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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 projects using innovative approaches to provide more New Zealanders with more opportunities to learn about and engage with science and technology.

People who already have some previous experience relating to science and technology are usually easier to engage than people who have not. Therefore, the challenge is to reach and inspire a broader base of New Zealanders through initiatives that cater for groups that have less opportunity to learn about and do science and technology.

Unlocking Curious Minds aims to encourage innovative, quality projects that enhance or broaden the connection and engagement of these ‘harder-to-reach’ New Zealanders, in particular people aged 18 years and under, 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; and
      • encouraging engagement in societal debate about science and technology issues facing the country.

The goal of the fund (and indeed of the entire strategic plan) is to encourage and support all New Zealanders to engage with science and technology.

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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 MBIE (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment).

The 2017 Unlocking Curious Minds contestable funding round has closed and proposals are no longer being accepted. However, those of you who are keen to prepare for the next round can read the latest Call for Proposals and related documents in our resources section.

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

Fourth round
August 2017 [PDF 761KB]
Opened: 17 August 2017
Closed: 19 September 2017
Funding results announced: November 2017

Third round
October 2016

Second round
January 2016

First round
February 2015

What funding is given?

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?

We are looking for project proposals that deliver:

  • Excellence: projects involving the right people to deliver the project, a rigorous approach, and are designed for optimum results; and
  • Impact: projects resulting in increased engagement with and interest in science.

Proposals are particularly encouraged for projects that will increase the engagement of young people (aged 18 years and under) with science and technology, and contribute to the goal and outcomes of the strategic plan.

Funding is not available to support existing activities or activities that are ‘business as usual’, unless the intention is to extend these activities to new target groups. 
However the funding can be used to build on activities funded in previous Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund investment rounds.

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:

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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 this template contract:

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

Visit the MBIE website to find out how to register and access the online portal.

If you have any questions, please email

How is my proposal processed?

MBIE will check that proposals are eligible against its eligibility criteria and will decline proposals that it assesses are not eligible.

An independent assessment panel appointed by MBIE will assess eligible proposals against the assessment criteria. You can find examples of these criteria in our 2016 Call for Proposals. Please note that these criteria may not apply for subsequent years.

The Panel for the 2018 round was:

  1. Prof Ken Hughey (Chair) – Chief Science Advisor to the Department of Conservation, Professor of Environmental Management at Lincoln University
  2. Chris Arcus – Lead Advisor Early Learning and Student Achievement, Ministry of Education
  3. Fenella Colyer – Head of Physics, Manurewa High School
  4. Dr Ofa Dewes – Research Fellow, The University of Auckland
  5. Dr Pauline Harris – Lecturer, Victoria University of Wellington
  6. Te Taka Keegan – Senior Lecturer, University of Waikato
  7. Prof Nancy Longnecker – Professor of Science Communication, University of Otago
  8. Dr Azra Moeed – Associate Professor, Victoria University of Wellington
  9. Dr Naomi Parker – Manager, Science Policy, Ministry of Primary Industries
  10. Dr Angela Sharples – Principal, Murupara Area School
  11. Dr Victoria Metcalf – National Coordinator, Participatory Science Platform

MBIE will receive a recommendation report from the independent assessment panel and will make the decision on allocating funding to successful proposals. When making its decision, MBIE will take account of the overall mix of proposals to ensure that there is a mix of delivery approaches, geographic locations, and science and technology topics and projects that target a wide variety 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, Labour, Science and Enterprise, 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, the person at MBIE responsible for Curious Minds project funding will contact you.

MBIE will then draw up a contract with you using an MBIE contract template designed for this Fund. The deliverables in this contract will be based on your proposal. Please ensure you read the terms and conditions in this template contract so that you are aware of them prior to applying.

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?

Laura Goodall has been contracted by MBIE to share your stories on the Curious Minds website and the Curious Minds social media accounts. She 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 email Laura at:

Further information

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

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