Our Flexible Fund, which we use to fill research gaps and develop research capacity, has recently allocated funding to six new projects.
As part of the CREDS funding from UKRI, the CREDS Flexible Fund is used to fill research gaps and develop research capacity. The call for Early Career Researcher-led projects is the largest single use of the Flexible Fund, with £1M (at 80% FEC) allocated.
The call was restricted to supporting projects led by early career researchers. In this case, this was defined as people active in energy research in the UK who have not previously led a project with funding exceeding £100k.
Full guidance on the call and how to apply were published on 25 July 2019. The scope of the call allowed for a broad definition of ‘energy demand research’. There was encouragement to submit small projects, i.e. costing less than £20k, through a requirement for less detailed applications. Applications were particularly encouraged from members of groups under-represented in the UK energy research community.
We promoted the call widely, including through the CREDS newsletter and website, UKRI newsletter and website, the CREDS Energy Demand Network meeting and social media. A webinar was arranged to provide additional guidance and answer questions on 26 September 2019. Forty-nine people joined us on the webinar, and the call documents, audio recording, presentation and Q&A transcript were made available on the website for all applicants to refer to.
Following the webinar, interested potential applicants were provided with support through on-line mentoring circles facilitated by members of the CREDS Executive. We offered 66 people two to three online mentoring sessions in groups of up to 10, involving seven members of the Executive as mentors.
The deadline for full applications was 17 December 2019. Applications were required to include sections on track record, description of the proposed research, work plan and budget, and, for larger projects, pathways to impact and justification of resources. Partner letters of support were allowed, but not required.
We received 75 applications, of which 68 were deemed valid, i.e. within the scope of the proposal, containing the required paperwork and not being duplicates. The valid applications were all sent to at least two independent peer reviewers. These reviewers were selected on the basis of their expertise to review the proposal. They were drawn from the existing CREDS consortium, the wider UK energy research community and some overseas experts. Reviewers were not asked to consider applications from their own institution.
Reviewers were asked to consider applications only against the criteria set out in the call documentation, i.e. ‘scientific quality of the proposed research’, ‘benefits to the applicant’ and ‘national importance’. Reviewers were asked to score applications on a scale of 1 to 6, using exactly the same definitions as used by EPSRC in their peer review process.
The CREDS Director and Core team ranked the applications, based solely on the review scores received. Following discussions with the CREDS Executive, it was decided to short list the 19 proposals with an average reviewer score of 4.5 and over. Small applications that met this criterion were funded. Larger shortlisted projects were sent to the moderating panel for consideration.
In order to shorten and simplify the assessment process, review comments went directly to the moderation panel rather than allowing for applicant responses. The moderation panel was comprised solely of members of the CREDS Advisory Board, none of whom had a conflict of interest. The CREDS Director and Research Knowledge Exchange Manager acted as the panel secretariat. UKRI attended as observers.
The moderation panel met on 2 March 2020. It considered the 17 shortlisted large projects. These were ranked in order and the top six were identified as fundable within the allocated budget.
Successful and unsuccessful applicants have now been advised. Descriptions of the successful projects will be published when financial checks and contracts are agreed.
A survey aimed at evaluating the process and the diversity of those involved is underway. A link to this survey was sent to all applicants and to anyone who had contacted CREDS in relation to the call. The survey closes on 13 March 2020. A report analysing the results will be made available on this website.
The process will be reviewed by the CREDS Executive and CREDS Advisory Board to identify any improvements that might be made.
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