Roles during the meeting
Applications that pass the triage or outline stage proceed to a full funding meeting. Some applications may be assessed with a face-to-face interview, but most are assessed on paper by a research board or panel.
Board or panel attendees
The chair is responsible for ensuring funding decisions are credible. Chairs:
- brief the board or panel about the importance of fairness and mitigating bias
- create an environment where conditions for bias are mitigated and whereby all members feel able to contribute to and challenge discussion
- ensure that all members’ views are considered in decision making.
It is their responsibility to ensure that all applications for funding are assessed in accordance with the published process and criteria.
The deputy chair takes on the role of chair when the chair has a conflict of interest with any of the applications being discussed.
Two or three board or panel members are assigned to each application as introducers by Medical Research Council (MRC) head office and present the application at a meeting. Introducers are selected for their relevant expertise in and independence from the application. Should expertise be required from another field, guest introducers are invited to contribute.
Introducer one presents a brief synopsis of the application, focusing on its strengths and weaknesses aligned with the assessment criteria.
Introducers two and three (where applicable) do not reiterate points already made but highlight additional points and any significant differences in opinion. If applicants are interviewed (for example, for an MRC fellowship), introducers instead take it in turn to question them.
Each introducer, in light of their own views, the views of the expert reviewers, and the applicant’s response to the reviewer comments, provides an indicative score between one and ten, using the scoring matrix for board and panel meetings.
Board and panel members
Members participate in an open discussion following the introducers’ evaluation of each application. If applicants are interviewed, members have the opportunity to ask additional questions of the applicant before then participating in a closed discussion. After hearing the indicative scores from the introducers, each member scores the applications anonymously using the one to ten scoring matrix for board and panel meetings.
MRC staff attendees
Head of theme
The head of theme is the accounting officer for the board or panel budget and responsible for the board or panels’ contributions to MRC delivery plan objectives.
At a funding meeting the head of theme manages the available commitment budget, which may be used to support:
- responsive applications within the remit of the board or panel
- MRC contributions to applications of joint interest from other funders
- unit or institute funding above 90% baseline level
- funding or renewing centres
- post-award adjustments.
Head of programme
The head of programme is responsible for delivery of the board or panel meetings. The head of programme manages the funding meeting, securing the ranking and funding recommendations to support the board or panel business. This includes:
- working with the head of theme in managing the board or panel’s allocation of research funding
- ensuring the board or panel’s procedures and practices are consistent with effective peer review-supported decision making.
The head of theme and head of programme have an explicit role in upholding the prescribed process and should challenge decision making that deviates from it, as part of a duty to prevent bias.
Programme managers undertake a range of activities related to the research areas for which they are responsible, these may include:
- strategic initiatives
- unit reviews
- ad hoc calls and workshops
- cross-UK Research and Innovation activities.
Programme managers manage a subset of applications, liaising with applicants prior to submission and ensuring high quality peer review. They are the point of contact for these applications at the meeting and communicate important information to the board or panel, for example when an application fits a priority area.
They also raise questions from MRC head office or from reviewers when appropriate. Programme managers minute discussions, communicate decisions and feedback to applicants, and are also responsible for any follow-up action after the board or panel meeting.
Programme managers also provide updates on board or panel initiatives or opportunities and relevant MRC activity.
Active bystander champions
Within the MRC staff attending the board or panel meeting, up to three active bystander champions have been identified.
The staff will be identified at the beginning of the meeting along with the channels of escalation for bias. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that meetings are conducted fairly and consistently and to challenge bias.
There is guidance for board and panel members on tackling bias which gives examples of bias and the best ways to intervene.
Board and panel team
The board and panel team organise the logistics of the meeting, including:
- room set-up
- escorting members, guests and observers
- providing papers
- managing conflicts of interest
- electronic scoring
- projecting ranked list of applications
- capturing outcomes and decisions
- taking minutes.
The board or panel may prune (make a lower commitment) to an award than requested by the applicant where either the programme of work is not fully justified by peer review or specific resources are not fully justified for this programme of work.
The decision to prune occurs during the main assessment of the proposal prior to scoring, not in the later ranking and funding decisions. Scoring is carried out based on the value of the pruned award.
Following discussion, each application is scored from one to ten by each member using the core assessment criteria.
Scores are submitted anonymously and collated electronically. The median score of the individual member scores, rounded to the nearest whole number, is used to rank all proposals under consideration. The final median score is made known to applicants.
At the end of a meeting, all proposals are ranked by their median score. A cumulative commitment line can then be drawn, to determine the median scoring categories in which all grants can be funded and the scoring category in which not all the applications can be supported, given the available budget.
Additional consideration of the applications in the latter category is then used to determine which of those attaining the same score should be supported, and which not, taking into account quality, likely impact and fit to MRC’s strategic priorities.
For proposals assessed at one of MRC’s four research boards, applications that address either MRC’s long-standing commitment to new investigators or any identified board opportunities will be given special consideration in this process. Context and further information about the board opportunities can be found in the board opportunities overview.
A declined application is typically not eligible for resubmission within 12 months from the date of full submission. This moratorium can be waived by the board or panel, where suggested modifications may make the work competitive. Low scores are no bar to an invited resubmission where appropriate and may be suitable where key issues undermine a proposal.
Communication of decisions
MRC head office staff communicate funding decisions to applicants within ten working days of the funding meeting.
Meeting outcome reports are published following each meeting.
Applicants receive peer review comments before the funding meeting. Afterwards, they receive a summary of the board or panel’s discussion, prepared by MRC head office.
Last updated: 8 February 2024