Skip to page content
You are here: Home > Funding > Unlocking Curious Minds

Unlocking Curious Minds

This contestable fund supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.

What is Unlocking Curious Minds?

Unlocking Curious Minds is a contestable fund that supports innovative approaches which provide more New Zealanders with more opportunities to learn about and engage with science and technology.

People who already have some previous science and technology experience are usually easier to engage than people who have none. Therefore, the challenge is to reach and inspire a broader base of New Zealanders through initiatives that cater for groups with fewer opportunities to learn about and do science and technology.

Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that use innovative and/or best-practice approaches to help potential and future citizen scientists, particularly young New Zealanders aged 18 years and under, learn about and to engage with science and technology, by:

  • supporting education and community outreach initiatives that focus on science and technology
  • broadening participants’ ability to engage with science and technology
  • promoting the relevance of science and technology in their lives
  • encouraging engagement in societal debate about science and technology issues facing the country.

The fund supports the entire strategic plan to encourage and support all New Zealanders to engage with science and technology.

14322659 1192834917403487 4530233277033949974 n

Projects: Unlocking Curious Minds

Explore the broad diversity of projects funded through Unlocking Curious Minds from 2015 to now.

Find projects supported by Unlocking Curious Minds

The application process

How does the application process work?

Unlocking Curious Minds is managed directly by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

The Unlocking Curious Minds contestable funding round for 2019 opened on 2 August 2018 and closed on 18 September. The Call for Proposals is available here [PDF 812KB].

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter or subscribe to our email list to keep up to date on announcements relating to the application process.

Calls for proposals

Fifth round
August 2018 [PDF 812KB]
Registration opened: 2 August 2018
Registration closed: midday 21 August 2018
Submissions closed: midday 18 September 2018

Fourth round
August 2017 [PDF 761KB]

Third round
October 2016

Second round
January 2016

First round
February 2015

What funding is awarded?

Local grants 

Local/community projects run by either individuals or organisations can apply for up to $30,000. You do not have to apply for the full amount available. An individual, or organisation which is a legal entity with an IRD number, can apply for a local grant.

Regional/national grants

Up to $150,000 can be requested by organisations only for projects that have broader reach within and across regions or New Zealand as a whole. You do not have to apply for the full amount available.

Applicants for regional/national grants must provide a minimum of 20 per cent of the total project costs as cash co-funding and/or in-kind support, with MBIE funding the balance.
For example, if the total project cost is $100,000 then the applicant and other associated parties to the proposal (combined) would need to provide at least $20,000 as cash co-funding and/or in-kind support of the total project cost. Funding sought from MBIE would be $80,000.

Who can apply?

The funding can be used to support the costs of delivering innovative new science and technology engagement projects aimed at groups who do not have:

  • a background of engagement with science and technology, and/or
  • an understanding of how science and technology can affect them and change the way they live their lives.

Proposals are encouraged for projects that will increase the engagement of young people (aged 18 years and under) with science and technology.

Projects should lift levels of understanding and involvement with science and technology in ‘harder-to-reach’ target groups. Such activities could include, e.g. workshops, community-based research, or hands-on learning opportunities. Where possible, activities should offer multiple engagement opportunities, rather than one-off events.

Local grants

For local grants the applicant can be an individual (New Zealand citizen or permanent resident) or an organisation* that is a legal entity with an IRD number.

Regional/national grants

Only an organisation* that is a legal entity with an IRD number can apply for regional/national grants. Individuals cannot apply for regional/national grants.

Applicants for regional/national grants must provide a minimum of 20% of the total project costs as cash cofunding and/or in-kind support, with MBIE funding the balance.

Regional/national projects must either involve collaboration with other organisations or leverage existing engagement programmes or resources (government or non-government). This could include, for example, partnerships with organisations that have a strong connection with the target group, expertise in science content and/or communication, event management etc.

Government departments (as defined in Schedule 1 of the State Sector Act 1988), centres of research excellence (funded through the Tertiary Education Commission), and National Science Challenge research collaborations are not eligible to apply for or receive funding. However, these can be involved in delivering or supporting a project.

* Organisations are defined broadly. These can include, for example, incorporated societies, registered charities, community groups, Māori collectives/organisations, businesses, research providers, zoos, museums, science centres, etc.

Where can I find similar projects already funded?

