EXC1: Quality and excellence
There is no simple definition of excellence. Proposals may build directly on prior work or may involve a speculative leap forward. It may involve progress along an established research direction or a tangential switch into a new or different area, or may bring together expertise and approaches from different discipline areas. All these approaches could demonstrate excellence so your judgement should not simply be based on which approach has been adopted.
A proposal that demonstrates excellence can be characterised by terms such as: novel, ambitious, timely, exciting, at the international forefront, adventurous, elegant, or transformative, but it need not demonstrate all of them. Normally you might expect to see a plausible hypothesis with some basis within the published literature, and some clearly identified objectives that sensibly test that hypothesis. Certainty of outcome is not an indicator of excellence, but neither is an incremental approach necessarily an indicator that a proposal lacks excellence.
Applicants are asked to set their proposal in context in terms of the current state of knowledge and other work under way in the field. You should comment explicitly on this aspect of the proposal and where possible give your view of where this work would sit in relation to related activity internationally, and the extent to which it would provide the UK with a unique capability. Note that the existence of competing groups elsewhere should not of itself be seen as a reason for downgrading a proposal.
The application should clearly demonstrate the methodology the applicants intend to use to attain their stated objectives, and you should comment on how clearly these are described, how appropriate they are for the planned activity, and their scientific or technical feasibility.
For multidisciplinary applications please state which aspects of the application you feel qualified to assess.
Reviewers are requested to comment on the degree of research excellence of the proposal, making reference to three key aspects:
1. Novelty, relationship to the context, timeliness and relevance to identified stakeholders
Applicants are asked to set their proposal in context, in terms of the current state of knowledge and other work under way in the field.
The reviewer should consider:
- how competitive the proposed work is and how it compares to related international activity
- whether the applicants show how their research fits with activities elsewhere in the world and whether they demonstrate awareness of the context and landscape within which they operate
- to what extent the research will provide the UK with a unique capability
- whether the applicant has presented the academic, industrial, policy, societal or other relevant context clearly
- whether the applicant has demonstrated that the research is timely – what would happen if they didn’t undertake this research now?
- whether the applicant has identified potential stakeholders and stated the relevance and possible benefits to the stakeholders.
2. Ambition, adventure, transformative aspects or potential outcomes
There is no one format to an excellent research programme: the research could directly build on previous work, or it could take a leap forward. The applicant could present a programme where they are moving into a new discipline, or the programme could bring together expertise and approaches from different disciplines, and in partnership with external organisations.
The reviewer should consider:
- whether the proposal contains a clear vision, addresses a specific challenge or makes a step change in its field
- the progress this programme will deliver beyond current state of the art
- the intended outputs of the programme, for example, new ideas, tools, techniques, discoveries, and whether these are ambitious but realistic
- whether the proposal details potential outcomes and clearly identifies any potential impacts.
3. Suitability of the proposed methodology and the appropriateness of the approach to achieving impact
The applicant should have provided appropriate methodology to deliver the research and impact programme.
You should comment on how clearly this is described, how appropriate it is for the planned activities, and their scientific and technical feasibility. As impact should be an embedded activity in the research programme, you should also assess the suitability and appropriateness of the methodology to realise impact in the proposal. Impact can take many forms over widely varying timescales. It might involve developing a commercial product or service, or creating a new technology, but it could also be about improved medical or healthcare, contributions to national planning or social policy or engaging the public in the outputs of research.
Planning for activities that maximise the likelihood of any identified impacts occurring is a vital part of research. It is expected that most proposals will have the potential to deliver some form of non-academic impact.
The reviewer should consider:
- the ideas, concepts and approaches proposed and any particularly strong or weak examples within the programme
- whether the applicant has provided clear aims and objectives for the technical programme, and how they will monitor their achievements
- whether the research programme and associated impact activities have been co-designed with external stakeholders or users:
- Does the proposal include objectives for impact related activities and are they appropriate to the research?
- If not, is there a clear and realistic plan to target potential beneficiaries of the outputs and outcomes?
- whether the proposal articulates a clear understanding of the context and needs of users:
- Does the proposed research programme consider how these needs will be met?
- Does the proposal specify routine and novel ways to engage end users or partners to help realise impacts?
- whether the applicant has considered responsible innovation in their research programme.
The applicant is not expected to predict the impact of their research in terms of value, reach or significance, and therefore assessors should not:
- take the relative importance of identified impacts into account
- seek to assess tangibility of deliverables, direct return on investment or detailed routes to exploitation – impact is not synonymous with early exploitation.
Secondary major criterion
Drawing upon what the applicant has said, reviewers should comment on:
- how the proposed research contributes to or helps maintain the health of other research disciplines, contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges, contributes to current or future UK economic success or enables future development of key emerging industries
- the extent to which the research proposed has the potential to meet national strategic needs by establishing or maintaining a unique world-leading research activity (including areas of niche capability)
- how the research fits with and complements other UK research already funded in the area or related areas, including the relationship to the EPSRC portfolio and our stated strategy set out in our portfolio.
The extent to which each bullet point is addressed will depend on the nature of the research proposed. Reviewers should comment on how the research relates to EPSRC’s research areas and strategies (many projects will be relevant to more than one EPSRC research area) and complements EPSRC’s current portfolio. Information on the portfolio is available through EPSRC’s Grants on the Web (GoW).
