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An update on changes to Peer Review

Issue date:
17 February 2012

In 2010 EPSRC published its Strategic Plan articulating a very clear goal of Shaping Capability – namely to focus our portfolio in areas of international research excellence and national importance. Our Delivery Plan builds upon this.

Our objective is to ensure we can maintain, if not improve, the UK's international research standing in the face of increased competition and to maximise the impact of that research. With the resources available we cannot afford to fund all areas of research at past levels and we must ensure that, where we do invest, we have sufficient critical mass to meet these objectives.

We will therefore base all investment decisions over the Delivery Plan period on international excellence and national importance (set in a global context), while taking into account the existing portfolio of research we fund.

EPSRC’s commitment to Peer Review

Peer review is central to achieving the goal of Shaping Capability and Council is clear that we need to adapt our current process in support of it. In taking this decision, Council would wish to re-emphasise the following principles and commitments:

  • Research quality remains pre-eminent in assessing applications. We will only support applications that are deemed excellent as judged through peer review
  • We have introduced ‘national importance’ as a criterion against which proposals will also be assessed by peer review but this criterion will not override research quality
  • In deciding which of the areas within our budget we would wish to grow, maintain or reduce, there are no research areas we will completely withdraw from funding
  • A research proposal which is considered outstanding can be funded in any area
  • A proposal that has high national importance or which is in a growing area will not receive funding unless the research is also excellent
  • Our strategy for supporting training and fellowships will be more targeted but will provide flexibility for both individuals and institutions
  • EPSRC’s Council has confirmed that proposals will not be funded out of order following the panel meeting
  • We remain committed to the principles of peer review.

To support our goal of Shaping Capability we are adapting our current process for peer review assessment. There are two key changes:

National importance

National importance is now a required assessment criterion. This change was implemented on 15 November.

We continue to listen and respond to feedback to help improve our guidance for both applicants and reviewers, and will evolve the guidance accordingly.

This edition of Connect features a guide on how to include national importance when submitting grant applications. The guide, which was first published on EPSRC’s website, includes contributions from experienced peer reviewers on what national importance means to them.

In December we held a series of regional workshops to help attendees identify and describe national importance in the context of a research proposal. Feedback from these workshops has further informed the guidance we provide to applicants and reviewers and we have updated this guidance.

Panel process

Key researchers from the community are working with EPSRC to provide us with advice and test thinking on proposed options for changes to the panel process to ensure it incorporates consideration of the wider EPSRC portfolio.

In December we held a workshop to gather input and advice from a cross-section of the research community, industry and other stakeholders. Participants included experienced panel members and chairs and members of EPSRC’s Strategic Advisory Teams (SATs), Strategic Advisory Network (SAN) and EPSRC’s Council.

To explore in more detail some of the options discussed at the December workshop we held a number of pilot panels in January. Attendees included representatives from the December workshop and experienced panel chairs, together with additional SAT, and SAN members.

Next steps

In February a sub-group of Council will review the findings of the pilot panels and recommend a way forward to Council.

Council will meet on 7 March to review this recommendation with a view to EPSRC announcing any changes at the end of March alongside the final tranche of information on the research areas within our portfolio.

Although changes will be announced at the end of March it is not envisaged that panels will be affected until the autumn.