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Microsoft Productivity Research

Region: Worldwide

What it is

Funding for collaborative research between Microsoft and universities working together to invent the future of productivity.

How to apply

The application period has now closed.

Request for Proposals

Microsoft is committed to pushing the boundaries of technology to improve and positively influence all aspects of society. The cornerstone of how Microsoft does this is by building tools for personal and organizational productivity. New research, technologies, and services are creating opportunities for transforming productivity experiences in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago.

The future of productivity is collaborative, intelligent, and deeply embedded in the world around us. The nature of productivity is fundamentally changing with the emergence of the intelligent cloud and edge, increasing use of digital media, and new devices that keep getting smarter year after year. No longer is it enough for the tools Microsoft builds to merely help people be faster, more efficient, and better organized. Our tools must now help people approach problems in new ways.

The goal of this RFP is to spark new research that will expand our understanding of productivity and fundamentally change the ways that people work and live. To help accomplish this goal, Microsoft intends to fund $1 million USD in new collaborative research efforts with university partners so that we can invent the future of productivity together.


Research is an integral part of the innovation loop. Some of the most exciting research is happening in universities around the world. The goal of the Microsoft Productivity Research (MPR) RFP is to establish new university partnerships to collaborate with Microsoft on novel research potentially leading to new capabilities for productivity technologies.

Proposals are invited on all areas of computing related to productivity in the following areas of interest:

Interaction and Sensing, e.g., 

  • New interaction paradigms for productivity beyond the desktop, including using computer vision and human-language technologies. Interactive task completion via natural language.
  • Conversational intelligence that augments existing interactions between people or enables new interaction between people and one or more virtual agents. Multi-agent interaction.
  • Support for the full task lifecycle, including the identification of task structure via human input and automation. The use of task structure to support microproductivity, mobile productivity, and cross-device task completion.

Machine Learning and Machine Teaching, e.g., 

  • Trustworthy and secure systems that learn from large datasets in privacy-preserving manners. Transfer learning for productivity that applies across people, teams, organizations, or tasks while limiting data leakage.
  • Machine teaching methods that enable people without machine learning expertise to teach a system to get better over time. Novel approaches to reward people for their contributions to the system.
  • Intelligible AI systems that are transparent in their purpose and how they arrived at specific decisions. Explainable AI.

Attention and Engagement, e.g., 

  • Emotional intelligence in productivity settings, including the ability to adapt to people’s emotional state. Support for focus and flow, including detecting and maintaining flow.
  • In-depth context understanding and applications thereof (e.g., situational understanding, reasoning, and action). Proactive contextual notifications and recommendations.
  • Methods for capturing people’s underlying intent, and metrics for measuring productivity that tie short term observable behavior to long term goals. The use of choice architectures to enable people to accomplish their goals.

Collaboration and Human Learning, e.g., 

  • Computer-supported lifelong learning, including contextual just-in-time training and social learning. Personal self-reflection and growth for people and teams, including the use of data to diagnose and address productivity challenges.
  • Approaches that explore the future of work via freelancing, distributed work, and dynamic teaming. Techniques that enable and enhance human-in-the-loop systems.
  • Systems and processes that support ethical and inclusive approaches to future productivity scenarios.

Monetary and other awards

Microsoft will provide up to $250,000 USD of funding and other resources for each proposal. Microsoft will provide a payment that has no restrictions on how it is used. A second round of funding pending initial progress and outcomes (see Timeline below) may be considered at some point during this collaboration. All funding decisions will be at the sole discretion of Microsoft. Proposals for this RFP should provide an initial budget and workplan for the research based on the Timeline section below.

Microsoft encourages potential university partners to consider using resources in the following manner:

  • PhD scholarship stipends.
  • Post-doctoral researcher funding at the university.
  • Software/hardware engineer funding at the university.
  • Travel and accommodation expenses of researchers and students visiting Microsoft (see below for details).
  • Limited but essential hardware and software needed to conduct the research.

Proposal plans should include any of these, or other items, that directly support the proposed research.

For those proposals requiring specialty hardware, Microsoft is making a limited number of Surface Hub 2S*, HoloLens 2S** and Azure Kinect*** devices available to support this research. Proposals seeking to integrate these devices should be explicit in how and why inclusion of these devices is necessary to accomplish the research goals and the value they will add to the anticipated research outcomes. Device requests should be limited to the lowest possible number of units required for accomplishing the research goals. The value of devices does not need to be accounted for in the budget section of the proposal.

Microsoft also encourages the strategic use of Microsoft technologies (APIs, specialty hardware, dataset, or SDKs) and open data sets when appropriate to the research questions being investigated. Researchers are invited to consider using productivity resources found in the Microsoft Researcher Tools Index and/or Microsoft Research Open Data Repository if applicable.

At the conclusion of the research collaboration, Microsoft will host each winning team at our offices for a week-long workshop. This will be a venue where research will be shared with relevant researchers and other teams inside of Microsoft.

