Thursday, 29 September 2011

Keepers of the Keys

I went along to 'the Athens of the South South West' (Swindon) on Tuesday for an ESRC Study Visit. Such events are always - inevitably - a bit of a curate's egg: a lot of known and/or irrelevant information, peppered with some gems which make the whole thing worth the three hour cross-country schlep.

For me, one of the most useful insights was the issue of 'introducers' rejections'. As I'm sure you know, when you submit an application to the ESRC it doesn't go straight to panel. It goes through a sifting process, including:
  • Office sift: roughly 10% of applications get rejected at this stage on technicalities, such as not having the right attachments, sections not being filled, format not being adhered to, etc;
  • Reviewers' sift: roughly 30% get rejected at this stage. If the reviewers identify substantial flaws, and grade the applications accordingly;
  • Introducers' sift: I think this has been in place for some time, but I hadn't realised the scale of it before now. Each application is allocated to two introducers, who will have the responsibility of introducing the application to the panel. However, they can reject applications before they get to panel if they think that, realistically, they don't stand any real chance of getting funding, and it would be wasting the panel's time to discuss them.
The ESRC said that, after these sifts, they would only expect 30% of applications to go to panel. Given this figure, it looks like the introducers are expected to strip out 30% of the applications. That's quite a substantial figure.

In practice I imagine that this is fairly straightforward. There will be obvious applications that don't have anything wrong with them, but are never going to fly. However, it does make me worry slightly that the responsibility for identifying these is bestowed on so few people. Given how 'political' sub disciplines can be, what happens if your application is sifted out be someone who disagrees with your work, rather than allowing a wider range of views to input?

Anyway, the lesson to take away from this is to look at the grants panel membership (pdf) and try and identify the two people who are likely to be the introducers. Do a bit of background research on them and their interests, and try to key your proposal in with what makes them tick. They are the keepers of the keys to the kingdom - or at least to the grants panel.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. At the equivalent council in Canada (SSHRC), the program officers can decide things are ineligible, including for reasons of not following the instructions. But external reviewers only advise the committee (do not score). The Readers (equivalent of introducers, I think) score and will introduce in the meeting.

    While all applications will go to the meeting, not all will be discussed. A preliminary ranking based on the readers initial scores will be produced and often the bottom 35% will not be discussed on the grounds that rearranging those deck chairs isn't going to affect who gets funded when the success rate is 30%.

    The difference is that the committee has to agree that those 35% won't get discussed. This means that if there is one or two in there where someone else on the committee sees a problem or if there are any with large differences between the 2 reader's scores, the committee can decide to review those applications.