How to benefit from proposal evaluations (even if they are unfair…)

Receiving evaluation reports for proposals that didn’t make the cut to get funded can be quite frustrating. Like with reviewer comments, evaluations from the grant committee can come across as unfair, uninformed, or just (too) harsh. Still, there often are important clues in these reports to be able to improve your next grant proposal.

Proposal evaluation

What you can read in an evaluation report…

Perhaps the most important thing to learn from the evaluation is whether the committee believes in the general idea behind your proposal. Is this area of research perceived as worth pursuing? Did you provide enough indications that your overarching concept, key hypotheses, and overall approach are relevant and feasible? If not, any recycling of the proposal should start with the question: “How can I make sure the reader gets enthusiastic about my key ideas?

Another lesson to be learnt is how the committee views the proposing Principal Investigator or consortium. In collaborative grants, check how the committee responded to the consortium composition. Were some consortium members rated as weaker than others? Did the committee miss specific expertise? In personal grants, read closely how your academic CV was rated. Can you detect any specific points that you could improve on?

Lots of other specific information can be found in grant evaluations. Take all comments seriously, and keep in mind that when something was rated as unclear, you probably didn’t manage to explain it well enough. Make sure you also take note of comments on things that are sometimes regarded as ‘side stuff’, such as open science or IP protection. In the end, whether or not you get a very good proposal funded might just depend on these check boxes that you thought were less important. Finally, don’t forget to look for the aspects already rated as strong, so you can further emphasize these in a next proposal.

… And what you can conclude from what is not there

You as a researcher probably had an idea of what the strong points of your proposal were. If they aren’t explicitly mentioned as strong points, this either means the committee doesn’t agree they are strong points, or that they weren’t highlighted enough. More in general, try to look for words demonstrating enthusiasm. If the evaluation report mentions things like “was sufficiently addressed” or “the consortium seems to be qualified”, note that it could have said things like “excellent”, “extremely well”, or “unprecedented” – and therefore also aspects rated (fairly) positively might well be improved.

Looking for a fresh set of eyes?

Having analysed many evaluation reports over the years, Fundament can help you make an honest assessment whether it is worth your effort to resubmit your research idea in the same call or for another funding programme. We discuss the key changes needed to optimize your proposal, and work with you to implement those changes. Feel free to contact us for a fresh set of eyes on your evaluation report!

Author: Neeltje Peters

Co-founder and Research Funding Professional at Fundament.

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