  • Proposal budgets should include costs for 3-5 members of the university’s MPR team to travel to Redmond, Washington for five business days of meetings with Microsoft.

Microsoft research collaborators, at no cost to the winning teams, will visit the university partner one or more times to foster collaborative planning and research. These visits will be agreed upon and scheduled after an award decision is made. Likewise, a cadence of meetings will be mutually agreed upon at the start of the collaboration. Proposals are welcome to include other suggestions about how to foster an effective collaborative research engagement.


This RFP is not restricted to any one discipline or tailored to any particular methodology. Universities are welcome to submit cross-disciplinary proposals if that contributes to answering the proposed research question(s).

To be eligible for this RFP, your institution and proposal must meet the following requirements:

  • Institutions must have access to the knowledge, resources, and skills necessary to carry out the proposed research.
  • Institutions must be either an accredited or otherwise degree-granting university with non-profit status or a research organization with non-profit status.
  • Proposals that are incomplete or request funds more than the maximum award will be excluded from the selection process.
  • The proposal budget should reflect your university’s policies toward receiving unrestricted gifts and should emphasize allocation of funds toward completing the research proposed.
  • While we will accept multiple proposals from a single university, only one MPR unrestricted gift will be awarded to a single university. To optimize the chances of receiving an award, we encourage researchers from the same university to consider submitting a single, joint proposal (rather than multiple individual proposals) that benefits from their various skills and interests to create the strongest possible proposal.
  • Multiple universities can submit a joint/single proposal together. Please clearly indicate in the budget section how the budget, not to exceed $250,000 USD, will be shared.

Selection Process and Criteria

All proposals received by the submission deadline and in compliance with the eligibility criteria will be evaluated by a panel of subject-matter experts chosen from Microsoft. Drawing from evaluations by the review panel, Microsoft will select which proposals will receive the awards. Microsoft reserves the right to fund the winning proposal at an amount greater or lower than the amount requested, up to the stated maximum amount. Note: Microsoft will not provide individual feedback on proposals that are not funded.

All proposals will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Addresses an important research area identified above that, if answered, has the potential to have a significant impact on that domain.
  • Expected value and potential impact of the research on productivity of people and organizations.
  • Potential for wide dissemination and use of knowledge, including specific plans for scholarly publications, public presentations, and white papers.
  • Ability to complete the project based upon adequate available resources, reasonable timelines, and the identified contributors’ qualifications.
  • Qualifications of the research team, including previous history of work in the area, successful completion of previous projects, research or teaching awards, and scholarly publications.
  • Diversity is highly valued and research teams should strive to reflect a diversity of backgrounds, experiences and talent.
  • Evidence of university support contributed in-kind to directly support and supplement the research efforts.
  • Budget is strategic to maximize impact of research.
  • Possible additional information as requested by the review panel, which might be requested via a conference call.


Proposals should submit a timeline (approximately 12-18 months) or workplan that begins in early 2020 and ends in summer of 2021.

  • October 16, 2019: Proposals due.
  • December 15, 2019: Winners announced.
  • Early 2020: Awards made and planning begins with regularly scheduled meetings, calls and visit(s) by Microsoft to MPR winning university.
  • Early 2021: Review of progress for second round of funding (pending progress and availability of funds).
  • Summer 2021: Report back, five-day meeting at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington.


  • As a condition of accepting an award, principal investigators agree that Microsoft may use their name and likeness to publicize their proposals (including all proposal content except detailed budget information) in connections with the promotion of the research awards in all media now known or later developed.
  • Researchers will be willing to engage with Microsoft about their project and experience, and provide updates via monthly or quarterly calls, as well as attend a workshop at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. The workshop will likely be held in the summer of 2021.
  • The review process is an internal one and no review feedback will be given to submitters.
  • Microsoft encourages researchers to publish their work in scholarly venues such as journals and conferences. Researchers must provide Microsoft a copy of any work prior to publication. So long as accurate, such publications are not subject to Microsoft’s approval except that, at Microsoft’s request, researcher will delete any Microsoft Confidential Information identified or delay publication to enable Microsoft to file for appropriate intellectual property (IP) protection for any project IP disclosed in such work.
  • All data sets and any new IP resulting from this effort will be made public and publicly available for any researcher, developer or interested party to access to help further the goals of this initiative in providing higher quality and better access to technology services that empowers people and organizations to be more productive.
  • Funded researchers must seek approval of their institution’s review board for any work that involves human subjects.
  • At the completion of the project, the funded researchers will be required to submit to Microsoft a white paper that describes what was learned from this project.

Geographic Availability

*Surface Hub 2S will be available in the following countries. If you are applying from a country not included in this list, please do not include a request for Surface Hub 2S.

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Canada
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hong Kong
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Qatar
  • Romania
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

**HoloLens 2 will be available in the following countries. If you are applying from a country not included in this list, please do not include a request for HoloLens 2.

  • Australia
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • New Zealand
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

***Kinect for Azure will be available in the following countries. If you are applying from a country not included in this list, please do not include a request for Kinect for Azure.

  • China
  • United States