Sheffield research lab

We're changing the way we review our project grant applications

Date

We're streamlining and speeding up our project grant review process.

Our project grants tackle major Parkinson's research challenges, with groundbreaking studies that get right to the heart of complex problems. Grants are awarded for up to 3 years. There is no upper limit on the award value, but grants usually fall between £100,000 and £400,000.

HOW DOES THE REVIEW PROCESS currently WORK?

At the moment, after the project grant application deadline, the Parkinson's UK research grants team begin the lengthy process of searching for and identifying peer reviewers with the specific expertise for each application that is received.

Increasing work pressures on academics and health care professionals are all too evident, and their availability to review applications is decreasing. As a result, it can be difficult to secure enough experts per application, and often the most appropriate experts are too busy to review in such a short time period. This can prolong the review process and delay funding decisions being made.

All project grant applications are reviewed by at least 3 external peer reviewers and up to 6 lay grant reviewers. Applications are shortlisted based on the average peer and lay review scores and are considered for funding by our Grant Assessment Panel 1 (GAP1) at a review meeting.

GAP1 consists of a panel of approximately 30 experts, from a range of research areas both within the Parkinson's speciality and in associated neurological conditions/healthcare professions, who provide Parkinson's UK with advice on which applications are suitable for funding.

What we want to do

We want to streamline and speed up our project grant review process.

We believe the changes will:

  • give applicants more time to plan and strengthen grant applications
  • allow funding decisions to be made quicker
  • improve the scientific advice we obtain on project grant applications through peer review
  • allow funded project grants to start sooner, accelerating their impact on our understanding of Parkinson's and the development of new therapies

What are the changes?

Timing of all grant calls

Our aim is to advertise all our research grant deadlines 12 months in advance. We will advertise them here on the Parkinson's UK website and via Synapse, our research e-newsletter.

This will give researchers a greater opportunity to plan the collection of essential pilot data and to strengthen the written content of grant applications.

This will also give researchers more time to obtain internal peer review on their research proposals. Internal peer review is now offered by most institutions. Parkinson's UK strongly encourages this process as it provides early feedback on scientific background, methodology, style etc. which leads to higher quality grant applications being submitted.

Introducing a pre-proposal stage for project grants

In the current scheme, all submitted project grant applications undergo full peer and lay review, yet the review scores for significant proportion of these applications fall below the levels at which funding would be considered.

Applicants which fall into this category often have major scientific flaws, but have to wait until the grant review process has been concluded to find out they are unsuccessful, and why.

To address this issue, Parkinson's UK will be introducing a project grant pre-proposal stage, to identify non-fundable applications at an earlier stage.  Researchers whose applications are unsuccessful at the pre-proposal stage will not waste time completing a full application, and can address the technical and scientific issues raised in order to quickly resubmit their proposal to Parkinson's UK or an alternative funder.

Applicants who are successful at the pre-proposal stage will be invited to submit a full application.

Introducing a ‘College of Experts’

We are looking to increase the number of existing experts in GAP1 to form a College of Experts. This will be a pool of experts which we can approach to review the project grant pre-proposals and the full project grant applications. The College of Experts will be larger than GAP1, with a number of experts in each area of Parkinson's research, selected from institutions from within and outside the UK. 

A larger number of experts will be required to accommodate for conflicts of interest, the availability of members, and to ensure we are able to allocate the correct number of reviewers to each application.

Will the ‘College of Experts’ be our only source of peer reviewers?

We anticipate that the vast majority of project grant applications we receive will be reviewed by the broad range of highly skilled experts in the College. Occasionally we may need to approach additional external peer reviewers via the usual route for very specialist areas of research or where conflicts of interest decrease the number of experts we can call on for review.

Will everyone in the ‘College of Experts’ be used?

Members may not be required to participate in every grant round due to conflicts of interest with the submitted applications, or because there are no applications that match their expertise in that round. 

We'll be flexible. We'll share the grant deadlines 12 months in advance, which will mean that panel members will be aware of the key application review periods and meeting times and will be able to plan their time and commitments accordingly.

Members of the College of Experts who have been involved in the peer reviewing of a full project grant application which has been shortlisted, will be invited to attend a panel meeting, either in person or via Skype, to discuss their peer reviews with other experts, so that the panel can identify suitable applications for Parkinson's UK funding.

The shortlisting of applications for panel discussion will remain the same and will be based on both scientific and lay peer reviews and scores.

What will be the impact of the College of Experts?

Having an established group of expert reviewers in the College of Experts will ensure that only the highest quality experts review the project grant applications. 

Funding decisions will also be made more quickly as there will be no need to search for numerous peer reviewers for every application when the deadline for the project grant round has closed.

Is this a new process for Parkinson's UK?

We created a similar group of experts in 2015 (Grant Assessment Panel 2) to review our small grant applications. This has been very successful. But the experts have not been formally identified as a College.

How will we recruit the ‘College of Experts’ membership?

We will invite our current GAP1 members to continue in their activities with Parkinson's UK by becoming a member of the College of Experts instead.

We would like to harness their expertise and good will to help Parkinson's UK to review project grant applications.

To expand the membership of the College, Parkinson's UK will make some targeted approaches to highly experienced researchers, while also issuing an open call for applications through our website and research newsletter, Synapse. 

We'll need a wide range of experts across all areas of Parkinson's research. Members of the College of Experts will be asked to serve a 3-year term, which is the same as current GAP1 panel members presently serve.

Where do our lay grant reviewers fit in?

People affected by Parkinson's are an integral part of our research grants review process. Their personal experience of living with Parkinson's brings a unique and essential perspective to our research grants funding process.

Therefore, lay grant reviewers will play a key role in commenting on the pre-proposal applications, letting us know which research ideas are most important to them. They'll also continue to review the full research grant applications.

As with our current review process, the lay scores will be taken into account when we short list the applications and make our funding recommendations. Our lay review co-ordinators will continue to represent the view of our lay grant reviewers on the funding decision panels.

What you can do

We hope the benefits of the new process will quickly become evident, when funding decisions are being made faster, allowing research to begin sooner.  We also hope that feedback to applicants will be more constructive, as it will have been provided by the best experts in the relevant fields.

We would love you to support the College of Experts by either serving on the panel yourself, by sending us recommendations for potential members, or sharing news of the College with your colleagues.

Any questions?

You can contact us on [email protected] if you have any questions about this process.

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