The Project Grant program funding decision process

A detailed overview of how funding decisions are made within the Project Grant program is provided below. CIHR monitors the results of the Project Grant competitions and equalizes the success rates of certain groups as required (i.e., if the group’s proportion of grants is not at least equal to their proportion of applications). The mechanics and impacts of these interventions and other CIHR policies is also explained below.

CIHR encourages members of the community with questions and/or suggestions to get in touch with the Contact Centre at support-soutien@cihr-irsc.gc.ca.

Overview of the process

The process for selecting applications for funding submitted to the Project competition involves three steps:

  1. Applications are ranked within their committee based on the final ratings (0-4.9) for each application.
  2. An application’s ranking is then transformed into a percent rank score that enables comparison across committees.
  3. Applications are then funded across committees in order of percent rank until insufficient funds remain to fund the highest ranked application(s) remaining.

Percent rank

Any given Project Grant competition involves approximately 2300 applications reviewed across approximately 58 peer review committees. In order to make funding decisions, CIHR needs to be able to compare peer review results across committees. To do this, CIHR calculates each application’s percent rank.

The percent rank of an application is calculated using its standing within its assigned committee. For example, an application that was ranked 5/57 (based on its score) within its committee has been ranked higher than all but 4 of the other 56 applications in the committee and therefore has a percent rank of 92.9% (percent rank = 1-(4/56)). Percent rank is used in this exercise because it stretches the scale so that the first-ranked application in every committee receives a percent rank of 100%.

For the Project Grant program, funding decisions across committees are made in a similar fashion to how they were calculated under the former Open Operating Grants Program (OOGP). Scores for each application were converted to within-committee rankings, which were then used to calculate each application’s percent rank. This allows CIHR to account for scoring differences across the committees, and it also allows us to fund an approximately proportional number of applications across each committee. The number is approximate due to a number of factors that are explained in detail below; however, it is important to note that this is not dictated by pillar or area of research. Read more about the relationship between application rank within a panel, the percent rank score, and funding cutoffs.

The number of applications per committee generally ranges between 20 and 80, which accounts for some of the variability (because of the denominator’s impact on the percent rank calculation) of success rate by committee. The committee success rates are close to the overall success rate but fluctuate around it. It is not possible to create committees of comparable size without forcing applications into inappropriate panels (i.e., that are not the best expertise match to review the application).

Large grants, ties, and equalization

In addition to the differences in application pressure, a number of factors may cause individual committee success rates to fluctuate.

Large grants

Within the overall competition budget, there is a specific funding envelope for large grants (i.e., those within the top 2% of the total grant amounts requested). CIHR implemented this policy in the OOGP in 2010-11 to strike a balance between investing in highly ranked applications with large budgets and the imperative to maximize the total number of grants funded. The threshold for being considered a large grant fluctuates from one competition to the next but in past competitions, it has been any application that has requested more than $2M to $2.3M. Large grants are reviewed in their assigned committees; however, they are combined and treated as a separate cohort for the purpose of making funding decisions. Using this methodology means that it is possible for a large grant to be highly ranked in its committee (i.e., the ranking is above the committee cutoff) but ultimately not funded (i.e., the large grant budget gets exhausted before all the large grants above their respective committee cutoffs are funded). In this scenario, such an application would receive a bridge grant—but since bridge grants are not included in the calculation of success rates, this would reduce the committee’s success rate overall.

Ties

If applications are tied (e.g., two applications have the same final score within a committee and are therefore both equally ranked), it is CIHR’s policy to fund both or neither. Occasionally, a tie will fall right at the committee cutoff. In such a scenario, and if there are sufficient funds, both applications are funded. This would increase an individual committee's success rate, as the committee gets to fund one grant more than it otherwise would have been able to support.

Equalization of early career researchers

CIHR monitors the competition results to ensure that the proportion of ECRs funded is at least equal to the proportion of ECR applicants to the competition. A separate pot of money, provided to CIHR through Budget 2016, is reserved for this equalization and if it is not fully needed, it is reinvested within the Project Grant competition.

To complete the equalization process, CIHR creates the funding scenario as described above using the competition budget available. We then assess if the proportion of ECR grants funded is at least equal to the proportion of applications submitted by ECRs . If it is not, additional ECR applicants are funded based on their percent rank. ECRs funded through this process are combined and treated as a separate cohort for the purpose of making funding decisions. This means that the intervention is completed at the competition level and not the committee level to ensure that the top applicants are selected.

Equalization of female Nominated Principal Investigators

This process is being implemented for the first time in the Spring 2021 Project Grant competition. Like the ECR equalization process, CIHR will ensure that the proportion of female NPIs funded is at least equal to the proportion of female NPI applicants to the competition. A separate pot of money is reserved for this equalization and if it is not fully needed, it is reinvested within the Project Grant competition.

This process and its impacts are the same as with the ECR equalization described above.

Equalization of French language applications

This process is being implemented for the first time in the Spring 2021 Project Grant competition. Like the ECR equalization process, CIHR will ensure that the proportion of French-language applications funded is at least equal to the proportion of French-language applications submitted to the competition. A separate pot of money is reserved for this equalization and if it is not fully needed, it is reinvested within the Project Grant competition.

This process and its impacts are the same as with the ECR equalization described above.

Bridge grants

CIHR aims to strike the right balance between full grants and bridge grants for the Project Grant program, but the numbers may vary by competition because they are not predetermined.

In the past, we have received questions about the rationale for not offering approximately 58 bridge grants (i.e., the same number of bridge grants as committees) to support one extra applicant per committee. It is important to note that, even if there were funds to support funding for this number of bridge grants, they would not be distributed across the committees equally due to differences in committee size.

Indigenous health research

Applications that are adjudicated by the Indigenous health research (IHR) committee are done as part of the iterative review process. Further, CIHR has committed 4.6% of the Project Grant budget to support IHR applications as part of its commitment to invest 4.6% of its total budget in Indigenous health research.

Priority Announcements

CIHR Institutes and Initiatives may leverage the Project Grant program through Priority Announcements (PAs). PAs are additional sources of funding for highly ranked applications aligned to specific research areas. PAs are primarily funded by Institutes and do not affect CIHR’s investment in investigator-initiated research. PAs are usually CIHR Institute priorities that use the Project Grant peer review process to identify and fund areas of research within the Institutes’ mandates. These will vary from one competition to the next; however, all follow the same funding-decision process.

The process for selecting applications for funding involves four steps:

  1. Once the preliminary results of the Project Grant competition are established, a list of applications eligible for a PA that are below the Project Grant cut-off but above 3.5 and have not been streamlined is produced.
  2. The eligible applications are assessed for relevance to the objectives of the Priority Announcement.
  3. All applications that are deemed relevant are then ranked as a cohort.
  4. Applications are funded in rank order as far as budgets will allow.
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