View the Projects page for summaries of projects funded through Unlocking Curious Minds:

14322659 1192834917403487 4530233277033949974 n

Projects: Unlocking Curious Minds

Explore the broad diversity of projects funded through Unlocking Curious Minds from 2015 to now.

Find projects supported by Unlocking Curious Minds

Where do I apply for funding?

MBIE has an online portal through which you can apply.

You will need to register to gain a username and password for your proposal, which you can save and then continue later.

If you are successful, MBIE will set up a contract with you using the terms and conditions in the 2019 Funding Agreement template [DOC 176KB].

You should read this before you apply so that you are aware of your and MBIE’s legal obligations should your proposal be accepted.

If you have any questions, please email

How is my proposal processed?

MBIE will initially check the eligibility of proposals and will decline proposals that don’t meet the criteria.

An independent assessment panel of 12 members has been appointed by MBIE to assess eligible proposals against the assessment criteria set out in the 2019 Call for Proposals [PDF 812KB]. After reviewing eligible proposals, the independent assessment panel will provide advice to MBIE on which proposals to fund.

Additional assessors may be appointed if the number of proposals demand. Names will be published on this site.

The Assessment Panel for 2019 is:

Professor Ken Hughey (Chair)
Chief Science Advisor to the Department of Conservation
Professor of Environmental Management at Lincoln University

Dr Te Taka Keegan
Senior Lecturer, University of Waikato

Professor Nancy Longnecker
Professor of Science Communication, University of Otago

Dr Ofa Dewes
Pacific Health Research Fellow, University of Auckland

Dr Angela Sharples
Principal, Murupara Area School

Dr Naomi Parker
Manager, Science Policy, Ministry of Primary Industries

Dr Mike Dickison
Curator of Natural History, Whanganui Museum

Ruth Guy
Education Manager, International Antarctic Education Centre

Dr John Perrott
Senior Lecturer, Conservation Ecology and Mātauranga Māori, Auckland University of Technology

Dr Rhian Salmon
Senior Lecturer, Science in Society, Victoria University of Wellington

Dr Dean Peterson
Director Strategy & Performance, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Professor Gary Evans
MBIE Chief Science Advisor (from 1 October 2018) and Research Lead, Ferrier Research Institute, Victoria University of Wellington.

The panel will work from the following guidelines: UCM Assessment Guidelines 2019 [PDF 903KB].

When making the final funding decision, MBIE will take into account the overall mix of proposals to ensure that there is a variety of delivery approaches, geographic locations, and science and technology topics and projects that target a wide range of groups as well as any other information that it deems relevant.

The final decision on the allocation of funding will be made by the General Manager, Science System Investment and Performance, MBIE.

Who should I contact about funding my project?

Please contact MBIE in the first instance:

Nicola Jenkin

Nicola is a Senior Investment Manager at MBIE and manages the Curious Mind programme. She can help with queries about the proposal process and MBIE’s expectations and requirements regarding funding eligibility.

What happens if my project gets selected for funding?

If your funding proposal is accepted, MBIE will get in touch to put together a Funding Agreement with you, using the MBIE template designed for this Fund. The deliverables in this agreement will be based on your proposal. Please ensure you read the terms and conditions in the Funding Agreement template before you submit your proposal.  By applying for the Fund you accept the terms and conditions in the funding agreement (refer to Terms and Conditions).

2019 Funding Agreement template [DOC 176KB]

All projects are required to provide a report to MBIE at the end of the project about the project outcomes and key achievements, the results of surveying and/or evaluation of the impact of the projects, and information about communications and engagement activities. MBIE can provide you with a reporting template and survey tools to do this.

For grants up to and including $30,000 (excluding GST), 100% of the approved funding will be paid in advance upon signing of the contract.

For grants above $30,000 (excluding GST), 50% of the approved funding will be paid upon signing of the contract, 40% will be paid as a progress payment (subject to satisfactory project progress), with the remaining 10% payable once the project and surveying is complete and you have submitted your final project report. We may set conditions or vary the funding amounts allocated.

More details will be provided to you at the time.

Who should I contact about promoting my project?

The Royal Society –Te Apārangi provides communication support to Curious Minds. A skilled science communicator is available to write and share your stories on the Curious Minds website and the Curious Minds social media accounts. The team is also on hand for any questions you may have about promoting your project through your own channels, or about contacting media outlets.

You can contact the Royal Society team through Laura:

Further information

Find a variety of materials on our page Resources for project teams, for both potential applicants and already-funded project teams.

View all stories