In the past I've always steered people away from the glitzy 'research programmes' issued by the funders. You know the kind of thing: 'ESRC/AHRC issue a £10m Programme of Cross Council Research to End World Poverty', or some such.
My reason for doing so is that they inevitably attract everyone who specialises in that area (so competition is fierce), but the resources available are limited. As a result success rates are usually pitiful.
However, looking at the AHRC's recent 2008-09 Annual Report the succes rates for different schemes makes startling reading:
- Responsive Mode success rates ranged between 10-33%
- Strategic Mode (i.e. Programmes) ranged between 6-100%
6% I can understand, but 100%?? Surely some mistake?? But no, the overall average success rate for the programme grants is a very respectable 41%; for responsive mode a risible 18%. So the message to take away is never to dismiss Programme grants out of hand: if your project is strong, your subject appropriate and your application clear and well-written, then your chances are as good (if not better) than for standard grants. More detail on the success rates in 2008-09 are available on p79 of the Annual Report.