Foundation Grant Program Review Committee Report: Executive Summary

In 2009 CIHR released its second Strategic Plan, the Health Research Roadmap. Over the next five years aspects of the Roadmap included reforming the Open Grant Programs and Peer-Review processes supported by extensive consultations and input from across Canada and internationally. The Foundation Grant program was established as one part of CIHR’s redesign of its peer-reviewed Investigator-initiated funding platforms, another major branch being the Project Grant program. The Foundation Grant program intended to capture established high impact investigators (“health research leaders”) across all four pillars, providing long-term (7 year) funding to support innovative research programs whilst providing flexibility concerning research direction. Begun in the fall of 2014 the Foundation Grant program is near the end of four full cycles. In the fall of 2017 the Acting President of CIHR, Dr. Roderick R. McInnes, struck a Review Committee to provide strategic advice and guidance concerning the Foundation Grant program mandate, funding allocation, and peer review processes.

The Foundation Grant program Review Committee sought and received input from a wide spectrum of the Canadian health research community as well as from the CIHR executive, Science Council and the College of Reviewers. In order to address its mandate, the Foundation Grant review committee asked a number of specific questions concerning whether the Foundation Grant program had met or was on track to meet its objectives. Full data sets for analyses were available for the first three years of the program plus Year 4 up to the second stage of peer review. In assessing the Foundation Grant the committee considered evidence in seven key areas; 1) had Canada’s “health research leaders” been adequately identified and were they successful in the competition; 2) what fraction of CIHR’s top-funded researchers were removed from the Project Grant scheme; 3) were there aspects of the current three-stage application/review process that require streamlining; 4) should Early Career Investigators continue to be excluded from the program and if so discuss option for their exit; 5) determine options for mid- to later- stage investigators for exiting the Foundation Grant program; 6) determine whether reviewer and applicant burdens had been affected; 7) discuss sustainability implications for CIHR’s investigator-initiated budget in future years.

Summary of Recommendations

  1. We recommend in the context of certain modifications that CIHR continue to support and fund the Foundation Grant program;
  2. We recommend that the Foundation Grant program continue to be limited to investigators from mid-stage career onward;
  3. We recommend that the Foundation Grant program be a single stage application/review process;
  4. We recommend that the Foundation Grant application/review process be conducted face-to-face;
  5. We recommend that Foundation Grants score applications numerically using the same scoring system utilized in the Project Grant scheme;
  6. We recommend that on an ongoing basis that Foundation Grant awards represent approximately 25% of CIHR’s annual investigator-initiated operating grant funding;
  7. We recommend that in order to address future funding requirements that might arise, CIHR has flexibility to adjust the amount allocated to the Foundation Grant Program in any given cycle;
  8. We recommend that Foundation Grant applicants are not eligible to apply for both Foundation and Project Grants in the same competition (fall);
  9. We recommend that Early Career Investigators currently holding a Foundation Grant be immediately eligible for future Project Grant competitions, and allowed to hold Project Grant funds in excess of their Foundation Grant budget until the end of their Foundation Grant term;
  10. We recommend that mid- to later- stage investigators currently holding a Foundation Grant be eligible to apply to Project Grant competitions beginning in the fall of the fifth year of their Foundation Grant award;
  11. We recommend that CIHR track pillar, gender and visible minorities within the Foundation Grant program and address any bias that may arise;

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