Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund 2024 Call for Proposals

MBIE invites proposals to the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund. This Call for Proposals provides you with information about how to apply, how your proposal will be assessed, and what happens if your proposal is successful.

The Unlocking Curious Minds (UCM) Fund aims to encourage quality projects that reach and inspire a broader base of New Zealanders through initiatives that bring science and technology to audiences that have less opportunity to learn about and to engage with science and technology.

Te tahua e wātea ana - The funding available

The total funding available is approximately $1.6 million (excluding GST) for the Fund’s 2024 investment round to fund successful proposals for up to an 11-month period commencing February 2024. Projects must be completed from 1 February 2024 until 31 December 2024.

The amount of funding you can apply for is a minimum: $50,000 (excluding GST) and a maximum: $150,000 (excluding GST).

Ngā momo whakapaunga o te tahua - How the funding can be used

What is fundable

  • Project costs must be solely and directly related to the project work programme. Funds can be used to cover costs towards the work programme development, delivery, and operating costs (including travel).
  • Projects that take place in 1 or more New Zealand regions.
  • Projects that reach audiences in more than 1 location across a region(s). The regions are defined by individual regional council boundaries.
  • Projects that provide 1 or more new science and technology engagement activities.
  • Refocused previously funded projects supported by strong evidence that the changes will reach a new target audience(s) and/or have broader impact.
  • Costs associated directly with the project (total project costs).

Costs associated may include:

  • Costs of personnel
  • Personnel related costs
  • Material and consumables directly related to promoting or delivering a project
  • Travel directly related to delivering the project
  • Project operational costs.

Projects that start from 1 February 2024 and are completed by 31 December 2024. Projects that involve activities in the summer months may seek a later completion date. The rationale for a later date must be clearly set out in your proposal.

What is not fundable

Projects that have been previously funded by MBIE that do not:

  • reach a new target audience(s), or
  • have broader impact.
  • Capital expenditure for any equipment with an asset life beyond the term of the project.

Ngā paearu whakawhiwhi - The eligibility criteria

Applicants must meet all the eligibility criteria below for their proposal to be assessed. Applicants who don’t meet these criteria will be declined funding on eligibility grounds:

  • The proposed activity or activities must take place in 1 or more New Zealand regions (including the Chatham Islands).
  • Applications must be from an organisation that is a legal entity with an IRD number.
  • Legal entities may include incorporated societies, registered charities, registered companies, and trusts.
  • New Zealand Government departments (as defined in Schedule 2 of the Public Service Act 2020) are not eligible to apply for funding.
  • Centres of Research Excellence (funded through the Tertiary Education Commission) are not eligible to apply for funding.
  • Your proposal must not benefit a Russian state institution (including but not limited to support for Russian military or security activity) or an organisation outside government that may be perceived as contributing to the war effort.
  • Applications must be made in our Investment Management System (IMS) – a secure online portal, within the application deadline, and comply with all formatting, content or other administrative requirements set out in this Call for Proposals.

The terms and conditions of the Fund’s Funding Agreement will apply to the provision of funding agreed between the contracting organisation and us. By submitting a proposal, applicants (and their collaborators) are agreeing to the terms and conditions of the Fund’s Funding Agreement. A sample agreement is available on the Fund’s webpages.

Te tukanga tono me te aromatawai - The application and assessment process

This section outlines the application, assessment and decision-making processes, and the funding application timeline.

Te tukanga tono - The application process

Applying for funding is a 2 stage process.

Stage 1:

Register your intent to apply for funding in our Investment Management System (IMS) – a secure online portal. If you do not have an IMS login, you will need to request access (allow at least 1 week to do this before you want to register).

IMS access request form(external link) — OfficeApps.com

The registration process signals your intent to submit a funding proposal. Registration must be completed by 12 noon, 19 July 2023. Use the registration template to understand what information you will need to register.

Registration must be completed before you can start to enter and/or submit a funding proposal.

We use the information collected at registration to prepare for the assessment of submitted proposals.

Stage 2:

  • Submit your proposal in IMS. Before developing your proposal, you are encouraged to consider the eligibility criteria, the assessment criteria, and the terms and conditions relating to this Call for Proposals.
  • The proposal template provides guidance on how to prepare your proposal and the information you are required to provide. We recommend you use the proposal template provided to draft the required information in a word processer of your choice and then when ready to submit, copy and paste the necessary segments into the appropriate IMS fields and upload your supporting documentation where directed.
  • You may enter and submit your proposal immediately after you have completed Registration - you do not need to wait for the Registration period to close.
  • The information in your proposal is used for assessment and forms the basis of the contract for successful projects.