The reviewer form asks reviewers to comment on the national importance of the research. Include how the research:
- contributes to, or helps maintain, the health of other disciplines
- contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges or contributes to future UK economic success and development of emerging industry(s)
- complements other UK research already funded in the area, including any relationship to the EPSRC portfolio
- meets national needs by establishing or maintaining a unique world-leading activity
- complements other UK research already funded in the area, including any relationship to the EPSRC portfolio.
APP7: Applicant and partnerships
Reviewers are requested to comment on the applicant’s ability to deliver the proposed project, making reference to:
Appropriateness of the track record of the applicant(s):
- whether the proposal demonstrates that the applicants have the expertise and capabilities to deliver the project
- the applicant and wider team’s ability to deliver the project through to the creation of impact.
Balance of skills of the project team, including collaborators:
- existing engagements with relevant end users and the appropriateness of any partnerships
- whether the roles and responsibilities of all members of the team have been defined, including those of users or stakeholders in both research and impact activities.
RES1: Resources and management
Applicants are required to identify all resources required to undertake the project, and to clearly justify the request. You should comment on how well this has been done and on the appropriateness of the resources requested. You should explicitly consider the amount of time being allocated to the project by the applicant in this assessment.
You are asked to comment on the project plan and management arrangements, which should be proportionate to the scale and complexity of the activity proposed.
Reviewers are requested to comment on the effectiveness of the proposed planning and management making reference to equipment and resources as follows:
1. Any equipment requested, or the viability of the arrangements described to access equipment needed for this project, and particularly on any university or third-party contribution
You should draw attention to any request that in your view has not been justified or, conversely, if something is required but has not been identified. You should also comment on the suitability of arrangements for accessing resources other than through the grant, such as by collaboration with external groups. Your assessment should be based solely on the resources sought and not on the costs derived from them.
2. Any resources requested for activities to either increase impact, for public engagement or to support responsible innovation
Applicants are required to identify all resources required to successfully accelerate the creation of impact, and to clearly explain the need for these in the justification of resources.
- the project plan and management arrangements for impact, public engagement or responsible innovation
- aspects of the project including timing, personnel, skills, budget, deliverables and feasibility, which should be appropriate and proportionate to the scale and complexity of the activity to be undertaken
- whether there is clear responsibility for the delivery of each activity or task
- whether appropriate resources to deliver the activities been requested and justified
- whether mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the planned activities have been built in.
ANI1: Animal research and human participation
Where the applicants have ticked any boxes confirming that the application involves either animal research or human participation, then you are asked to comment specifically on any ethical considerations and particularly on whether ethical approval procedures have been complied with. You should also comment on any potential adverse consequences for humans, animals or the environment and whether these risks have been addressed satisfactorily in the application. It is particularly important that resources relating to these aspects are explicitly justified in terms of need, scale and nature of resource. For example, for animal research you should comment specifically on the need to use animals, the choice of species and the number of animals it is intended to use.
ASS1: Overall assessment
You should provide your overall assessment of the application. Think of this as your report to the prioritisation panel, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses you identified in the individual questions and then making a clear and explicit recommendation about whether or not you believe the application warrants funding.
Not all questions carry equal weighting. Research quality (excellence) will always be pre-eminent, and no application can be funded without clearly demonstrating this aspect. National importance should also be a major consideration in making your assessment. The weighting between the remaining aspects will depend on the specific nature of the particular application. You should indicate those aspects that you accorded higher or lower priority and why.
The reviewer form asks reviewers to summarise their view of the application.
ASS2: Overall assessment – part assessment
It may be that you feel you can only comment with authority on a specific part or component of an application, for example with a multidisciplinary project, or perhaps where there is a strong user-led element. In that case you should identify those aspects that you are able to comment on, and then give your review on just those aspects. Different reviewers will have been asked to cover those aspects you cannot, and the panel will then have the job of integrating these different comments. It is particularly important therefore that the panel have clear advice on the merits of each component. Your comments, scores and confidence level should explicitly reflect your views on those aspects you can assess, and you are asked not to moderate these in any way to reflect those areas you feel you cannot comment on.
A risk with part assessment is that it will miss the added value of the overall project (the whole ideally being greater than the sum of the parts) so even where you can only comment with authority on one aspect, it will be helpful to the panel to have your views on how compelling the arguments for the overall application are. Other issues you might also comment on are the uniqueness (or otherwise) of the collaboration, the value of the contribution of the component you can judge, and the significance of this in terms of future potential development in your own field.
ASS3: Overall assessment – overall score
You should assign a score using the six-point scale provided. This should reflect your overall conclusion, and should be consistent with your comments on the individual sections of your review, taking account of all the assessment criteria and the various weightings you applied.
The six levels of the scoring scale are as follows.
- This application is scientifically or technically flawed
- This application does not meet one or more of the assessment criteria
- This application meets all assessment criteria but with clear weaknesses
- This is a good application that meets all assessment criteria but with minor weaknesses
- This is a strong application that broadly meets all assessment criteria
- This is a very strong application that fully meets all assessment criteria.
ASS4: Level of confidence
To assist the prioritisation panel in reaching their overall conclusion on the application, and to help EPSRC in monitoring the effectiveness of its reviewer selection procedures, you are asked to indicate your confidence in your review. This should report your own confidence, or otherwise, in being able to make your assessment rather than your confidence in the success of the application if it were funded. If, for any reason, you feel that you are not able to assess the application, please advise EPSRC accordingly.
The reviewer form asks reviewers to score their confidence as low, medium or high.
Last updated: 23 June 2023