team science, and integration of multidisciplinary partnerships. Teams will also be provided with coaches who will support them in Phase I and who may continue with them into Phase II if the teams wish to continue with the same coach. Alternatively, the teams can request to work with a different coach.
Only awardees of Phase I awards under this solicitation may submit a Phase II proposal. Phase II proposals must outline a 24-month research and development plan that transitions research into practice through convergence activities, multi-sector partnerships, and collaboration with other partners and end-users.
If selected for Phase II, teams will be expected to apply program fundamentals and innovation processes gained in Phase I to enhance partnerships, develop a solution prototype, and build a sustainability model to continue societal impact beyond NSF support.
Phase II awards may be up to $5 million for 24 months. Phase II proposals must clearly describe deliverables that will be produced within 24 months. The Phase II teams must include partnerships critical for success and end-users (e.g., industry, Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs), non-profits, government, and others), each with a specific role(s) in deliverable development and facilitating the transition of research outputs into practical uses. Successful Phase II proposals will be funded initially for 12 months, with a second year being provided on the basis of an assessment of performance (see below).
Each Phase II team’s progress will be assessed during the year through approximately four virtual and/or in-person meetings with NSF program staff. At the end of 12 months, overall progress will be evaluated based on a report and presentation that the team presents to a panel of internal and/or external reviewers. Phase II teams that show significant progress during the first year in accordance with the agreed timetable of milestones and deliverables will receive funding for a second year. Phase II teams must plan on completing the effort within 24 months. No-cost extensions are not permitted except under clearly documented exceptional circumstances. Grantees must first contact the cognizant Program Officer prior to submitting a request.
The NSF Convergence Accelerator program is committed to research that derives expertise from and provides broad benefits to everyone. The program places a very strong emphasis on broadening participation by encouraging proposals from, and partnerships with, minority-serving institutions (e.g., Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges, Hispanic Serving Institutions, Alaska Native-Serving Institutions, and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions), and other organizations.
Chaitanya K. Baru
Lara A. Campbell
Pradeep P. Fulay