Supporting Research Across Research Council Boundaries
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 applications 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 cross-/multi-/inter-/trans-/ disciplinary 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 applications 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 Exposures and Health Initiatives.
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
The Cross-Council Funding Agreement applies to all responsive-mode research grant applications 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 applications 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:
- Ensure that the Councils’ structures provide no discouragement to research at the interface between disciplines.
- Ensure that there are no gaps between Councils’ remits and that interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research is effectively supported by the Councils, either independently or in partnership.
- Ensure that peer review is fair and appropriate for projects that straddle disciplinary and Council remits and avoid the ‘double jeopardy’ of parallel review processes within each relevant Council involved.
- Avoid unnecessary demands on the peer review system by ensuring that each proposal goes through a single integrated process and eliminating separate or multiple consideration of the same proposal by different Councils.
- Neither advantage, nor disadvantage, single discipline research.
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 applications 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. In summary,
- Applicants should submit applications through the Je-S system to the most appropriate Council to take the lead in considering their research, taking into account the overall research approach and fit of the research to the strategic objectives and remits of the relevant Council’s funding schemes. Details of Councils' remits can be obtained from their websites. Councils will be happy to advise applicants on the most appropriate lead Council if required.
- A proposal that may need consideration by more than one Council should be submitted only to the Council that is the most appropriate to lead in considering the research.
- The lead Council’s normal eligibility and scheme requirements will then apply in considering the application.
- 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 appropriate peer reviewers, who will be asked to provide an assessment. In a small number of cases it may be agreed between Councils that it would be more appropriate for a different Council from that which received the application to take the lead in the assessment process. Where this is the case the receiving Council will inform applicants and provide contact details in the lead Council who can provide details on the next steps. In such cases the application will be processed by the lead Council in accordance with the Cross-Council Funding Agreement, including taking advice on peer reviewers from other Councils where appropriate.
- The application will then proceed through the lead Council's peer review process. The lead Council will be responsible for ensuring an appropriate mix of reviewers are approached taking account of advice received from other Councils on potential peer reviewers and the need for advice from reviewers with relevant expertise in working across disciplinary boundaries.
- The lead Council will provide appropriate guidance about the Cross-Council Funding Agreement to any relevant panels, boards, committees or other peer review bodies and that appropriate steps are taken to ensure that applications considered under the agreement are not unduly disadvantaged or advantaged in the final decision-making process.
- Applications considered under the Agreement will be subject to the approaches to demand management being developed across the Research Councils to avoid unnecessary demands on the peer review system. More specifically:
once accepted for processing by a lead Council under the protocol, an application may not be withdrawn for submission to another Council unless permission to do so has been given by the Councils concerned;
the lead Council’s policies on resubmissions will apply to any unsuccessful applications;
proposals previously considered by another Council may not be resubmitted to another Council unless substantial changes are made which might affect the most appropriate Council to lead the proposal; in such cases the prior submission to another Council must be declared and the changes made summarised in an accompanying statement. Councils may reject resubmitted proposals if these requirements are not met.
- 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 lead Council. Awards will be managed by the lead Council in accordance with their standard procedures (including for example eligibility for any follow-on funding schemes within the lead Council) However, where applicable, any post-award review will involve reviewers 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.
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
Queries / Contacts
Applicants with any queries about the CCFA are encouraged to consult with the Councils at an early stage and to allow sufficient time for their application to be processed given that timetables may vary depending on which Council is selected as most appropriate to lead in processing the application. Further information is available here.