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Evidence from ten years of research contract management

2012: Expert advice papers span a wide spectrum of requests for information to policies developed by Council. All the resulting papers are intended to both inform policy-makers and be available for public attention.

Download our information paper here: Evidence from 10 years of research contract management

The Royal Society of New Zealand published a paper in December 2012 presenting evidence about peer review processes in support of the Prime Minister’s Chief Scientific Advisor’s 2012 paper “Which science to fund: time to review peer review?”

The Society’s paper is based on ten years of experience administering the Marsden Fund and many different types of other funds, including the Rutherford Discovery Fellowships and international collaboration and travel grants. The Society regularly reviews our selection processes for efficiency and effectiveness to ensure that we match global best practice in research funding decisions.

These reviews have, for instance, shown that reviewers nominated by applicants score proposals more positively than reviewers who were found independently. This finding prompted a move away from reviewers nominated by applicants to reduce bias and the conflicts of interest that can be a problem in a small research community such as New Zealand. Similarly, the Marsden Fund invests in proposals across all academic disciplines. The use of discipline-based panels avoids problems with comparing proposals in disparate areas of research such as humanities and mathematics.

Dr Di McCarthy, Chief Executive of the Society, commented that “no perfect process exists for deciding which research to fund, but Sir Peter Gluckman’s paper raises important questions about how we ensure the quality of those decisions. We need to recognise some of the essential tensions in research funding, such as those between high quality research and relevant research, between supporting ideas and growing capable people, and between national priorities and finer-grained needs.”

The Society presents the evidence in this paper to inform discussions of the future development of all Government research funding. Dr Di McCarthy says “I am happy that the Society’s evidence shows that the Society is following international best practice. We hope that Sir Peter’s paper drives discussions of how to improve the performance of the whole research funding system and it is vital that such discussions are founded upon a solid evidence base.”