The Economic and Social Research Council has launched a new pilot scheme to fund the kind of “transformative research” that often loses out in standard peer review.
The research council is offering grants of up to £250,000 to fund ambitious, high-risk research that promises to change accepted thinking in the social sciences by applying new theoretical and methodological insights.
Paul Boyle, chief executive of the ESRC, said that he was proud of the funder’s existing portfolio of research but admitted he was “not quite sure we are getting enough transformative science coming through”.
“We encourage all our peer reviewers to be willing to consider … slightly high-risk proposals but it can still be challenging to get (such proposals) through peer review. For fairly innovative ideas we need innovative ways of assessing them,” he said.
Shortlisted applicants will be invited to pitch their ideas at a “workshop” in March next year, and will also be asked to critique each other’s proposals.
Professor Boyle said that proposals will have to address one of the ESRC’s priority areas. Applicants will still be asked to think about the wider impact of their work “but we accept some of the projects are more likely to have academic impact in the short term”.
Only institutions that received more than £100,000 of ESRC research funding in 2011-12 can apply. Each will be restricted to one entry, rising to two for those that earned more than £3 million.
Professor Boyle said the ESRC needed to limit its workload but insisted that its intention was not “to select certain institutions above any others”. He said that more than 70 institutions would be eligible.
“We are just trying to be realistic. We wouldn’t want to encourage applications from places that, frankly, are unlikely to have a chance of succeeding,” he said.
He also denied that requiring universities to sift applications internally would encourage conservatism given the scheme’s remit and he hoped universities would consider submitting early-career researchers.