Programme grants


GEN1: General

These notes are intended to provide reviewers with specific guidance for the completion of the reviewer form. They should be read in conjunction with the reviewer principles. Specific guidance is available for each individual section of the report you are completing. A full justification for your assessment of the proposal should be provided. The prompts are given as a reminder of those issues that are likely to be most significant in determining the overall merit of a proposal. Please provide as full a response as you believe you are qualified to. You should note that your review will be sent back, unattributed, to the investigator, who will then be allowed the opportunity to comment on any factual errors and answer any specific queries you have raised.

We are committed to support the recommendations and principles set out by the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA). You should not use journal-based metrics, such as journal impact factors, as a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, to assess an investigator’s contributions, or to make funding decisions.

For the purpose of research assessment, please consider the value and impact of all research outputs (including datasets, software, inventions, patents, preprints, other commercial activities, etc.) in addition to research publications. You should consider a broad range of impact measures including qualitative indicators of research impact, such as influence on policy and practice.

The content of a paper is more important than publication metrics, or the identity of the journal, in which it was published, especially for early-stage investigators. Therefore, you should not use journal impact factor (or any hierarchy of journals), conference rankings and metrics such as the H-index or i10-index when assessing UKRI grants.

GEN2: Assessment methodology

You are asked to assess the proposal/report against a number of criteria. These criteria may vary according to the scheme or call that the proposal has been submitted to. Prompts are provided as a reminder of those issues that are likely to be most significant in determining the overall merit of a proposal. A full justification for your assessment of the proposal should be included in each section: please provide as full a response as you believe you are qualified to.

You are asked throughout to assess “the proposal” but please be clear that this means the ideas, concepts and approaches contained therein not the specific form of the document itself. The clarity of presentation may help or hinder your ability to review a proposal, so a comment to this effect would be appropriate, but this should not become in any form a competition in stylish writing. Elegance of presentation is not of itself an assessment criterion for an EPSRC grant!

There is no set way for answering questions on the form. However, prioritisation meetings generally find reviews most useful where they explicitly identify the main strengths and weaknesses in the proposal, while also giving a clear view on which should be accorded the greater significance and why. It is also a helpful technique to raise issues or concerns with the proposal in the form of explicit questions for the applicants. This makes it easier for the panel to assess how complete and convincing the applicants responses are.

GEN3: Ethics

It is important that EPSRC funds are used ethically and responsibly but this is mainly assured by requiring that universities have in place and operate appropriate ethical approval processes. Ethical considerations should not therefore normally be an assessment criterion and you should not take these into account when making your assessment.

If the proposal is in a subject or area that causes you serious personal concern, to the extent that you feel you cannot provide an objective review, then you should decline to review the proposal giving the reason as other, and stating “ethical issues” in the comment box. If you have a concern that the proposal raises ethical issues that have not been clearly identified or addressed, then you should raise this directly with EPSRC who will need to make a policy decision on how the proposal should be treated.

GEN4: Linked proposals

Where two or more proposals have been formally linked to form a single research project, you are requested to submit a single review covering the project as a whole.

GEN8: Scope of Scheme

Programme Grants are a flexible mechanism to provide funding to world-leading research groups to address significant major research challenges. They are intended to support a variety of activities focussing on one strategic research theme. Although it is expected that most applications will be interdisciplinary and collaborative they can address key challenges in a single discipline.

For further information please see the Programme Grants page.

EXC2: Excellence (including overall vision and ambition)

Primary Criterion

The applicants must articulate the overall research vision. To enhance the potential of achieving it, a world-class team of complementary expertise should have been brought together. The research programme should be ambitious, creative, innovative, and address key research challenges. It should also be sustainable beyond the lifetime of the grant. A strong scientific case for support must be demonstrated with the proposed research set into the context of the current state of knowledge and other work under way in the field. The importance of the research theme proposed to the strategy of the respective universities involved should also be articulated. The expected outputs should result in a significant step change, with major impact on the research area beyond the immediate team, and appreciably raise the UK's international profile.

