NERC to trial a new assessment process for funding applications

Mature female biologist adding reagent into a vial with water sample near river.

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) will trial a modified assessment process for its funding scheme, Exploring the Frontiers of Environmental Science.

The £4 million pilot scheme invests up to £100,000 in researchers to test and explore ideas and create new technologies. The scheme is part of the Discovery Science portfolio that was announced in November.

What are we doing?

NERC is trialling a new approach to peer review and assessment for our Exploring the Frontiers scheme.

Assessment panels will not be asked to rank proposals submitted.

Instead, panel members will score the proposals and place them within bands. Funding will then be allocated to the highest band projects using an innovative randomised approach. Awards are allocated until the budget is exhausted.

If all projects within the highest band receive funding, any remaining budget will then be allocated randomly to projects in the next band. Only projects that reach the ‘fundable’ threshold will receive awards.

The opportunity for the Exploring the Frontiers scheme is now closed and assessments will take place in October.

Why are we doing this?

NERC is trialling the new assessment process to:

  • increase the diversity of award recipients
  • streamline the application process.

The Exploring the Frontiers scheme is part of a major programme across UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and its research councils to make the funding application process simpler and better for researchers and innovators.

The scheme’s trial of an innovative randomised allocation approach has been suggested by the Research On Research Institute and aims to reduce bias and further diversify the gender, race and rank of award recipients.

What are the next steps?

NERC will review the success of random allocation of funding to high-scoring proposals in this pilot opportunity as part of the wider evaluation of the scheme. The evaluation will inform UKRI’s review of peer review.

For more information about how to apply for NERC funding visit the funding finder.

Top image:  Credit: simonkr, E+ via Getty Images

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