Sustainable GeoCommunities Seed Grants

The University of Minnesota is partnering with the University at Buffalo, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur, IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, IIT Goa, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, and a growing list of other universities to launch Sustainable GeoCommunities, a community-based program with the goal of solving problems that our global communities are facing today. The Sustainable GeoCommunities program will leverage the power of research to help local communities meet United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) intended to create healthy, equitable, and prosperous conditions for people across the globe. Basic problems affecting the daily lives of an individual, a family, or a community are local in nature. Addressing the problems affecting any given community, and transforming that community into a Sustainable GeoCommunity, requires local, geographically designed solutions. Principles of Geodesign consider geographic information, information technology (e.g., AI, real-time data, etc.), culture, demographics, natural resources, societal need, and climate that can inform potential solutions. Effective solutions require co-development between community partners and UMN research teams so that everyone who will utilize the solution, shapes and configures the evolution of the concept. Geodesign coupled with community-driven engagement should result in solutions that are sustainable, resilient, and scalable. Over time, the emergence of these sustainable communities across the globe connected to each other through the common theme of Geodesign will drive the formation of Sustainable GeoCommunities. These Sustainable GeoCommunities will fulfill the expectations of UN Sustainable Development Goals that try to create healthy, equitable, and prosperous societies across the globe.

Funding Cycle

RIO expects to fund up to 4 awards with budgets of up to $100,000/year for performance periods of up to 3 years. The total three-year funding request is limited to $300,000. The award period begins January 1, 2025, and lasts for up to 3 years (36 months). The annual release of funds for Years 2 and 3 is contingent on satisfactory progress toward meeting the project goals.

8/30/24: Letter of intent due
9/3/24: Application opens
9/26/24: Applications due to RIO (by 11:59 p.m. CST)
December: Award notification
1/1/25: Award period begins

Funding Requirements & Priorities

All proposals must include:

  • A lead PI, who is a faculty member at the University of Minnesota (see Eligibility guidelines below) and a co-PI from the community of interest.
  • All projects must include a local community partner and the co-PI must serve as the point of contact for the community (see Leveraging Partnerships to Create Successful Solutions below).
  • Implementation plans for addressing a specific, community-driven problem (i.e., “solution”). It is possible that the solution may not be fully known at the time of application if the relationship between the PI and community partner is relatively new. In this case, the proposal should describe the most likely potential solutions and strategies for selecting the solution.
  • Application of Geodesign and/or Geographic Information Science (GISc) concepts to develop innovative solutions for achieving one or more sustainable development goals (SDGs). At least one SDG should be clearly addressed in the proposal.
  • Plans for testing, measurement, and validation of efficacy of the proposed solution.
  • Recommendations for policy developments (if the solution is successful) and/or opportunities for replication of the solution with other communities to sustain and broaden the impact of the proposed solution. 
  • An explicit plan for seeking extramural funding including specific agencies, funding mechanisms, and potential timelines for applications. Provide examples of solicitations that could be potentially targeted.

In addition to meeting the requirements, proposers are encouraged to include the following elements, but these are not required:

  • Student and/or post-doctoral training plans.
  • Recommendations on scalability of solutions to other contexts.
  • Industry and the State agency engagement to enhance the impact of the program.

Applications that leverage other resources such as external funds or other UMN funding sources will be prioritized.

Leveraging Partnerships to Create Successful Solutions

This seed grant program is designed to capitalize on partnerships to maximize the likelihood of success of the solutions and their broader application to maximize the impact of this program.

  • All applications must include a community partner. This can be a local community anywhere in the world, but they should not be affiliated with the University of Minnesota. This could be a community organization, a unit of local government, or a similar type of organization. The community partner must have a leader who will serve as a co-PI on the proposal and who will be the point of contact for working with the community. However, the partner cannot be a stand-alone individual. Instead, the point of contact should be affiliated with the community and be able to represent the community as a part of the project team. Projects may include a preliminary relationship-building/strengthening phase in the project timeline and budget.
  • The University of Minnesota is partnering with the University at Buffalo, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur, IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, IIT Goa, and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, a multicampus Indian university to support the Sustainable Geocommunities program.Grants that capitalize on these partnerships are encouraged, but this is not required. 
  • Applications will likely benefit from inclusion of a cross-functional, interdisciplinary team of experts, which may include additional university partners or partnerships with other organizations in the private and/or non-profit sector.

Evaluation Criteria

Seed grant review and selection is competitive, and it is expected that submitted proposals are of high scientific quality, address a significant high-impact problem, and provide a detailed description that clearly justifies the suitability of the grant to this program.

