FI

Multidisciplinarity issues a challenge to developing review practices

3 Sep 2018

Satu Huuha-Cissokho works as a science adviser in the Division of Social Sciences and Humanities Research of the Academy of Finland.

The Academy of Finland receives an increasing amount of multidisciplinary applications each year. Often, the phenomena that are being studied require expertise in many different disciplines. As the research subjects become increasingly multidisciplinary, the review practices of the Academy are also affected. The Division of Social Sciences and Humanities Research at the Academy will test a few new panels for the September 2018 call. The experiences from the application round will be used in forming the panels of future social sciences and humanities research.

The Division of Social Sciences and Humanities Research has revised its review practices during the past winter and spring. The applications submitted to the Research Council for Culture and Society are more and more multidisciplinary, and thus also require a multidisciplinary review. Currently, the Division already has several multidisciplinary panels, especially joint panels with other divisions. For several years now, the Academy has had joint panels in social sciences and humanities research as well as biosciences and environmental research under the theme of environment and society. Over the years, there have been joint panels on varying themes also for social sciences and humanities research and natural sciences and engineering research. In the September 2017 application round, for example, there was a joint panel on the theme of human factors and technology design.

These joint panels have worked well and will be continued. Of course, panels within the social sciences and humanities are also multidisciplinary, and the multidisciplinarity of the applications selected for the panels has been considered in assembling the panels.

Phenomenon-based approach

In the future, the aim within social sciences and humanities research is to take the applications’ multidisciplinary and phenomenon-based approach into account to an even greater extent than before. In the Academy of Finland’s culture of experimentation, experiments are used to support development. This means that we will test a few new panels in the September 2018 application round. The experiences gained will be used in forming future SSH panels.

In the September 2018 application round, the Division of Social Sciences and Humanities Research will be testing one phenomenon-based panel; migration has been selected as its theme. The aim is to gather applications for the panel from different disciplines and on a broad basis, with themes focusing on immigration, emigration and refugees. The panel experts will be chosen based on the applications received and they will represent many disciplines, but all of them will be experts in research into migration, globalisation, integration and multiculturality.

In addition, we will be testing the formation of panels that are as equal in size as possible. The Academy tested the ranking of applications by the panels for certain funding methods in the September 2017 application round. We tested the practice with Academy Projects, and the experiences were positive according to the panel members, the officials and the members of the Research Council. All Research Councils also used this information in their decision-making. The applicants can see their ranking and the number of ranked applications for the funding instrument in section 3.1 of their review statements. The Academy has decided to continue the trial in all of the panels and funding methods of the autumn 2018 application round.

However, ranking the applications is easiest when the panels have enough applications to enable comparison, as well as a roughly equal number of applications to make the rankings given by the different panels as comparable with each other as possible. For this reason, the Division of Social Sciences and Humanities Research aims to divide the applications received into two-day panels, during which each panel would review 50–60 applications. As before, the group of applications consists of three funding schemes: Academy Project, Academy Research Fellow and Postdoctoral Researcher applications.

Disciplines combined into panels

Making panels that are more equal in size requires combining certain groups of applications of the same type into a single panel. The combination has been planned on a discipline-oriented basis, combining different disciplines with each other. This means that in the September 2018 panels, the same discipline-based panel can assess applications from disciplines such as linguistics and communication studies, or psychology and neurosciences.

The panel practices will remain the same, and the panel as a whole will decide on the final review of each application. Each application undergoes a preliminary review by two panel members, who draw up a written draft review on the application. In the panels, the application is often also read through carefully by a third panel member who presents their review of the application orally at the panel meeting. Based on the draft reviews, the panel discusses the application and draws up its final review report. The work done in panels is developed further with the aim of offering higher-quality reviews for applications that have a chance to receive funding.

In the September 2017 application round, the rating distribution of the Academy’s core funding schemes was as follows:

Applications received by the Research Council for   Culture and Society

Total rating

Academy Projects

Academy Research Fellows

Postdoctoral Researchers

Total

 

No.

%

No.

%

No.

%

No.

%

6

44

11

28

17

36

13

108

13

5

91

24

37

22

50

18

178

22

4

112

29

53

32

77

28

242

29

3

102

27

39

23

79

29

220

27

2

31

8

11

6

28

10

70

8

1

4

1

0

0

4

2

8

1

TOTAL

384

100%

168

100%

274

100%

826

100%

There are also other trials and new practices underway at the Academy as a whole, and the Division of Social Sciences and Humanities Research also participates in them. In the September 2018 call, the Academy is introducing multistage decision-making by the Research Councils. In the spring of 2019, the decisions on Academy Project, Academy Research Fellow and Postdoctoral Researcher funding will be made in two stages, so that a decision on the applications that will receive a clearly negative decision will be made as soon as possible after the panels. The aim is to inform the applicant about the decision and the panel feedback faster than before, which gives the applicant more time to prepare a potential new application.

The objective of the experimental and development measures described above is to develop the operations of the Academy’s Administration Office, so that we can provide the best possible support for applicants, reviewers and the research councils.

The Academy will invite feedback from applicants on the new practices and trials after the September 2018 application round. Feedback to the Division of Social Sciences and Humanities Research can be sent to ssh@aka.fi.

Last modified 4 Sep 2018
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