To help you with registering and submitting your proposal we’ve created 2 templates which you can find in the Key References section below.

Ngā rangi matua - Key dates

Stage Dates
Proposal registration period 26 June 2023 until 12 noon, 19 July 2023
Submission period for proposals 26 June 2023 until 12 noon, 16 August 2023
Assessor names published By 2 August 2023
Assessment of proposals 29 August 2023 to 20 September 2023
Funding decisions announced and applicants are given feedback November 2023 with contracting to January 2024
Contracting and Funding Agreements signed November 2023 to January 2024
Contracted work programmes commence 1 February 2024   
All work programmes completed 31 December 2024 

All dates are NZ Standard Time.

Any change to key dates will be notified by an alert email.

If you are not registered for these alerts, you can find out more about Science and Innovation email updates and subscribe here: 

Science and innovation – subscribe to email updates

Subscribe(external link)

Ngā tohutoro matua - Key references

When developing your application, we encourage you to consult the following key reference documents:

Ka pēhea te aromatawai tia o ngā tono - How proposals will be assessed

Once all proposals have been submitted the following assessment process takes place:

  • MBIE performs an eligibility check on all proposals.
  • All eligible proposals will be assessed by independent Assessors against the assessment criteria.
  • Assessors will accept/decline assigned proposals and declare any conflicts of interest.
  • Assessors will assess and score accepted proposals against the assessment criteria below and provide comments (recorded in IMS).
  • Informed by the Assessor’s scores and comments, MBIE prepares a shortlist of proposals which are approved by the General Manager, Strategic Science Investment & Performance and then assigned to an expert Unlocking Curious Minds (UCM) Assessment Panel.
  • The UCM Assessment Panel discusses and ratifies the shortlisted proposals and portfolio balancing, forms funding recommendations and may place proposals ‘in reserve’ should extra funding become available by 31 January 2024.
  • Informed by the UCM Assessment Panel’s recommendations, MBIE’s General Manager, Science System Investment and Performance makes the final decisions on which proposals will progress to contracting.
  • All applicants will be notified of the assessment outcome and given written feedback.

Conflicts of interest

If you are submitting a proposal, check the list of Assessors below (names will be published before 2 August 2023) for any potential conflicts of interest.

If you identify an actual, potential, or perceived direct or indirect conflict of interest, you must notify us before the application closing date by emailing curiousminds@mbie.govt.nz with the details for further discussion.

Conflicts of interest may occur on 2 different levels:

A direct conflict of interest, where an Assessor is:

  • directly involved with a proposal (as a participant, manager, mentor, or partner) or has a close personal relationship with the applicant, for example, family members, or
  • a collaborator or in some other way involved with an applicant’s proposal.

An indirect conflict of interest, where an Assessor:

  • is employed by an organisation involved in a proposal but is not part of the applicant’s proposal
  • has a personal and/or professional relationship with 1 of the applicants, for example, an acquaintance
  • is assessing a proposal under discussion that may compete with their business interests.


Assessment panel members

Assessment criteria

The Assessors will assess all eligible proposals on each of the criteria below and score them from 1 (Low quality) to 7 (High quality).

Excellence Criteria: 50% weighting

  • The extent to which the project plan demonstrates a realistic and coherent strategy, novel methods, scientific rigour, delivers value for money, and outlines a clear work programme with defined relevance to the target audience.
  • The quality of the project team and their ability to connect and work collaboratively with the target audience. This includes evidence of linkages with relevant partners, in both the community and scientific field of engagement, and, where relevant, Māori involvement, and any co-funding considerations.

Impact Criteria: 50% weighting

  • The extent to which the project broadens the ability of the target audience to engage with science and technology, and responds to their needs, with clear indicators of how success will be measured.
  • The extent to which the project promotes and increases the visibility of science, and different research methodologies, in the wider community with clear indicators of how success will be measured.
  • The extent to which the project promotes and increases the visibility of higher education and science career pathways.
  • The ability to reflect Te Ao Māori by demonstrating aspects of Māori centred research, kaupapa Māori research methodologies and enablement of mātauranga methods appropriately and respectfully.
  • The ability to reflect other knowledge systems where appropriate such as Pacific- centred research.
  • Evidence of impact and the credibility of the project approach to demonstrate that impact.

