Review and decision-making
The Academy of Finland stresses the importance of the quality and impact of research and the renewal of science in all research funding. This aim is based on our strategy. Our objective is to support scientifically ambitious projects. High-level international peer review is our key tool for identifying the best and most promising research projects.
The Strategic Research Council (SRC) established within the Academy funds solution-oriented and phenomenon-driven research. The projects to be funded must have societal relevance and impact and be of a high scientific standard. Interaction with society is of key importance throughout the projects’ funding periods. The scientific quality and societal relevance of projects are peer reviewed by both national and international experts.
After a call closes, Academy officials prepare the review of applications. They also check the applications and request necessary corrections. How applications are processed and reviewed depends on whether they are submitted in a one-stage or two-stage call.
As a rule, all applications are peer reviewed by international panels. Review panels assemble to discuss the applications and the applicants’ scientific merits. They draft a panel review report for each application. Additionally, the panels rank the applications that have received the best ratings.
After the review, members of the Academy’s decision-making bodies go through the review reports and applications. Funding decisions are prepared in preparatory meetings. The decisions are made after a presentation in the decision meetings. As a rule, the funding decisions are based on the peer review of the applications and the science policy objectives of the Academy.
In all our research funding, we are committed to following responsible procedures with regard to disqualification, secrecy and responsible science, that is, equality and nondiscrimination, research ethics, open science, sustainable development and responsible research assessment.
Figure 1. Application review and decision-making at the Academy of Finland, exemplified by the September call.
The Academy of Finland requires that the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity guidelines Responsible conduct of research and procedures for handling allegations of misconduct in Finland is followed in all Academy-funded research. We also require that researchers follow ALLEA’s (All European Academies) European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (link takes you to ALLEA’s website) when engaging in international collaboration.
The Academy will not process a funding application if the applicant has been found guilty of research misconduct in the three years preceding the year of the call. If the Academy finds out about the misconduct during the funding period, whatever is left of the funding period will be added to the three-year limit. If the applicant appeals the decision on the misconduct, and the appeal is successful, the Academy will process the applicant’s new applications following normal procedures. Read more about the ethical questions.
The Academy of Finland’s regulations on disqualification apply to the members of the decision-making bodies (decision-makers) and to the staff of the Administration Office, but also, where applicable, to external experts. Regulations on disqualification aims to ensure the impartiality of the people involved in the processes. Depending on the reason of their disqualification, a person can be disqualified with regard to an individual application or all the applications within one funding instrument. Disqualification in the public sector is governed by the Administrative Procedure Act (434/2003).
Disqualification of a member of a decision-making body or an official
A member of a decision-making body or an official must not use their authority to promote their private benefits or interests. Additionally, a member of a decision-making body must not use their authority to further the benefits and interests of their own research group or institution. The basis for a decision must not be any kind of subjective benefit. Authority must not be used to harm anyone or anything.
Regulations on disqualification aim to promote the impartiality of decision-making and prevent inappropriate influence in the result. Discretion must be based on objectivity and justice. A disqualified person may not be a party to or be present at proceedings.
A member of a decision-making body or an official is disqualified
- if they are or their family member is a party
- if they are or their family member assist or represent a party or a person who is expected to gain particular advantage or disadvantage as the result of the proceedings
- if they are or their family member is expected to gain advantage or disadvantage as the result of the proceedings
- if they are employed or have received a commission concerning the proceedings by a party or a person who is expected to gain particular advantage or disadvantage as the result of the proceedings
- if they are or their family member is a member, an executive director or similar in a board of directors, management board or a similar institution within a community, a foundation, a state enterprise or an enterprise that is a party or that is expected to gain particular advantage or disadvantage as the result of the proceedings
- if they or their family member are a member of a steering board or similar in an agency or an institution, and the proceedings consider the steering or supervision of this agency or institution
- if trust in their impartiality is compromised in another particular reason.
A family member refers to
- a spouse and a child, grandchild, sibling, parent, grandparent and other particularly close person, as well as this person’s spouse
- parents’ siblings and their spouse, siblings’ children and ex-spouse
- spouse’s child, grandchild, sibling, parent and grandparent, as well as this person’s spouse and spouse’s siblings’ children.
A relationship between friends or enemies, or a polemic relationship is a basis for disqualification only if it compromises impartiality. This is determined by the strength of the relationship. As differences in methodology and school of thought are a part of scientific discourse, they do not result in disqualification.
With regard to co-publications, there must be genuine collaboration and co-writing. A situation, where both a member of a decision-making body or an official and an applicant have been published in the same publication does not result in disqualification.
