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Objectives

To trial a simplified, time and cost-saving method for remote evaluation of fellowship applications and compare this with existing panel review processes by analysing concordance between funding decisions, and the use of a lottery-based decision method for proposals of similar quality.

Design

The study involved 134 junior fellowship proposals for postdoctoral research (‘Postdoc.Mobility’). The official method used two panel reviewers who independently scored the application, followed by triage and discussion of selected applications in a panel. Very competitive/uncompetitive proposals were directly funded/rejected without discussion. The simplified procedure used the scores of the two panel members, with or without the score of an additional, third expert. Both methods could further use a lottery to decide on applications of similar quality close to the funding threshold. The same funding rate was applied, and the agreement between the two methods analysed.

Setting

Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

Participants

Postdoc.Mobility panel reviewers and additional expert reviewers.

Primary outcome measure

Per cent agreement between the simplified and official evaluation method with 95% CIs.

Results

The simplified procedure based on three reviews agreed in 80.6% (95% CI: 73.9% to 87.3%) of applicants with the official funding outcome. The agreement was 86.6% (95% CI: 80.6% to 91.8%) when using the two reviews of the panel members. The agreement between the two methods was lower for the group of applications discussed in the panel (64.2% and 73.1%, respectively), and higher for directly funded/rejected applications (range: 96.7%–100%). The lottery was used in 8 (6.0%) of 134 applications (official method), 19 (14.2%) applications (simplified, three reviewers) and 23 (17.2%) applications (simplified, two reviewers). With the simplified procedure, evaluation costs could have been halved and 31 hours of meeting time saved for the two 2019 calls.

Conclusion

Agreement between the two methods was high. The simplified procedure could represent a viable evaluation method for the Postdoc.Mobility early career instrument at the SNSF.

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Open access, Research methods
BMJ Open Current Issue

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