Autumn 2022 call review and decision-making process in short

24 Mar 2023

The decisions on applications submitted to the Academy of Finland’s autumn 2022 call will be made in two stages in spring 2023. The two-stage process applies to three funding schemes: Academy Projects, Academy Research Fellowships and Clinical Researchers. At the first stage in March–April, the Academy’s research councils will reject applications that have received a rating of 1–4 in the review.

Counsellor of Science Kata-Riina Valosaari heads the ARVO team, which is responsible for the Academy’s review and decision-making processes. We asked her to describe the review process for the autumn 2022 applications before the first decision stage.

All applications submitted in autumn 2022 that have passed the eligibility check are reviewed either by a panel or by at least two individual reviewers. In the panel review, each application will be assigned two panel experts, who will familiarise themselves with the application and write a draft review before the actual panel discussion. The draft reviews lay the foundation for the discussion and for the final panel review reports.

During the panel meeting, the experts will spend the most time discussing the best applications based on the draft reviews, or the applications on which their opinions differ greatly. The panellists will also decide the final rating of and write final review reports for each application.

Applications with a final rating of 5 (excellent) or 6 (outstanding), in other words those considered to be the best, receive a long review report and are also ranked to support decision-making. Applications with a final rating below 5 will receive a summary report highlighting the key strengths and weaknesses of the application.

The first-stage decisions on autumn 2022 applications will be made in March–April 2023: Research Council for Culture and Society 29 March, Research Council for Biosciences, Health and the Environment 4 April, and Research Council for Natural Sciences and Engineering 5 April. If your application is among those decided at the first stage, you will be notified by email no later than the day after the decision. The decision notification and the review report are available in the online services (SARA) under My applications > Decisions. If your application is through to the second decision state, you will find it under My applications > In process.

Applications with a rating of 5–6 continue to the next stage and will be decided later, in May–June. What happens to the applications at the second decision stage?

It takes longer to prepare the decisions on the applications with the highest ratings. In the preparation phase, Academy officials perform the final checks to make sure that the applications meet all funding criteria. The research councils examine the highly rated applications and the review reports with particular care and discuss them in preparatory meetings. In addition to the review reports and the rankings, the research councils will consider both their own research policies and the general policies of the Academy. These are used to take the final decision on applications to be funded, put on the reserve list or rejected. Irrespective of the final rating, the research councils also write a justification for each decision. The justification may refer, among other things, to the aforementioned policies in addition to the results of the scientific review.

The schedule for the second decision stage of the autumn 2022 call is available on our website: Decision dates. Applicants will be notified by email no later than the day after the decision. If the decision is positive, the decision notification will also include the funding terms and conditions for the use of the funding.

How does the Academy’s policy on responsible researcher evaluation affect the review?

In 2021, the Academy of Finland committed to the principles of responsible researcher evaluation in all its funding activities, both in the review of applications and in making funding decisions. To further bolster our commitment to international and national declarations on research assessment, such as the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and the national recommendation on responsible researcher evaluation in Finland (PDF), the Academy signed the international Agreement on Reforming Research Assessment (CoARA) in November 2022. CoARA already has 21 Finnish signatories.

According to the principles of responsible researcher evaluation, instead of journal-based metrics, the review shall place greater emphasis on a qualitative assessment of the research plan and the applicant’s competence. The use of journal-based publication metrics, among other things, is prohibited, and the use of other metrics must also be carefully considered and accountable. The researcher’s merits shall be assessed in the light of a wide range of outputs and research career roles across different fields, taking into account career breaks.

In order to implement these good practices, applicants may describe their earlier research outputs, including key publications, that are most relevant to the research plan. In order to improve the review process for new Academy Research Fellowship funding scheme, for instance, the CV with the applicant’s merits and qualification potential was supplemented by a narrative section.

Science Adviser Vera Mikkilä, project manager for the revised Academy Research Fellowship funding scheme, how has the review of applications for the overhauled scheme moved forward?

Particular emphasis in the review of Academy Research Fellowship applications was placed on identifying the applicants’ versatile qualifications and potential. Applicants were asked to describe not only their accumulated merits but also their increasing competencies during and after the funding period. In the guidelines for the reviewers, we put particular emphasis on these new aspects.

We have kept an eye on how the reform has been implemented by systematically collecting information from the applications and by following the discussions of the review panels, particularly with regard to researcher assessment. Based on the first review round, we can see that the review has been successful in terms of the objectives set for the revised scheme, but we have also identified a need to specify some of our guidelines.

This summer, we will publish more information on the experiences and feedback from the first application round. We’re also working on improving the application guidelines for the new January 2024 call; the call texts will be published in autumn 2023. Feedback from applicants will be valuable as we continue our work towards an improved review and decision-making process that is in line with the objectives of the funding.

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