Independent report

Process review of UKRI’s research and innovation response to COVID-19: Further information

Last updated:
18 January 2022

Further information on the process review of UKRI’s COVID-19 response.

Application process experience of unsuccessful applicants

No unsuccessful applicants were approached during the course of this review. The reason being that consent to contact unsuccessful applicants was not secured during the application process.

A variety of lessons were learned from successful applicants, external researchers and other funders, and have been used to form useful insights that have shaped the report.

Timeframe of the review

The report covers the research and innovation funding response from early 2020 (February) to the spring of 2021 (up to the latest tranche of awards funded under the Agile funding opportunity, March 2021).

Ethnicity monitoring during the application process

UKRI is aware of the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), even more crucially in a pandemic context.

UKRI recognises that there was a problem with the monitoring of portfolio data in the first few months of the pandemic, including EDI data, as acknowledged by our CEO in a recent open letter. This was due to the fact when processing applications, UKRI had to go ‘off system’ in order to manage the COVID-19 response, as the existing Je-S and Siebel system wasn’t sufficiently flexible to accommodate the complex requirements across multiple councils and disciplines.

UKRI continues to reinforce its commitment to monitoring EDI data and are working on replacing Je-S and Siebel to make sure such a situation would never arise again.

UKRI have included an EDI analysis in the report, comparing proportions of applicants and awardees of UKRI’s COVID-19 response grants to those of ‘business as usual’ funding from previous years.

Governance issues raised by a panel member receiving a grant

Section F in the report annex describes the grant selection process. Panelists were considered to have ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ conflicts of interest (or none) per proposal. Those with hard conflicts with proposals could not participate in reviewing them or be present during review. Those with soft conflicts could observe the review but not participate.

Regarding the governance issues raised, MRC investigated the complaint raised and found it to be unmerited. The grant selection process is standard and managed by MRC. More information can be found in section F of MRC’s code of practice.

Timeline for the implementation of recommendations

All of the report recommendations have been accepted by UKRI and will be actioned, with many of them already in the process of being implemented.

UKRI will be looking at ways of implementing all the recommendations, but it is worth noting implementation will also depend on opportunity. For instance, if and when UKRI will need to implement a UKRI-wide research and innovation responses (whether in emergencies or not), UKRI could mount a governance structure broadly of the type used in the COVID-19 response.

Some of the recommendations are already being carried out, for example replacing the Je-S and Siebel system. Over the next two to three years, UKRI will be gradually replacing its existing grant systems with a new service called the UKRI Funding Service. It will be based on a new, digital platform that will make it simpler and quicker for researchers, research offices and innovators to submit funding applications.

UKRI recently published a draft of its EDI strategy as part of ongoing work around monitoring, evaluating, assessing and analysing EDI data. UKRI has also been enhancing how it collects EDI data and has previously updated on its actions.

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