The reviewer form asks reviewers to:

Please comment on the degree of research excellence of the application making reference to:

  • The novelty, relationship to the context, and timeliness
  • The ambition, adventure, and transformative aspects identified
  • The appropriateness of the proposed methodology

(For multi-disciplinary applications please state which aspects of the application you feel qualified to review)

NET2: Methodology

Primary Criterion

The proposal should clearly demonstrate the methodology the applicants intend to use to attain their stated objectives, and you should comment on how clearly they are described, how appropriate they are for the planned activity and their scientific or technical feasibility. As this is a flexible grant for up to six years, it is not expected that there is a detailed methodological plan for the whole period of the grant but the applicant should explain how the research in the latter years will be identified.

IMP1: Importance

Secondary Major Criterion

Drawing upon what the applicant has said, reviewers should comment on:

  • How the proposed research contributes to, or helps maintain the health of other research disciplines, contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges, contributes to current or future UK economic success and/or enables future development of key emerging industry(s)
  • The extent to which the research proposed has the potential to meet national strategic needs by establishing or maintaining a unique world leading research activity (including areas of niche capability)
  • How the research fits with and complements other UK research already funded in the area or related areas, including the relationship to the EPSRC portfolio and our stated strategy set out in “Our Portfolio”.

The extent to which each bullet point is addressed will depend on the nature of the research proposed. Reviewers should comment on how the research relates to EPSRC’s research areas and strategies (many projects will be relevant to more than one EPSRC research area) and complements EPSRC's current portfolio. Information on the portfolio is available through the EPSRC's Grants on the Web (GoW).

The reviewer form asks reviewers to:

please comment on the national importance of the research. Include how the research:

  • Contributes to, or helps maintain the health of other disciplines contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges and/or contributes to future UK economic success and development of emerging industry(s)
  • Meets national needs by establishing/maintaining a unique world leading activity
  • Complements other UK research already funded in the area, including any relationship to the EPSRC portfolio

PAT1: Pathways to Impact

Secondary Criterion

A clearly thought through and acceptable Pathways to Impact is an essential component of a research proposal and a condition of funding.

Applicants are required to use this section of the proposal to identify the potential impact of their work and to outline the steps they can sensibly make now to facilitate the realisation of those impacts.

Identified impacts should clearly align with the case made for the importance of the research but may be much broader. If a proposal is ranked high enough to be funded at the interview stage but does not have an acceptable Pathways to Impact it will be returned. Applicants will be asked to revise the Pathways to Impact and the proposal will only be funded once that acceptable revision has been received.

A clearly thought through and acceptable Pathways to Impact statement should:

  • Be project-specific and not generalised
  • Be flexible and focus on potential outcomes

Researchers should be encouraged to:

  • Identify and actively engage relevant users of research and stakeholders at appropriate stages
  • Articulate a clear understanding of the context and needs of users and consider ways for the proposed research to meet these needs or impact upon understandings of these needs
  • Outline the planning and management of associated activities including timing, personnel, skills, budget, deliverables and feasibility
  • Include evidence of any existing engagement with relevant end users

It is expected that being able to describe a pathways to impact will apply for the vast majority of proposals. In the few exceptions where this is not the case, the Pathways to Impact statement should be used to fully justify the reasons why this is not possible.

More detailed information about what impact does and does not include is available on the Pathways to Impact guidance page.

You are asked to assess how effectively and realistically the applicants have addressed this issue in their proposal. For this you should consider:

  • How convincingly the potential impact of the activity has been described
  • How that impact compares to your normal expectations for the general type of activity proposed
  • How appropriate/effective the arrangements described for facilitating the impact are
  • How appropriate the collaboration arrangements in the proposal are in this respect

You should not be seeking tangible deliverables, direct return on investment or detailed routes to exploitation in making your assessment. Pathways to Impact is not synonymous with early exploitation. It can take many forms over widely varying timescales. It might involve developing a commercial product or service, or creating a new technology, but could also be about improved medical or health care, contributions to national planning or social policy or engaging the public in the outputs of research.

We don't need you to take the relative importance of the identified impacts into account in reaching your judgement. The key element to be assessed is the range and appropriateness of the activities to be undertaken to help realise them.

