The Research Councils are making some further improvements to the Cross-Council Funding Agreement, their process for collaborating on the peer review and funding of research proposals that straddle their remits under their ‘responsive-mode’ research grants schemes. The aim remains to ensure that no gaps develop between the Councils’ subject domains and to ensure equality of opportunity for proposals at the interface between traditional disciplines, where many of the major research challenges of our time are located.
The Research Councils already support a great deal of interdisciplinary research, which benefits from drawing together insights and approaches from a number of established research disciplines. Many such areas - for example photonics and history of art - reside within the remit of an individual Council and receive funding from one Council alone. Others - including climate change, design, neuroscience and chemical biology - inherently straddle the remit of two or more Research Councils. The Cross-Council Funding Agreement sets out the principles and processes through which ‘responsive mode’ grant proposals in these areas are handled by one lead Council in collaboration with other Councils on assessment and support.
The Councils also provide significant tailored support for research which crosses the remits of more than one Council, to enable different disciplinary approaches to be harnessed to address a common research challenge. These investments range from major cross-Council programmes in areas such as Living with Environmental Change, Global Uncertainties, Energy, Lifelong Health and Wellbeing, Digital Economy and Global Food Security, to bi-lateral initiatives such as Synthetic Biology, Heritage Science and Environmental Exposure and Health Initiative.
As a part of its commitment to research innovation and ‘excellence with impact’, RCUK wishes to support an enhanced culture of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research in the UK and to ensuring that its peer review and funding infrastructure is supportive of such work. In this context, the Councils have updated their protocol for assessing and funding research that straddles their remits, to build upon their collaborative working to date.
The Cross-Council Funding Agreement applies to all responsive-mode research grant proposals submitted to any of the seven Research Councils.
Where highlight notices operate in responsive mode or responsive mode grants schemes involve very large investments (such as centres or large collaborative grants), the relevant Councils will normally agree between them in advance whether the CCFA process should apply or whether alternative measures should be put in place.
The Agreement excludes any proposals that are submitted in response to a targeted call for proposals in a defined thematic area, for example within a managed or directed programme or against defined strategic objectives. The Councils collaborate extensively on such programmes, establishing common peer review and funding arrangements that are tailored to the needs of each programme and may differ from those outlined below.
The Cross-Council Funding Agreement protocol aims to:
The protocol is founded on strong communication between identified Research Council contacts and is integral to existing processes, thereby ensuring consistent, timely and robust decisions.
All responsive-mode research grant proposals that extend significantly beyond a single Research Council’s remit will be assessed by peer reviewers from across the relevant domains, including where appropriate by reviewers with relevant expertise in inter-disciplinary research, thereby ensuring fair and rigorous assessment. Beyond this stage, decisions will be made through a single Council’s peer review process, but any significant element residing within another Council’s remit will be funded by the Council(s) concerned. This will avoid the 'double jeopardy' of parallel review processes within each relevant Council involved.
An overview of the process is provided below.
Each of the Research Councils publishes information on its website about its current research grants portfolio. This information can be accessed at:
Arts & Humanities Research Council
Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council
Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council
Economic & Social Research Council
Medical Research Council
Natural Environment Research Council
Science and Technology Facilities Council
Applicants with any queries about the CCFA are encouraged to consult with the Councils at an early stage. An outline of the proposed research (up to 2 pages, including summary and objectives) can be sent into one of the Councils via the CCFA contact emails:
Councils will discuss the outline and provide advice via email over the fit to the Council remit or whether the full proposal should be submitted to another Council.
Applicants should allow sufficient time for their outline to be processed and bear in mind that Councils have different closing dates for their schemes. Where a proposal does not fall predominantly within the remit of the Council to which it is submitted, it would be rejected and need to be submitted to the next available closing date of the appropriate Council.
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