The eight Research Councils have today highlighted their strong commitment in funding both high-risk, cutting-edge research and inter- and multidisciplinary research with the publication of a revised protocol on assessing and funding cross-remit grant applications and their response to the Government's analysis of the Next Steps consultation.
The substantially revised protocol for assessing and funding responsive mode research applications that straddle their remits will provide clearer guidance to applicants. It establishes new co-funding arrangements between Councils eliminating double jeopardy– where applications run the risk of not being funded by two separate peer-review committees.
The protocol reinforces the Research Councils' commitment to ensuring that there are no gaps between Research Council remits. Researchers working at the interfaces between disciplines can be confident that their applications will be peer reviewed in a fair and transparent manner, and not subject to extra layers of assessment.
Professor Randal Richards, speaking on behalf of Research Councils UK, said: "Some of the most exciting research today has little regard for traditional disciplinary boundaries. For example, research to help the UK's ageing population profile brings together medical science, basic biology, engineering, social science and arts and humanities. We want to provide the flexibility to ensure that the research community can pursue investigations across the whole research landscape, regardless of discipline or approach. The new protocol between the Research Councils is our commitment that every proposal will get fair and timely consideration, no matter where it lies across remits of the Research Councils."
Building upon the successful inter-Council funding agreement introduced in 2000, the new protocol will ensure responsive mode applications made through the joint online submission system, J-eS, are automatically considered by the receiving Council to see if they cross into another Council's remit. If an application is beyond the remit of a single Council any supporting Councils will provide peer reviewers from their remit to provide assessment.
Professor Richards: "If a researcher submits an interdisciplinary application in future they will only need to deal with one Council, we will be working to ensure it is assessed by the best qualified reviewers. The major consideration is that we are funding research that is comparable with the best internationally, and not worry about the exact discipline or field it falls into."
The RCUK response to the Office of Science and Innovation Analysis of the Next Steps Consultation Response outlines the Research Councils' views on the wide range of comments made to the consultation. It explains the actions the Research Councils will be taking in response to the questions on risk taking in research, support for new fields and interdisciplinary research, and on further improving Research Councils' efficiency. It also highlights areas where the Research Councils are already successfully supporting emerging areas of research, supporting interdisciplinary research and increasing cross-council cooperation. The Research Councils have also taken into account the recommendations of the recent Warry Group report, 'Increasing the Economic Impact of the Research Councils' and going forward will be looking to maximise the economic impact of their research investments.
These include taking steps to ensure all Research Councils promote high potential, high impact research as part of a balanced portfolio and review the guidance and training given to their peer reviewers and panel members on assessing high risk research. It also explains how the Research Councils will build on their existing efficiency programmes to further maximise the funds available for frontline research.
Professor Ian Diamond, chair of the RCUK Executive Group, commented: "The Research Councils support a huge portfolio of cutting-edge research. We believe that in the form of responsive mode funding we have a dynamic and agile funding mechanism that enables researchers to propose any blue-skies project they wish to explore. Responsive mode funding ensures that the best ideas get funded, no matter how high-risk or forward-looking they might be. We recognise that we need to guard against conservatism within the peer-review process but we do not believe this is inherent."
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Notes to Editors
A more detailed explanation of the protocol is:
- Applications will be submitted through the Je-S system to the Council that the applicant considers the most appropriate. Details of Councils’ remits can be obtained from their web-sites.
- Officers of the Council receiving the application will consider whether the scope of the application, in terms of its imperatives and the approaches proposed, extends into another Council’s remit.
- If the Officers consider that the scope extends into another Council’s remit, they will contact an identified colleague at the supporting Council(s) concerned.
- The receiving and supporting Councils will determine whether, and to what extent, the application straddles their remits.
- If the application is considered to extend beyond the remit of the receiving Council, the supporting Council(s) will nominate peer reviewers from their own domain(s), who will be asked to provide an assessment.
- The application will then proceed through the receiving Council’s peer review process.
- If the application is successful and the contribution of the supporting Council(s) has earlier been agreed to be significant, funding will be provided by all of the Councils concerned.
- Outcome correspondence and awards will be issued by the receiving Council, but any post-award review will involve assessors nominated by the supporting Council(s).
- The Councils will collectively gather, analyse and publish data on the number and performance of applications that straddle their remits, and will annually review the operation of the protocol.
The Councils also continue to provide tailored support for multidisciplinary research, which enables different disciplinary approaches to be harnessed towards a common research challenge. These investments range from major cross-Council programmes in areas such as genomics, e-Science, the rural economy, energy and ageing, to bi-lateral initiatives such as discipline-hopping awards.
The report from the Warry Group - Increasing the Economic Impact of the Research Councils – is available at: http://www.dti.gov.uk/science/page32834.html
About Research Councils UK
The eight Research Councils are independent non-departmental public bodies, funded by the Science Budget through the Office of Science and Innovation. They are incorporated by Royal Charter and together manage a research budget of over £2.5 billion a year.
RCUK was created to increase the collective visibility, leadership and policy influence of the Research Councils; to stimulate multi-disciplinary research that encourages collaboration; to provide a single focus for collective dialogue with stakeholders and to encourage greater harmonisation of internal operations.
The partnership is led by the RCUK Executive Group, which meets monthly and comprises the chief executives of the eight Research Councils. The Group is currently chaired by Professor Ian Diamond, Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council.
The Research Councils discuss and coordinate common interests on performance and evaluation through the RCUK Performance and Evaluation Group.
The eight UK Research Councils are:
- Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC);
- Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC);
- Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC);
- Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC);
- Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC);
- Medical Research Council (MRC);
- Natural Environment Research Council (NERC);
- Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council (PPARC).