Applications will be reviewed by subject-matter experts with a focus on the following criteria: 

  • Overall fit to the program priorities and requirements
  • Quality of the proposal overall that addresses the objectives of this program as described in the above sections
  • Scientific rigor and innovation of the proposed research
  • Potential for meaningful impact to the local community
  • Prospects for a productive partnership, with the local community that leverages a multidisciplinary project team, including plans for relationship building/strengthening if relevant
  • Opportunity for broader impact through future policy development and/or replication of the solution with other communities
  • Potential for external funding and ongoing success

Eligibility Requirements

Applications will be accepted from lead principal investigators (PI) who are tenured or tenure-track UMN faculty (employee class FAR) that hold full-time appointments. New faculty must begin their appointment by the start date of the grant.

UMN non-tenure track faculty holding full-time salaried multiple year contract, annual renewable contract, or fixed term contract appointments (employee class FAC, FTD, or ACP) and who are annually evaluated like tenured and tenure-track faculty (in terms of their research accomplishments, independence, and ability to secure external funding), are also eligible to serve as the lead PI.

UMN non-faculty P&A staff holding full-time appointments may be eligible to serve as the lead PI if they are evaluated like tenured and tenure-track faculty (in terms of their research accomplishments, independence, and ability to secure external funding). Please contact to verify eligibility.

Applications with multiple PIs should specify a lead PI. A faculty member may participate as a collaborator on other proposals, but may only serve as a principal investigator (PI) on one application during the current cycle.

How to Apply

Mandatory Letter of Intent

A letter of intent (see required LOI template) must be submitted to with “Sustainable GeoCommunities Seed Grant LOI” in the subject line by August 30, 2024. 

Include the following:

  • The title of the proposal
  • Lead principal investigator (PI) name, department, and email address. (Person in charge of correspondence with RIO.)
  • Co-PI(s) and/or key collaborator names, departments, and email addresses
  • Local community partner and point of contact name and email address
  • The names, email addresses, and area of expertise of 2-3 potential UMN faculty reviewers who would not be directly involved with the project
  • Total funding request
  • A list of 5 keywords describing the project
  • A brief project description (200 words or less)

Note: We will not issue invitations following the submission of the LOI. Everyone who submits an LOI is invited to submit a full proposal unless you hear from us.

Application Instructions

Application instructions [coming soon] provide information about system requirements, how to edit or check an existing application, required attachments, proposal requirements, budget requirements, and approval routing. 

Direct questions to

Start a New Application

Start a new application during an open funding cycle (see Availability/Deadlines). Only applications submitted through this system are accepted.

If you click on the new application link when a competition is closed you will not be able to apply and will receive a message that says, "This competition type is currently closed. Please contact for more information."

Edit an Existing Application

To edit an existing application, choose “RIO Sustainable GeoCommunities” from the Process list (top left corner). Click on “My actions to do.” Click on the link in the "Action" column. On the next screen you will see your application. Note: Only applications created in the current competition will be accepted.


General areas of support include personnel, operating supplies and services; equipment; and limited travel.



  • Salary/fringe support for graduate or undergraduate research assistants; partial support for post-doc and civil service personnel and non-faculty P&A
  • Non-UMN personnel (e.g., consultants, honoraria). 
  • Research subject/participant payments
  • Consulting contract(s) with the community partner co-PI and/or collaborators at partner organizations

Not allowed:

  • Faculty or visiting faculty salary support
  • Support for personnel to edit or index publication material or to word process manuscripts or proposals
  • Subawards to other institutions

Operating Supplies & Services


  • General operating supplies and services (including core facility use charges) for this project, including computer supplies and software, if clearly necessary for the project. Publication costs for journal fees are limited to $1,000.
  • Professional or lab services outside the UMN. May not exceed $5,000 or 20 percent of the total project cost, whichever is smaller.

Not allowed:

  • Routine maintenance/repairs of equipment
  • Books, subscriptions, reprints
  • Utilities (e.g., phone lines)



Transportation and/or per-diem expenses to a) build/strengthen community partnership; b) gather data or use resources otherwise not available, or to c) work with project collaborators at other universities. 

See rates and other travel information. Rates should be reduced proportionately for visits longer than one month in one locale, when it should be possible to make more economical arrangements. An explanation of long-term arrangements must be included in the budget justification section.

Not allowed:

  • Travel to sabbatical and single semester leave sites from Minnesota and return. Travel and per-diem expenses for single-semester leave and sabbatical sites to another site (“side trips”) for strictly research purposes may be considered.
  • Travel expenses associated with professional meetings, conferences, and short courses
  • Fees and expenses associated with conferences

Equipment or Rents & Leases


  • Minor or major equipment, including computer equipment, if specifically needed for the purpose of the proposed project. Note: It is expected that departments or other University resources (e.g., Office of Information Technology and Minnesota Supercomputing Institute (MSI)) will provide computer support.
  • The justification for a computer request must include the following: 1) Specify the special features of the computer that are necessary and integral for supporting the project; 2) Explain why other University computing resources (e.g., MSI, departmental computers) cannot meet the needs of the project; 3) Explain what will be done with the computer when the research is finished.