Additionally, the opportunities of the members of decision-making bodies to apply or receive Academy funding during their term has been restricted. Members of the Academy Board, research councils and the Strategic Research Council will not be granted Academy funding during their terms. However, the restriction does not apply to funding instruments where the applicant is an organisation. Academy Programmes do not grant funding to a person who has participated in the planning of the programme to an extent likely to give them a comparative advantage over other applicants. This condition also applies to members of preparation or steering groups or permanent experts for the programme concerned. Neither is research funding granted to Academy staff.
Disqualification of an expert
Regulations on disqualification apply, where appropriate, also to external experts.
An expert may not give a review report:
- If accepting or rejecting the project may gain them advantage or disadvantage
- They have collaborated with the applicant
- if they have written a co-publication with the applicant during the last three years
- if they are a part of the same research group as the applicant or have participated in publishing or applying the results
- if they have been the applicant’s superior, subordinate or supervisor during the last three years
- They are applying for the same position as the applicant
- They are applying for Academy funding in the same call
- They are the applicant’s immediate family Immediate family includes
- a spouse or partner, child, grandchild, sibling, parent, grandparent or other particularly close person (e.g. fiancé or close friend) as well as their spouses and partners
- parents’ sibling or their spouse or partner, siblings’ child, ex-spouse or ex-partner
- spouse’s or partner’s child, grandchild, sibling, parent, grandparent, spouse’s or partner’s sibling’s child
- half-relative comparable to the above
An expert must disqualify themselves also if their impartiality might otherwise be compromised or if they feel that there is a conflict of interests.
Experts are informed about the regulations on disqualification in the review guidelines for research projects. In accepting their assignment they commit to adhering to the guidelines.
Public access to documents and information is governed by the Finnish Act on the Openness of Government Activities. Based on the Act, plans of intent, research plans, abstracts, progress reports and review reports, for instance, are as a rule treated as documents subject to professional secrecy. Application documents must be handled and stored with due care, taking into account provisions on secrecy.
Professional secrecy means, for example, the prohibition to express confidential information. Professional secrecy applies both to Academy of Finland staff and to members of the Academy’s decision-making bodies. If the confidentiality of the document or information continues, professional secrecy applies even after the employment or body membership has ended.
Reviewers commit to professional secrecy while they act as expert reviewers. Reviewers are not allowed to disclose any information concerning application documents or review reports to outsiders, nor are they allowed to use this confidential information to their own or anyone else’s advantage or disadvantage. In addition, they may not reveal to outsiders that they are reviewing the research plan of a particular researcher. Once the review has been completed, all application documents and any copies made of them must be destroyed. The nondisclosure obligation applies also after the review assignment has been completed.
After the funding decisions have been made, we will publish a list of the names, titles and organisations of the experts who participated in the review. Applicants will receive the review reports on their research plan after the funding decisions have been made. The report shows the names of the review panel members or the individual reviewers.
The party concerned has the right to receive information about a confidential document if it may affect or might have affected how the matter is processed, which means that the applicant, and only the applicant, has the right to receive information about the review report or review concerning themselves. A party may not disclose to third parties confidential information obtained based on the party status that concerns persons other than the party itself.
Any inquiries concerning application documents or review reports must be submitted to the Academy’s Registrar’s Office (email: kirjaamo(at)aka.fi).
When is an application not processed or reviewed?
The application is not processed (inadmissible) if the applicant or the application do not meet the competence requirements or other key requirements, or if there otherwise are no preconditions for processing the application. This could mean an application missing the call deadline, a site of research not giving its commitment to the application, or the applicant being found guilty of research misconduct in the three years preceding the year of the call. The decision on not processing an application is made by the Vice President for Research.
A research council or another decision-making body may make the decision on not processing and not funding an application based on science policy objectives or based on it being apparent for another reason that the applicant cannot receive funding with the submitted application.
Besides the aforementioned, reasons to not process or review an application include:
- The application is substantially incomplete even after a request for supplementary information.
- The application concerns a purpose for which we do not grant funding.
- The application does not fall within the scope of the call.
- The application submitted within an Academy Programme call does not fall within the scope of the programme.
- The applicant has in the same application round submitted more than one application for one or several of the following schemes: funding for research post as Academy Research Fellow, funding for research post as Postdoctoral Researcher, Academy Project funding or funding for research post as Clinical Researcher. In this case, we will only review the first application to arrive.
- The applicant has not submitted a report on an ongoing or completed Academy-funded research project.
- A member of the Academy Board, research council or the Strategic Research Council applies for Academy funding during their term.
- Academy Programme applicant who has participated in the planning of the programme to an extent likely to give them a comparative advantage over other applicants. This applies to, for example, members and permanent experts of preparatory and steering committees.
- Another restriction mentioned in the call text.