August 14, 2009 – NSERC is continuing to implement the recommendations of its 2007 Grant Selection Committee (GSC) Structure Review. The next phase of changes to the review process for Discovery Grant applications will see the new conference model fully replace the previous structure of 28 GSCs, with the overall goal of improving the assessment of applications.
The new structure will consist of 12 evaluation groups, each of which will include a number of sections that deal with specific topics. Applicants will be asked to suggest which evaluation group and research topics best reflect the subject of their proposal.
A number of GSCs have already successfully piloted the new system. In the conference model, group members form into sections, based on the match between their expertise and the specific topics of a set of applications. As needed, members from different groups can meet in joint sections to review topics that cross the traditional boundaries between disciplines. This increased flexibility also addresses challenges that the peer review system has faced in recent years, including the rapid emergence of new research areas and a growing workload.
The conference model was chosen following extensive discussions with key stakeholders. Building on the strengths of the existing peer review committees, the concept has been well received by the research community. The new structure is expected to increase the number of reviewers available, adding depth to areas that may not have benefited from optimal coverage in the past.
Members of the evaluation groups who will review applications for the 2010 competition will be invited to orientation sessions in November, 2009 to help familiarize them with the conference model.
The 2010 competition will again use the two-stage assessment process that was successfully introduced for the 2009 competition. This approach separates the scientific evaluation of the proposal from the funding recommendation. The first stage uses a six-point scale to rate all applications based on the excellence of the researcher, the merit of the proposal and the contribution to training highly qualified personnel. It also assesses the cost of the research program, relative to the norm in its field. The second stage assigns a funding level to the categories (or “bins”) of overall quality in each evaluation group.
The extensive review of the Discovery Grants program concluded that it is a unique and extremely effective way to foster internationally competitive research and contribute to Canada’s science and technology needs. Changes to the GSC structure enable NSERC to evolve its peer review system to reflect the most recent developments in the research environment, while increasing clarity and consistency. Analysis and refinement of the new model and the assessment process will continue.
More information on the new review structure can be found in these Frequently Asked Questions. NSERC staff will also be prepared to answer questions during information sessions at universities, primarily held in the fall.