Proposals where impact activities are clearly integrated throughout the broader project should normally be seen as stronger than those where they are seen as an afterthought bolted on to the back of the project. As for any other part of the review please ensure you comment fully on the pathway to impact, and that your comments are all explained and justified. Terse comments are generally seen as unhelpful by panels and are often discounted. This is particularly true for tersely supportive comments.

What is the relationship between national importance and Impact?

The purpose of national importance is to encourage applicants to articulate why it's important for their research to be supported by the UK taxpayer so that the UK remains internationally competitive. National importance has a number of strands and so answers to this question might cover; why the research might benefit the UK economy, why it may lead to advances in a different academic discipline, or why it's important that an internationally leading group continues to be supported.

The Impact criterion focuses much more on how you might accelerate the route to making it happen; what activities are you proposing to ensure that the potential beneficiaries have the opportunity to benefit? Impact is about who the beneficiaries of the research might be and how you are going to work with them to shorten the time between discovery and use of knowledge.

We do not expect applicants to be able to predict the impact of their research, nor do we expect reviewers to make assumptions about the probability of the benefits being fully delivered. However, we would encourage all researchers to think at the earliest stage who might use the outputs of their research and how to make that happen.

The reviewer form asks reviewers to:

please comment on the pathway to impact identified for this work, particularly:

  • How complete and realistic are the impacts identified for this work
  • The effectiveness of the activities identified to help realise these impacts, including the resources requested for this purpose
  • The relevance and appropriateness of any beneficiaries or collaborators

APP2: Applicant

Secondary Criterion

Programme grants are for world-leading researchers. You should explicitly comment on the international standing of not only the Principal Investigator but also the rest of the team and the appropriateness of the academic partnership.

The reviewer form asks reviewers to:

Please comment on the applicants’ ability to deliver the proposed project making reference to:

  • Appropriateness of the track record of the applicant(s)
  • Balance of skills of the project team, including academic partners

APP3: Applicant - Leadership

Secondary Criterion

Effective leadership is essential to drive the projects forward to ensure all members of the team are focussed on the overall vision. Leaders need to not only be scientific leaders in their field but also be able to establish consensus, motivate their staff and take executive action to ensure the research objectives are met. You should explicitly comment on the principal investigators track record in leading other independent researchers and your confidence in their ability to effectively direct the team of investigators for this programme.

The reviewer form asks reviewers to:

Please comment on the applicants’ ability to deliver the proposed project making reference to:

  • Appropriateness of the track record of the applicant(s)
  • Balance of skills of the project team, including academic partners

MAN3: Resources and Management

Secondary Criterion

The proposal must demonstrate that there is a clear management plan, which will ensure that resources, including manpower are deployed in the most effective way to deliver high quality research outputs that have the potential to induce a step-change in the knowledge of the subject area. It is expected that the deliverables and milestones will be routinely reviewed to ensure that the most exciting and promising lines of research are pursued and that sufficient resources are assigned to ensure the project is professionally managed. For more advice, see guidance on managing large research activities.

The reviewer form asks reviewers to:

Please comment on the effectiveness of the proposed planning and management and on whether the requested resources are appropriate and have been fully justified. Please comment explicitly on the viability of the arrangements described to access equipment needed for this project, and particularly on any university or third party contribution.

RES7: Resources and Management

Secondary Criterion

Applicants are required to identify on the application form all resources required to undertake the project, and to clearly explain the need for these in the justification of resources appended to the case for support. You should comment on how well this has been done and on the appropriateness of the resources requested. You should draw attention to anything in your view that has been requested but not justified or conversely needed but not identified. You should also comment on the suitability of arrangements for accessing resources other than through the grant, such as by collaboration with external groups. You should explicitly consider the amount of time being allocated to the project by the applicant(s) in this assessment. Your assessment should be based solely on the resources sought and not on the costs derived from them.

The reviewer form asks reviewers to:

Please comment on the effectiveness of the proposed planning and management and on whether the requested resources are appropriate and have been fully justified. Please comment explicitly on the viability of the arrangements described to access equipment needed for this project, and particularly on any university or third party contribution.

