Research News

IRC announces €5.3M research funding to tackle societal challenges

  • 29 October, 2021


The Irish Research Council has this week announced a total investment of €5.3 million under the Collaborative Alliances for Societal Challenges (COALESCE) programme.


UCD researchers were awarded seven of the 21 total awards granted, for projects including transformative digital approaches in key areas such as children’s mathematics education, rural development, migration and understanding harmful Covid-19 health narratives.


UCD received the highest number of awards in the scheme among Ireland’s higher education and research institutions. Each project is led by a Principal Investigator in Social Sciences or Humanities in collaboration with a co-applicant in STEM.


Commenting on the awards, College Principal of UCD College of Social Sciences and Law, Professor Colin Scott said: “ We are very proud to see UCD’s achievements in this year’s COALESCE scheme, which highlights the great value and impact of social sciences disciplines in tackling key societal issues nationally and globally. Our researchers are known for taking innovative approaches and collaborations in diverse themes ranging from economic policy, child and youth wellbeing and health to identity conflict and inclusion and geographies, societies and the environment. We wish our awardees every success in these significant projects.”


Acting College Principal of UCD College of Arts and Humanities, Professor John Brannigan said: “We welcome UCD’s success in this year’s scheme, its aim to enable and drive innovation and interdisciplinarity in societal challenge research echoes the core principles of our own research strategy for 2020 to 2024 at UCD College of Arts and Humanities. We offer congratulations to Professor Kathleen James-Chakraborty and Post Doctoral researcher Dr Zhengfeng Wang, also of UCD Humanities Institute, and all the other awardees announced this week. Arts and Humanities research in STEM collaborations can achieve genuine policy impact and meaningful, positive change in people’s lives.”


The UCD Awardees are:


Dr Flavia Santos, Assistant Professor, UCD School of Psychology, for ‘The ARITHMÓS Project: Transforming children’s maths education through digital games,’

Dr Graham Finlay, Assistant Professor, UCD School of Politics and International Relations, for ‘COTHROM - Computing Thoughtful Rules for Migrants.’

Dr Karen Keaveney, Urban and Regional Planner/Assistant Professor, UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science, for ‘Citizen Rural: Digital Data for Participatory Democracy in Remote Places.’

Associate Professor Declan Redmond, UCD School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy, for ‘Compact Growth and Residential Density: Sustainability, Viability and Liveability.’

Professor Eugenia Siapera, Head of UCD School of Information and Communication Studies, for ‘Platforming Harm: Alt-Tech platforms and Covid-19 health narratives.’

Professor Graeme Warren, UCD School of Archaeology, for ‘Looking Up: the future of early prehistoric heritage in Europe’s mountains.’

Professor Kathleen James-Chakraborty, UCD School of Art History and Cultural Policy, for ‘Balancing Heritage and Sustainability in the Retrofit of Postwar Curtain Wall Highrises.’


Director of the Irish Research Council, Peter Brown said: “The investment announced today is vital in finding innovative ways to address major issues in society – such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the housing crisis and climate change. The COALESCE fund provides a unique opportunity for researchers to break down barriers between different disciplines and collaborate with peers across different sectors and departments, which will deliver results that will benefit every facet of Irish society. Addressing these challenges is a key priority for us at the Irish Research Council.


“We are delighted to have partnered with so many Government departments and partners to deliver the COALESCE programme, particularly the Department of Foreign Affairs who made a significant investment of €2.1 million towards the fund. The research carried out under the COALESCE fund has the potential to make a significant contribution to public policy in Ireland and further afield. Government departments are moving towards expert-led, evidence-based research in response to current priorities and policy needs. The call for 2021 will see even more government departments partnering with the fund, which will open up new areas for research.”


This is the third cycle of the COALESCE programme. Since its formation, the research fund has run in partnership with various government departments and agencies, including: the Central Statistics Office; the Irish Human Rights Equality Commission; the Health Service Executive Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme; the Department of Children and Youth Affairs; Geological Survey Ireland; the National Parks and Wildlife Service; Met Éireann; and the Department of Foreign Affairs.


Among the researchers awarded funding this year under the Department of Foreign Affairs ‘Better World’ strand of the programme are:


  • Susanne Barth (Teagasc) will collaborate with researchers in Ireland and Africa to translate bioscience research advances on main cereal crops into oats and develop new varieties, adapted to tropical regions, with tangible benefits for smallholder livestock farmers in Sub Sahara Africa.
  • Ehiaze Ehimen (IT Sligo), in collaboration with Malawian researchers and stakeholders, will put forward a demonstrable process and supporting structures which can be used to achieve sustained electrification in low-income communities in Sub Saharan countries. The project outcomes will be demonstrated in four pilot rural community sites in Malawi, which by the end of the project will own and operate their own renewable energy systems.


Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora, Colm Brophy TD said: “This exciting partnership between the IRC and the Department of Foreign Affairs helps us to support Irish universities and their counterparts in developing countries do exciting research which will help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Academics in Ireland bring great enthusiasm and knowledge to the COALESCE programme. This continued funding increases capacity in partner universities and will put Irish researchers at the cutting edge of work on global challenges such as climate change, healthcare and technology.”


The call for COALESCE 2021 is currently open and this year’s Strategic Funding Partners include the Department of Foreign Affairs, the National Monuments Service of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage in partnership with the Heritage Council.


Further details about the COALESCE call are available at

Details of all IRC COALESCE 2020 awardees are available here.