Assessment process overview
Aims of the EPSRC assessment process
EPSRC has published a set of clear principles that support its peer review processes. Of these two are deemed of particular importance for its assessment processes:
- Transparency: The process will be transparent and the details of assessment made available to all involved. Before submission, applicants should be aware of the assessment criteria and process that their proposal will be subject to.
- Right to Reply: All applicants have a 'Right to Reply' to reviewers/decision makers on their proposal unless the proposal receives reviews, which are mostly unsupportive. If a 'Right to Reply' is not possible due to the nature of the call, this will be made clear at the outset of the process.
The standard EPSRC process includes a postal peer review stage. This means sending (electronically) the proposal and associated documents including a reviewer form out to a number of people to review, make comment and score the proposal against set criteria. Assessment criteria may vary between schemes and are available on our website. Applications that have received enough support from reviewers will go forward to panel. Prior to the panel, usable reviewer comments (those included in the decision process) are sent to the applicant to allow them an opportunity to correct factual inaccuracies and respond to any queries raised by the reviewers. This stage of the process gives applicants a right to reply. Where the majority of reviews are unsupportive, the proposal will be 'review rejected' at the review stage and the applicant will no longer qualify for the Right to Reply. The reviewer forms and PI response form the basis of where the proposal will be positioned on the rank order list by a peer review panel and ultimately to whether the proposal is funded. Panel members are not permitted to re-review the proposals. This means that no additional judgements are made without the applicant being able to respond.
It is important to stress that there is no hierarchy between reviewers and panel members, they are of equal standing within the process but carry out different roles. The reviewer considers the strengths and weaknesses of a specific proposal whereas the panel members gives a subjective judgement across a group of proposals.
When might the standard process be implemented?
Most proposals that are received through our Standard Research Scheme will go through the EPSRC standard peer review process. Many managed calls also follow this process.
Non postal peer review process
In this process the proposal is not sent to postal peer review. The call document will clearly state the assessment process that the proposals will be taken through to ensure that all applicants know how their proposal will be assessed before they submit an application to EPSRC.
When might the Non Postal Peer Review process be implemented?
The process is only used for a small number of managed calls. Often these calls have specific requirements meaning that the standard process would not be the ideal approach. A recent example involved the convening of a Commissioning Advisory Group which was involved with the planning of the call for one single invited proposal.
Often the non postal peer review process will be used when joint funding with other agencies (e.g. international funders) is required. Other funders often have their own requirements of the process and tight funding deadlines which do not fit with the standard EPSRC process.
Calls with an outline stage
Some calls will include an initial outline stage. Outlines involve submitting a brief summary of the proposed research without the in depth costings, workplans etc. required in a full proposal. Outlines do not go to postal peer review. Instead a panel will decide which outlines should be invited to submit a full proposal. Full proposals would then be considered through the standard process detailed above.
All outline calls will clearly state in the call document the assessment criteria that will be used when deciding which outlines will go to the next stage. These criteria will differ to those for the full proposal stage.
Expressions of Interest (EOI)
These are less formal than an outline; normally no financial information would be required. An EOI is intended as a concept of research. EOIs do not go to postal peer review. Instead they would be considered by a panel and those to be progressed would be invited to a full proposal stage. Full proposals would then be considered through the standard process detailed above
As with outline calls, EOIs will clearly state in the call document the assessment criteria that will be used when deciding which outlines will go to the next stage. These criteria will differ to those for the full proposal stage.
Sandpits are residential interactive workshops usually held over five days, involving 20-30 participants to include; the director, a team of expert mentors, and a number of independent stakeholders. An EOI is used for the initial application to participate in a sandpit. The panel who review the EOIs will also be involved in the sandpit.
Outcomes of sandpits may range from a single large research project to several smaller projects, feasibility studies, networking activities, overseas visits and so on. The outcomes are not pre-determined but are defined during the sandpit. Sandpits do not use postal peer review. Peer Review is carried out in real time during the sandpit allowing applicants the opportunity to respond at this time. Those successful will submit a full proposal which will be validated by the original panel to ensure that the scope remains as agreed at the sandpit.