Updates on the Fall 2017 Project Grant competition

November 6, 2017

Dear colleagues,

Since CIHR announced the details for the Fall 2017 Project Grant competition in the July 10, 2017 email to the community, we have focused our efforts on delivering as high quality a competition as possible, given the very short time frame in which this had to be done. The main goal has been to obtain the best possible panelists, SOs and Chairs.  I am pleased to tell you that the community has been very, very responsive. The Chairs and SOs were selected based on their standing in the community, their peer review experience, and their currently holding CIHR or other national or international funding. The Chairs and SOs then worked with CIHR to validate selected reviewers to serve on their respective panels, based on the same criteria as outlined above. We have also invited 65 Early Career Investigators (1 per panel) to participate in the panel meetings as observers, to learn how the peer review process works.

I want to thank all the ~1600 individuals who are generously committing their time to be on these panels, to evaluate their colleagues’ applications. CIHR and the research community appreciate this commitment tremendously. The timelines for finding reviewers and for the completion of the reviews have been significantly shortened compared to CIHR’s normal schedule for Project Grants panels. We should be indebted to these reviewers for doing a tough job, at substantial personal and professional inconvenience. I am confident that the panels will provide thoughtful and impartial reviews, under the leadership of the Chairs and SOs.

The panels will be meeting in Ottawa from November 14, 2017 to December 14, 2017, with final decisions being available January 23, 2018.

The changes that we committed to implementing for this Fall 2017 Project Grant competition, and the actions taken, are as follows:

  • All grant applications will be reviewed only by face-to-face panels, with no online or other prior evaluations
    • CIHR has reconstituted the review panel model, that was last in place for the Open Operating Grant Program (OOGP) in March, 2015.
    • Over 3400 applications were received in the current competition, the second largest in CIHR history. Their review required the formation of 65 panels (vs. the 53 that were used historically in the OOGP). This increase was needed both to cover the full spectrum of health research, and to avoid overloading any single panel with an unmanageable number of applications to review. To the latter point, some panels were split into two.
    • The panels are larger in size than they have been historically, to ensure that the reviewer expertise is sufficient to cover the breadth of applications received, a practice also in play at the NIH. Thus, the CIHR panel sizes for this competition range from approximately 15 to 35 members.
    • The iterative review process that has been used for applications related to Indigenous Health Research has been retained.
  • Applicants were asked to choose the panel most relevant to their research
    • Chairs and SOs worked with CIHR to ensure that their panels have the expertise required to review the applications received.
    • 86.7% of applications received were assigned to their first choice of panel and 7.7% were assigned to their second choice of panel. A small percentage of applications (5.6%) were transferred to a panel that was not suggested by the applicant. This was done when it was not possible to ensure sufficient reviewer expertise on the panel chosen by the applicant, or when the research proposed in the application did not fit the mandate of the panel chosen by the applicant.
  • Reviewers were recruited for a single panel
    • As noted above, each panel has an experienced Chair and two Scientific Officers, who have helped CIHR staff identify reviewers with the necessary expertise.
    • The Chairs and Scientific Officers have validated the selection of reviewers, the composition of applications to be reviewed by their respective panels, and the assignment of applications to each panel member.
    • Two Scientific Officers have been assigned to each panel to ensure that the SO summarizing the panel’s discussion of a specific grant has time to make proper notes before having to summarize the discussion of a subsequent grant. Thus, the SOs will alternate, in a preassigned manner, during the panel meeting. The SO notes, properly done, capture the essence of the panel’s discussion, giving the applicant a more accurate and useful overview of the panel’s view of the application’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • The Project Grant application form was changed only slightly
    • The Project Grant form was implemented with minimal changes vs. the previous Fall 2016 competition, and as outlined in the update provided July 10, 2017.
  • All health-related applications, including multidisciplinary applications, were welcome
    • The Chairs and Scientific Officers have worked with CIHR to ensure that the appropriate expertise is available to evaluate any multidisciplinary application in any given panel.

The Future Evolution of Peer Review at CIHR

As also noted in my July 10, 2017 letter to the community, the changes implemented to date are only a first step in improving the Project Grant competition and the CIHR peer review system. CIHR Peer review must of course continue to evolve, to address current weaknesses and the continuously evolving nature of health research. In the next few weeks, I will provide you with an update on the progress we have made to date to improve the review process for the Spring 2018 competition.

Changes to the Foundation Grant program in the future

Please note that the above comments pertain only to the Project Grant competition and not to the Foundation Grant program. CIHR has struck an advisory committee to provide recommendations on the Foundation Grant Program. This committee is chaired by Dr. Terry Snutch (UBC) and the complete committee membership and terms of reference can be found on CIHR’s website. Please do not hesitate to contact a member of the committee to share your perspective on this program. CIHR looks forward to receiving the committee’s recommendations and will provide the community with updates as they become available.

Finally, I want to thank Adrian Mota, Acting VP of Competition Management, and the staff of the Program Design and Delivery Branch of CIHR, for the extraordinary amount of high quality work they have done to recreate the Project Grant Review Panels system in a very short time. The process won’t be perfect, but we’ll continue to improve it, with your input.

Roderick R. McInnes, C.M., O.Ont., MD, PhD, FRSC
Acting President, Canadian Institutes of Health Research

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