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Published 31 March 2020

Research Funding COVID-19 Update #2

Royal Society Te Apārangi is taking steps to try to minimise the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on its operations, while ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our staff, the people and communities with whom we work. Kia tū, kia oho, kia mataara tātou. Let us all be vigilant against COVID-19

Marsden Fund EOI update 

With New Zealand now being in lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a clear need to simplify the Expression of Interest (EOI) selection processes and ease the pressure and burden on the convenors, panellists and Society staff, as well as the wider research community.

The Marsden Fund Council has decided:

  • The EOI round will go ahead, but EOI panel meetings will not take place.
  • Panel convenors will use returned grades from panellists to recommend a list of EOIs to go through to the Full round. The process is outlined in more detail below.
  • Because of the above, unfortunately it will not be possible to give qualitative feedback to EOI Fast-Start applicants this year. However, we will still be able to give quintile feedback to all Fast-Start and Standard applicants.

Q: Why have the Marsden Fund Council decided to not have EOI panel meetings?

A: At the lower Alert levels, holding the panel meetings via Zoom was a preferred option.  At level 4 (scheduled to remain at this level until at least 24 April 2020) this lockdown disruption directly overlays the planned meeting dates (scheduled to begin Monday 06 April 2020).  The Marsden Fund Council appreciates that in this current environment, convenors and panellists are under immense pressure to make the existing deadlines, while there is enormous social and personal upheaval for us all.  Current meeting deadlines could not be met even under video conferencing (Zoom).  If Council were to delay the process and change the dates there is no guarantee the same complement of panellists would be available for a virtual meeting.  Additionally, the support from the Royal Society Te Apārangi team will be stretched while everyone is working from home.  This makes it impractical to organise, facilitate and record the full-day meetings with the constraints of a Zoom channel.  Council feel that it is likely that strong oversight of the process would be compromised if in-person panel meetings did go ahead.

Q:What is the rationale for the new process?

A: The goal for changing the EOI round is to simplify the process to the bare essentials and mirror, where appropriate, using the experience gained from the Combined Panel Trial held in 2018 (for details, please refer to https://www.royalsociety.org.nz/what-we-do/funds-and-opportunities/marsden/marsden-fund-application-process/hbs-combined-panel-trial/). In the trial, a subset of proposals was assessed and graded in isolation with no meetings taking place, and a list of successful EOIs drawn up from that.  In line with keeping things to the bare essentials, the panel convenors will adopt the following approach to resolve the border or cut-off for EOIs that removes the possibility of convener bias and adopts a principle of being generous wherever we can.

Each panel convenor will recommend to the Marsden Fund Council a list of EOIs to advance to the Full Application round according to the following process:

  • Panellists grade proposals to the distribution guidance provided in the scoring sheet
  • The Marsden Fund staff aggregates panellists’ scores to form a ranked list
  • An initial cut-off is presented to the convenor with a projected 50% success rate for full proposals to be offered funding
  • EOIs with the same grade around the cut-off will all also proceed to the Full Application round
  • Any proposal(s) appearing immediately below the cut-off, that are distinguished from successful EOIs only by a difference in number of votes (i.e., numerically close and affected by conflicts of interest) will proceed to the Full Application round 

This algorithmic approach is intended to simplify and remove bias from the first step under these extraordinary circumstances.

Full Proposal Round

On the assumption that a full round is going ahead, a number of options are being considered by the Council.  At this stage with the fluidity of the situation, any chosen option will depend on the progression and timing of the COVID-19 response. An update will follow when this has been finalised.

Kia kaha tātou ki te tiaki i a tātou anō.  Let us be vigilant and take care of ourselves and others.


Source: Royal Society Te Apārangi