The NSF Convergence Accelerator is a new organizational structure at NSF to accelerate the transition of convergence research into practice. The Convergence Accelerator brings teams together in a cohort, with time-limited tracks that focus on grand challenges of national importance that require a convergence research approach requiring the merging of ideas, approaches and technologies from widely diverse fields of knowledge. Convergence Accelerator teams are required to be interdisciplinary in their composition and research approach and expected to leverage multi-sector partnerships across academia, industry, government, non-profit and other sectors. FY 2019 was the pilot year for the NSF Convergence Accelerator program. The CA program is structured to include a Phase I (9 months) for Planning and a Phase II (2 years) for Implementation. Each year, the CA releases a solicitation which includes the description of the tracks for that year.
NSF Convergence Accelerator RFI Workshops. The NSF Convergence Accelerator Office invites a set of “Request for Information (RFI)” workshops each year on specific topics that have the potential to be considered as new Convergence Accelerator Tracks in the following, or subsequent, years.
For FY 2019, the first year of the program, tracks were selected based on NSF’s Big Ideas—with Track A on Open Knowledge Networks and Track B on AI and Future Jobs and the National Talent Ecosystem.
For FY 2020, tracks were selected based on RFI Workshops conducted in the September-November 2019 time frame, resulting in Track C: Quantum Computing and Track D: Enabling AI Innovation via Data and Model Sharing.
For FY 2021, workshops are being conducted in the September-October 2020 timeframe, to help define CA track for the FY 2021 solicitation/competition.
Workshop Expectations. The NSF CA RFI Workshops are expected to generate “crisp” reports, immediately after the meeting, incorporating all the material needed by NSF to determine whether a particular topic is suitable as a CA Track for the next fiscal year.
Workshop organizers and participants should enter the meeting knowing that NSF is seeking actionable outcomes from the meeting that would assist NSF in making its track selection decision.
The CA Program Structure. Once tracks are selected, NSF will issue a combined solicitation for Phase I and Phase II of the CA program for the next fiscal year.
Pre-proposals. A 2-page pre-proposal is required from everyone interested in submitting a Phase I full proposal. Pre-proposals are reviewed and only those that are invited are allowed to submit a full proposal for Phase I.
Phase I full proposals. In addition to intellectual merit and broader impact, Phase I proposals are judged on key CA-specific criteria including, relevance to the Track topic; convergence research (deep multidisciplinary partnerships); multi-sector partnerships across academia, industry, government, non-profits, etc.; and a clear set of deliverables by the end of Phase II. In FY19 and FY20, Phase I project budgets could be up to $1M for 9 months.
Phase I execution. During the 9 months of Phase I, projects are expected to solidify their efforts in identifying key users and user communities for their idea; firming up multi-sector partnerships; and defining and developing prototypes to help clarify Phase II deliverables. Projects members are expected to undergo a Convergence Accelerator Curriculum that includes modules on design thinking and user-centered design, team science, and engagement with domain experts from industry and elsewhere for their respective tracks.
Phase II proposals. At the end of Phase I, all Phase I projects are eligible to submit a Phase II Implementation proposal for up to $5M for 2 years (up to $3M in Year 1 and up to $2M in Year 2). In addition to the regular NSF review panel, Phase II projects are required to make a 10-minute pitch to a separate Pitch Panel, consisting of experts who are not from academia—they may be from industry, government, non-profit sector, etc. The Phase II funding decision is based on the outcomes from both reviews. The number of Phase II projects funded depends on the quality of the proposals (as judged by outcomes from both the review panels) and availability of funding.
Phase II Execution. Project are expected to work on their deliverables over the 2 years of Phase II. Project progress will be reviewed every quarter, along with a formal review process at the end of Year 1 to determine the funding for Year 2.