Protocol Labs Research
About
People
Research
Outreach
Blog
2022-07-18 / News, Grants
Streamlining our grantmaking framework

In our ongoing quest to continuously improve the UX around our research grants programme, we’re announcing today a number of updates to both the framework and the operations that should enable a more streamlined, faster, and easier experience for all stakeholders.

These changes are the result of feedback from applicants and reviewers, as well as our own experience in administering the programme over the last year, when we introduced the open grant spectrum.

Quarterly rounds

We’re moving our open grants programme to a quarterly evaluation cadence (vs. the previous twice-yearly cadence). This will enable faster turnaround time for applicants while making the process less spiky for reviewers.

Rationalised grant offering

A year ago, we introduced a number of new grant typologies. Some of these saw significant uptake, whereas others were too complex, too niche, or too hard to administer. For that reason, we’re scaling down the offering and focusing on the four grant types that received the most interest: doctoral fellowships, postdoctoral fellowships, summer research grants, and sabbatical awards.

We hope this will reduce applicant confusion and enable more standardised backend processing. It certainly makes our application portal look significantly less daunting.

Fixed amounts

Our grant programme is available worldwide and needs to deal with a wide range of customs and practices in place at different institutions and in different countries. This has been a frequent source of delays and frustration to all parties. The previous grant structure also meant that we were providing very different levels of funding for similar work at different institutions, and, just as importantly, the fraction of that funding reaching the researcher saw wide variation.

With this new update, we’re moving our open grants to all-inclusive fixed amounts. We will allow grant recipients to apportion the funds as appropriate (e.g. between tuition, stipends, materials, and overhead). We will not micromanage this allocation and will not pay overhead and other costs on top of the posted grant amounts.

We’re excited about this change, which will empower candidates and, we believe, improve fairness and diversity.

Flexible application forms

In an attempt to standardise applications, we previously required applicants to input most of their proposal into plaintext fields in our application system. We recognise that this is not the preferred approach for many researchers, and therefore moved to a PDF-centric approach, with minimal forms to fill.

Our applications remain short (up to 5 pages) and we will provide reference templates. This change will allow applicants to prepare applications using the tooling of their preference, which has the potential to be both faster and better (e.g. by enabling math notation).

Improved review process

The review process is also being improved: we are dropping four back-office steps, simplifying the review forms, and introducing a default approach to final decision-making. Applicants will now also be able to see the status/stage of their application in the grant management system.

We expect these changes, along with the shorter rounds, to lead to a decrease in turnaround time for applications. However, we’re increasing our guidance to applicants on decision time from four to eight weeks: we have been unable to meet that expectation in the past, and would rather underpromise and overdeliver.

Better documentation

Our research grants repository was overhauled and now includes more information about the grants and the process – which was previously buried deep in the application system. It also features a new FAQ section, which we will be improving over time, a public copy of our policy on publication funding, and an index of other related grant programmes.

Our commitment

While the text above centres on the open grants, similar process improvements have been made to the RFP framework, the RFP-000 (now RFP-X) programme, and the event sponsorship pipeline.

The newly-formed Research Acceleration team will keep working to improve our programme, optimising for both applicant experience and outcomes. Please send any feedback to research-grants@protocol.ai.