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Updated application assessment process

We’re excited to say that we’re making a few improvements to our grant assessment processes – our Research Manager, Desh Mofidi, talks you through how we decide which applications we can fund.

What are we doing?

For our grant round in 2020 we are making some changes to how applications submitted to the annual developmental awards and bursaries round will be assessed. We are a proud member of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC), which means we commit to running a fair, open and robust process to decide which awards we can fund. At the heart of this is our peer review process and reviews by our Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP). In order to help manage the greater number of applications we now receive, we’re updating our processes to ensure we are maximising the expertise available to review applications. This in turn will help ensure we can continue to fund the best applications for research and maximise opportunities for pharmacists to develop their research skills.

Why now?

We’ve always made sure we fully follow the AMRC’s review processes, including adhering to the principles of peer review. But we have also seen a steady year-on-year increase in the number of applications we receive. Previously, alongside the peer review process we used a sub-panel from the SAP to oversee the assessment process. This structure worked well, but the increasing number of applications meant an increasing burden on the sub-panel.

Alongside this the AMRC has also recently published a thought-piece https://www.amrc.org.uk/pages/faqs/category/reviewing-peer-review looking at pros, cons and best practice in the use of peer review. As such we thought it was a good point to review and update our current processes to make sure we were making the very best use of all the resources at our disposal to manage the number of applications we now receive.

What was the old assessment process?

The assessment panel consisted of three members of the SAP: the Chair, a scientific member and a public member, who were responsible for assessing the applications submitted to all schemes in the annual call. These included applications submitted to the Research Development Awards, Research Training Bursaries and Partnership Awards. Further to this, representatives from the British Oncology Pharmacy Association (BOPA) and the College of Mental Health Pharmacy (CMHP) were also involved in assessing applications to these partnership awards.

The assessment process involved a thorough review of the application and the research being proposed. External peer reviewers were contacted to provide comments on applications submitted to all schemes, except those submitted to the Research Training Bursaries scheme. Applications are then assessed and each panel member is provided a form to complete, which also enables them to score the application. A summary of the main strengths and concerns are collated and there is an opportunity for the applications to be shortlisted in a meeting of the assessment panel. The shortlisting also considers the budget available for the round.

Following the shortlisting meeting, applications submitted under the Research Development Award and Level 3 Training Bursaries are invited for interview by the assessment panel, where the final funding recommendations will then be made for ratification by the Board of Trustees.

What changes are being introduced?

The overall structure for assessment remains the same – but we are making several changes that we hope will make the process even more robust:

  • Expertise of the entire SAP: Rather than a sub-panel, we are proposing the involvement of the whole SAP to allow for a wider range of expertise to be implemented in the review process. SAP reviewers will be assigned to each application to manage any burden that will arise from the anticipated increase in application numbers for future rounds.
  • Defined assessor roles: We will be implementing the adoption of new panel assessor roles. These roles will hopefully help clarify the purpose of the SAP member’s role as reviewer of the application and define how they will undertake their respective reviews.
  • Updated SAP review forms: We are updating the review forms that we provide to members of the SAP to reflect developing best practice, and to ensure consistency across the process. This includes specific information for both the scientific and public members of the panel to ensure we are assessing all aspects of the research equally.
  • Clear peer review guidelines: We have an excellent and experienced bank of peer reviewers, but like any research funder we have found varying degrees of detail given in our reviews. We will set out more definite guidelines for the completion of peer reviews to help increase the overall consistency and quality of reviews, as well as working to bring more reviewers on to our database.

Once applications are assessed by the entire SAP, the applications scoring above a certain average threshold will be discussed in the shortlisting meeting where the final shortlisting will take place. A sub-panel will then convene to form the interviewing panel, who will then make the final funding recommendations on the SAP’s behalf. This will be followed by ratification by the Board of Trustees.

Our intention is to maximise the robustness and fairness of our application review process, but also maximise the support we offer to applicants. We have included a copy of the guidance that the SAP and peer reviewers will receive in assessing applications on this page. We hope that this will assist applicants in being aware of what exactly the SAP will be assessing, in order to prepare their application for the scrutiny of the SAP.

What are the benefits of these changes?

We keep our processes under constant review to make sure we are adhering to best practice across our work. We hope that, particularly in light of the increase in application numbers, these changes will enhance our processes even further. This will benefit PRUK as we can ensure all applications are assessed fairly and the burden will be managed by the entire SAP. But we also really hope it will benefit applicants – with clearer roles and more time given for feedback by the assigned SAP reviewers, this should help ensure constructive feedback across our applications. Furthermore, applicants can benefit from the knowledge of the criteria used to assess the applications, which may aid in the development of the research proposal.

We are excited to be implementing this process for the 2020 round. For further information about Pharmacy Research UK, please read our updated FAQ page, or contact us at office@pharmresuk.org.uk.

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