Ngā whakataunga tahua, mahi kirimana me ngā whakaritenga pūrongo - Funding decisions, contracting, and reporting requirements

Te tukanga ngā whakataunga tahua - The decision-making process

The final decision on which proposals will be funded will be made by the General Manager of the Science System Investment and Performance Branch in the Labour, Science and Enterprise Group, MBIE.

This decision will be informed by:

  • the independent Assessors’ scores
  • recommendations by the UCM Assessment Panel who will consider the following portfolio balancing factors:
  • how well proposals meet the excellence and impact criteria for the fund
  • the range of New Zealand regions represented
  • innovative approaches to STEM engagement
  • representation of a wide range of science topics and concepts
  • inclusion of a wide range of audience experiences.

This decision may be contingent on:

  • pre-contractual conditions which must be met before the investment is contracted
  • special conditions in addition to the general terms and conditions set out in the Fund’s Funding Agreement
  • a variation to the proposed term of a proposal
  • a variation to the funding allocated from that proposed and requirement that the proposed project plan be negotiated to MBIE’s satisfaction to reflect the changed funding
  • prior performance in previous UCM Funding Agreements.

Where an applicant is recommended to be funded but has an outstanding reporting requirement, or other unmet UCM contractual obligations, at the time of contracting, we may withhold the Funding Agreement until such a time as previous UCM contracting obligations are fulfilled. Please note that the new contract start date could be delayed where earlier UCM contractual obligations are unfulfilled.

When decisions are announced, we will provide the proposal’s primary contact person with:

  • information as to where their proposal sat in terms of percentiles
  • comments from Assessors on the strength and weaknesses of the proposal
  • whether their proposal was shortlisted and progressed to the Assessment Panel.

A list of successful applicants will be published on the Fund’s webpages and announced in a press release.

Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund

Te tukanga tuku kirimana - The contracting process

If the decision is made to invest in your proposal, from early November 2022 we will enter into a Funding Agreement (which will include an agreed work programme) with your organisation (subject to any pre-contractual conditions being met).

This Funding Agreement will contain information from your proposal and will be sent to the designated contact person after the announcement of the investment decisions. This agreement is expected to be signed and returned to us within 1 month of receipt. Note that Trusts may need to supply a copy of their Trust Deed with their signed contract.

Work programmes should be ready to commence 1 February 2024 and be completed on or before 31 December 2024, unless otherwise agreed.

The terms and conditions of the Fund’s Funding Agreement will apply to the provision of funding agreed between MBIE and the contracting organisation. By submitting a proposal, you are agreeing to both the Terms and Conditions of this Call for Proposals and the Fund’s Funding Agreement. A sample agreement is available on the Fund’s webpages.

Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund

Funding payments

The contract holder must manage the approved funding to ensure delivery of the contracted work programme and adhere to the reporting requirements. Subject to specific contract conditions, MBIE funding will be provided to the successful applicant as follows:

  • 30% of the approved funding will be paid once the Funding Agreement is signed.
  • 2 instalments (each being 30% of the approved funding) will be made at regular intervals over the term of the Funding Agreement.
  • The remainder 10% of the approved funding will be paid on completion of the project and acceptance of a Final Report that demonstrates that the project has achieved its stated outcomes.

Te pūrongo i ngā takohanga - Reporting obligations

During the contracted funding period, successful applicants will need to provide a Mid-Term Progress Declaration and a Final Report. These need to be submitted in IMS.

The Mid-Term Progress Declaration will cover:

  • On/off track status.
  • Emerging risks and what is being done to address them.

The Final Report will include:

  • Commentary on the overall project outcomes, including key achievements, the steps taken and, where applicable, the changes made to your approach.
  • Participant information including the number of participants, geographical spread, and ethnicity (where available).
  • How you are communicating and promoting your project.
  • How you are measuring the success of your project and your assessment of what the project is achieving.

He kōrero anō ­- Further information

Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund


Proposal queries: curiousminds@mbie.govt.nz

IMS queries: imssupport@mbie.govt.nz


0800 693 778 (Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 4:30pm)

Last updated: 02 August 2023