Message from Adrian Mota, Associate Vice-President, Research Programs (Operations)
Spring 2020 Project Grant competition: What we heard from you

As you know, CIHR conducted the peer review committee meetings for the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition online using MS Teams. The competition was delivered successfully thanks to the incredible efforts of the Chairs, Scientific Officers, reviewers and CIHR staff. As this was CIHR’s first time adjudicating the Project Grant competition remotely (in a way that mimics the in-person face-to-face process), it is important we learn from this experience and improve for future competitions, since CIHR will deliver the Fall 2020, and probably the Spring 2021, Project Grant competitions using this format. We tried to recreate the conditions of face-to-face committee meetings as much as possible, but are aware that some of the benefits of meeting in person cannot be replicated.

Following the meetings, CIHR surveyed the 1229 reviewers, Chairs and Scientific Officers who participated in the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition to gather feedback on their experiences with this peer review format. Seven-hundred and fourteen individuals responded (58.1%), informing CIHR of their level of satisfaction with the competition and providing insights on the processes.

Here is what we heard:

What was your level of satisfaction with the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition?

 

Very Satisfied (%)

Satisfied (%)

Unsatisfied (%)

Very Unsatisfied (%)

Not Applicable (%)

Overall experience

Experience as a peer reviewer

33.3

55.6

4.1

0.7

6.3

Clarity of reviewer instructions

50.3

43.8

1.7

1.0

3.2

Preparation/training (overall)

43.7

50.7

2.9

0.7

2.0

Communications from CIHR

55.2

40.1

3.6

1.0

0.1

CIHR staff responsiveness to queries*

72.7

22.8

1.8

0.8

1.8

Transparency in funding decision process

34.2

51.0

7.8

1.4

5.6

Compensation for dependent care and other costs (if applicable) accrued as a result of participation in CIHR peer review

8.8

15.7

3.1

2.4

70.0

Satisfaction with how meetings were chaired

63.0

28.0

4.2

1.0

3.8

Quality of Scientific Officer summaries offered at the meeting

64.3

29.0

2.4

0.8

3.5

Overall management of conflict of interest among reviewers

65.6

28.9

1.8

1.4

2.4

Review panels’ attention to issues of equity, diversity and inclusion in the review of grants*

37.5

44.3

8.5

2.2

7.4

MS Teams Experience

MS Teams’ functionality to support virtual peer review meetings (overall)

26.5

54.6

12.8

5.2

1.0

Clarity of the rationale to use MS Teams over other platforms

24.9

45.8

17.8

6.6

4.9

Preparation/training/materials provided by CIHR about using MS Teams*

33.1

55.2

8.5

2.0

1.3

Ability to discuss applications*

39.5

44.1

11.9

2.9

1.5

Management of conflicts of interest in MS Teams (e.g., use of “lobby” feature)

50.1

38.8

3.8

1.8

5.5

Voting during peer review meetings through the ResearchNet e-scoring tool*

59.4

29.0

2.0

0.7

9.0

Length of meetings

33.6

51.1

11.1

2.0

2.2

Sufficiency of breaks

23.1

41.7

24.8

5.6

4.8

*Due to rounding, numbers may not add up precisely to 100 per cent.

Most reviewers expressed satisfaction with the peer review process given the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a majority of reviewers expressing a willingness to engage in future virtual peer review (N=683, 95.7%).

Feedback from the qualitative comments highlight the need for some important changes.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Despite an overall satisfaction with the quality of Scientific Officer summaries (SO notes) (N=666, 93.3%), some respondents noticed inconsistencies in the quality of SO notes across the committees.
  • About 10 % of respondents reported dissatisfaction with the review panels’ attention to issues of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the review of grants. Some reviewers did not recall any mention of EDI during the meetings, and suggested that CIHR place more emphasis on and standardize how EDI is considered across meetings.
  • Reviewer respondents reported overall satisfaction with voting during peer review meetings through the newly developed ResearchNet e-scoring tool (N=631, 88.4%; 9% reported not applicable). Many respondents who commented on the e-scoring tool recommended that CIHR continue to use it—which is the intent.
  • Despite conflicting comments from respondents regarding the ideal frequency of breaks, the overall sentiment was a consistent desire for longer breaks. This was especially true for the lunch break, as the already short 15-minute breaks were typically cut shorter and did not allow for the relief of screen fatigue.
  • Many reviewers felt that despite CIHR’s best efforts, the peer review meetings were rushed and reviewers missed the interpersonal and networking benefits of peer review that are lost in a virtual setting. At the same time, we also heard from reviewers, especially those with responsibilities for dependent care, who appreciated the flexibility offered by remote peer review and not attending meetings in Ottawa.

What are we doing with what we’ve heard?

Thank you to all those who shared their feedback with CIHR via this survey and other means. Listening to (and acting on) your feedback is central to our goal of operating as a learning organization.

In this vein, CIHR has implemented some technical improvements to the Fall 2020 Project competition peer review meetings starting this week. Also, additional flexibility has been built into the meeting start times and breaks have been lengthened.

Additional changes will be made to address the findings noted above and improve on other aspects related to the Project Grant program, starting with the Spring 2021 competition – and we will report back to you on these changes in a future message .

Spring 2021 Project Grant competiton

Lastly, we also want to acknowledge the community’s concerns about the impacts the re-entry of Foundation Grant-holders in the Spring 2021 Project Grant competition will have on success rates and the demographics of funding recipients. Please rest assured that Scientific Directors and CIHR staff have been meeting extensively over the past months to model different scenarios that will ensure equitable access to Project Grant funds for all applicants. We commit to sharing more information with the community within the next couple of weeks, and will host several “Ask Me Anything” webinars on the subject.

In the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out to CIHR with your feedback via the Contact Centre or your University Delegate. This survey is not the last opportunity you will have to share your comments, ideas and suggestions with us regarding the Project Grant competition and other programs, policies and processes.

Sincerely,

Adrian Mota
Associate Vice-President, Research Programs (Operations)

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