Demand Management Measures for NERC Responsive Mode Funding Schemes
The NERC Responsive Mode Action Plan (RMAP) provides a vision for the responsive mode funding stream; an activity in the 2010 plan was to review NERC's demand management policies. The NERC Delivery Plan 2011-2015 includes the target to reduce demand and manage success rates for responsive mode research grants.
Following consultation with the NERC community via working groups, meetings with university Heads of Department and discussions at NERC's Science and Innovation Strategy Board (SISB), in July 2011 NERC Council approved the introduction of demand management measures for responsive mode proposals submitted from 1 April 2012. The measures will be applied to applications submitted to the following NERC responsive mode schemes: Urgency, Large and Standard grants (including those lead by new investigators). The measures will not apply to the NERC Fellowship schemes or outline proposals.
The RCUK efficiency of Peer Review Project report published in February 2006, advised that success rates below 20% introduce unacceptable inefficiencies. The total cost to the UK of preparing and reviewing proposals for Research Council funding was then estimated at £196m per annum and 95% of this cost lies with the research organisations. Demand management seeks to minimise inefficiencies in the funding system for both research organisations and NERC by reducing the number of proposals submitted and reviewed whilst maintaining the quality of grants awarded.
NERC already employs various measures to manage demand with a view to maintaining success rates at acceptable levels such as: limiting the number of applications an investigator can submit per call; limiting re-submissions; employing a sift to remove a proportion of proposals from the full assessment process, and publishing the success rates of research organisations to encourage self-regulation of demand and quality. Outline proposals and expressions of interest are also used for some research programme calls.
Despite this, due to the pressure of proposal numbers, success rates in certain key schemes have fallen in recent years. For example, the success rate for standard grant proposals has been 16% in recent rounds and less than 20% since 2008.
Purpose and scope
The objective of introducing these measures is to improve success rates that have fallen below 20% and to increase efficiency of both the application and assessment process. A reduction in the number of uncompetitive1 proposals submitted will be the main focus of demand management.
NERC intends to manage demand by working in partnership with research organisations, asking them to self regulate their submissions and concentrate effort on competitive proposals. All research organisations that apply to NERC for funding will be required to participate in demand management and will be eligible for sanction if progress in reducing uncompetitive proposals is not observed to the targets and timescales agreed. Each institution will be requested to nominate a designated first point of contact for subsequent demand management correspondence and interactions. NERC demand management will operate either at an organisational or departmental level, depending on the preference of the research organisation.
The overall aim of introducing these measures is to increase success rates in NERC responsive mode schemes year on year for several years. This is likely to be a gradual process, but initial progress is expected to be achieved within two years (and subsequently reviewed). All research organisations will be encouraged to put their own internal quality control systems in place, although decisions as to how demand management is implemented locally will be for individual institutions to decide.
1 Initially defined as those receiving a final grade of 6 (out of 10) or below for excellence (see section 8, Panel Scoring System).
Guidance for standard research grant panel meetings (62KB)
Timescales and next steps
NERC will provide appropriate information (performance data and analyses) to all research organisations to assist self regulation. In summer 2012, NERC will provide data on past performance to individual institutions and then, annually from autumn 2013, we will provide a digest of subsequent performance data. Other Research Councils intend to take similar steps, and RCUK-wide discussions are now establishing the range and scope of data that it would be appropriate to make available to research organisations. We intend to provide the designated research organisation demand management contact(s) with, as a minimum, the following data on the performance of their institution or department in responsive mode:
- success rates for all schemes
- distribution of grades for funded and unfunded proposals by scheme
- final moderated grades for all proposals from institution/department
- relative performance of institution/department
Feedback will be sought from research organisations on the most useful data to provide. From Summer 2013 additional data on levels of uncompetitive proposals, by research organisation, will be published, alongside success rates data.
In addition, from autumn 2012, NERC will engage in a strategic dialogue with research organisations to provide further information and advice in support of these demand management practices, including setting targets for changes in submission behaviours. Given the large number of research organisations / departments involved in this process, it will not be possible to meet with all institutions / departments every year, and a rolling schedule of visits will be developed. Institutions that submit the largest number of proposals to NERC and/or those with the greatest number or proportion of uncompetitive submissions will be prioritised in the first year.
Provisional timetable for introduction of demand management measures
1 April 2012
Monitoring of submissions and outcomes for demand management purposes commences
Request for research organisations to nominate designated point(s) of contact for demand management interactions.
Initial identification of research organisations with high number or proportion of uncompetitive submissions.
Provision of past performance data.
Rolling schedule starting Autumn 2012
Scheduled visits and dialogue.
Annually from Autumn 2013
Provision of updated data and analyses.
Contact for further information
Dr Sarah Collinge
Tel: 01793 411936
Research Organisation Liaison
Tel: 01793 411536
Email : NERCdemandmanagement@nerc.ac.uk