ANI1: Animal research and human participation

Where the applicants have ticked any boxes confirming that the proposal involves either animal research or human participation then you are asked to comment specifically on any ethical considerations and particularly on whether ethical approval procedures have been complied with. You should also comment on any potential adverse consequences for humans, animals or the environment and whether these risks have been addressed satisfactorily in the proposal. It is particularly important that resources relating to these aspects are explicitly justified in terms of need, scale and nature of resource, so for example for animal research you should comment specifically on the need to use animals, the choice of species, the number of animals it is intended to use.

PROG1: Proposal Assessment - Added value

The proposal should demonstrate the added value and synergy of supporting the research through a programme grant. This should include how the length and flexibility of both staff and other resources will be used and the added benefits of this approach. It should also demonstrate how it is different from standard responsive mode proposals in terms of the particular research activities that will be undertaken.

The reviewer form asks the reviewer to:

Please comment on the added value of supporting this research as one programme grant and not a number of smaller grants and how the investigators have demonstrated that they need the added flexibility of resources and the longer term of the grant to achieve these research goals.

ADV1 (Advocacy for engineering and the physical sciences)

Secondary Criterion - Interview Stage only

The proposal must demonstrate how the group will be advocates for the engineering and physical sciences. Applicants should specifically address how they will influence its policy makers on the importance of engineering and physical sciences. Advocacy through public engagement activities can also be considered, as long as these activities are directly related to the programme of research applied for. This criterion will solely be assessed at the interview stage.

ASS1: Overall assessment

You should provide your overall assessment of the proposal. Think of this as your report to the prioritisation panel, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses you identified in the individual questions and then making a clear and explicit recommendation about whether or not you believe the proposal warrants funding.

Not all questions carry equal weighting. Research Quality (excellence) will always be pre-eminent and no proposal can be funded without clearly demonstrating this aspect. National Importance should also be a major consideration in making your assessment. The weighting between the remaining aspects will depend on the specific nature of the particular proposal. You should indicate those aspects that you accorded higher or lower priority and why.

The reviewer form asks reviewers to summarise their view of the application.

ASS2: Overall Assessment - Part assessment

It may be that you feel you can only comment with authority on some specific part or component of a proposal, for example with a multidisciplinary project, or perhaps where there is a strong user-led element. In such a case you should identify those aspects that you are able to comment on, and then give your review on just those aspects. Different reviewers will have been asked to cover those aspects you cannot and the panel will then have the job of integrating these different comments. It is particularly important therefore that the panel have clear advice on the merits of each component. Your comments, scores and confidence level should explicitly reflect your views on those aspects you can assess, and you are asked not to moderate these in any way to reflect those areas you feel you cannot comment on.

A risk with part assessment is that it will miss the added value of the overall project (the whole ideally being greater than the sum of the parts) so even where you can only comment with authority on one aspect it will be helpful to the panel to have your views on how compelling the arguments for the overall proposal are. Other issues you might also comment on are the uniqueness (or otherwise) of the collaboration, the value of the contribution of the component you can judge, and the significance of this in terms of future potential development in your own field.

ASS3: Overall Assessment - Overall score

You should assign a score using the six-point scale provided. This should reflect your overall conclusion, and should be consistent with your comments on the individual sections of your review taking account of all the assessment criteria and the various weightings you applied.

The reviewer form asks the reviewer to score the proposal:

  1. This proposal is scientifically or technically flawed
  2. This proposal does not meet one or more of the assessment criteria
  3. This proposal meets all assessment criteria but with clear weaknesses
  4. This is a good proposal that meets all assessment criteria but with minor weaknesses
  5. This is a strong proposal that broadly meets all assessment criteria
  6. This is a very strong proposal that fully meets all assessment criteria

ASS4: Level of confidence

To assist the prioritisation panel in reaching their overall conclusion on the proposal, and to help EPSRC in monitoring the effectiveness of its reviewer selection procedures, you are asked to indicate your confidence with regard to this review. This should report your own confidence, or otherwise, in being able to make your assessment, not your confidence in the success of the proposal if it were funded. If, for any reason, you feel that you are not able to assess the proposal, please advise EPSRC accordingly.

The reviewer form asks reviewers to score their confidence as low, medium or high.