ARCHIVED – Follow-up to CIHR’s Message to the Health Research Community from the Scientific Council of CIHR Regarding the Open Operating Grant (OOG) Competitions

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(2011-03-01) In response to our ARCHIVED - Message to the Health Research Community from the Scientific Council of CIHR Regarding the OOG Competitions (E-Alert: News for Researchers, Issue 94), CIHR has received many questions from members of the research community about the nature of our competition statistics and how we report on the results of the Open Operating Grant Program competitions. To answer your questions, CIHR has developed the following Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) document.

We hope that you will find the document useful and informative. This set of FAQs is the first in a series that we will be sharing with you over the coming year.

CIHR would like to take this opportunity to thank the research community for its feedback on these important funding-related issues. We invite you to continue to send us your questions and comments at Research.News@cihr.gc.ca.

Figures – Open Operating Grant Program

Application and Funding Statistics OOGP and Related Programs
Application and Funding Statistics OOGP and Related Programs (Graph including only Fundable Applications)

Q1. How did CIHR arrive at the overall success rate statistics given in its ARCHIVED - Message to the Health Research Community from the Scientific Council of CIHR Regarding the OOG Competitions?

A. The figure in CIHR’s message includes:

  • all of the applications submitted to the OOGP competition that were funded from the OOGP core competition budget; AND
  • all of the applications submitted to the same competition which were funded fully or in part through Priority Announcements or other sources.*

* Priority Announcements represent additional sources of funding beyond the core OOGP competition budget that are available for funding of highly ranked applications that meet specific relevance criteria defined by CIHR’s Priority Announcement partners.

In the Funding Decisions Notification for the September 2010 Open Operating Grant Program competition, CIHR has acted to provide improved transparency with respect to funding through the core OOGP budget and funding through other budget sources for this competition. CIHR will follow this reporting model for future competitions. This includes reporting on:

  • total number of applications in the competition;
  • total number of fundable applications (rated >=3.5);
  • total number of grants funded from the core competition budget and estimated multi-year investment;
  • estimated number of additional full term grants funded through priority announcements and estimated multi-year investment;
  • estimated number of additional bridge grants funded through priority announcements and other sources and estimated one-time investment;
  • total number of grants approved within the given competition;
  • average full term grant size;
  • average duration of full term grants (not originally posted but posting is being updated to include).

Q2. Why does CIHR include bridge grants in its competition reporting?

A. CIHR includes all grants funded within the competition as part of its competition statistics to be comprehensive on reporting all public dollars invested through that competition. Bridge grants provide funding to investigators that enable them to apply to subsequent OOGP competitions while launching or maintaining the momentum of their research and strengthening their applications for future competitions.

Q3. Why does CIHR award bridge grants?

A. CIHR would like to be able to award full-term grants to all the highly ranked applications in the competition. However, doing so would exceed the budget for the program and would "mortgage" future competitions by tying up funds awarded to the (on average) 4 year grants thus restricting our ability to fund new grants in future competitions. The one-year bridge grants are a mechanism to maximize what we can invest in the current year’s competition; that help researchers sustain their research and try again in a future competition; and that do not unduly restrict our ability to fund new grants in future competitions.

Q4. How did CIHR arrive at the target of 400-450 grants to be funded from the OOGP competition?

A. There were two main lines of analysis that led to the target of at least 400 (400-450) grants per competition. On the one hand, looking at historical statistics we had funded between 800 and 900 grants per year and wanted, at minimum, to sustain at least that level of support in terms of numbers of grants. CIHR views a target as a minimum number of grants we aim to fund– not a maximum. Second we did multiple financial analyses and scenarios based on variables such as a planned level of program budget each year, the projected duration of grants, and the projected value of grants (applications have increased in both duration and requested $ in the past five years). Financial scenarios which took into account these variables as well as the goal to leave enough unspent budget in future years for each new competition led us to the target as a realistic and sustainable one that CIHR could responsibly commit to over a number of years.

Q5. Is the increase in the number of applications submitted to CIHR in 2010-2011 due to an influx of applications from health researchers previously supported by SSHRC?

A. The number of funding applications that CIHR receives on an annual basis continues to grow. In fact, over the past six years, the number of applications has increased by 31 per cent. We track the areas where we see growth in number of applications. There has been an increase in the number of applications related to social sciences but in recent competitions there has also been an increase in the number of applications for projects pertaining to cancer, neurosciences as well as health services and policy research.

Q6. Will CIHR guarantee a minimum success rate?

A. CIHR is moving away from the use of success rates as a barometer for the Open Operating Grant Program. Given factors such as available program budget, increasing size and duration of applications requests and increasing application pressure CIHR is not in a position to make such guarantees. However, in February 2008, CIHR pledged to create and maintain a stable Open Operating Grant Program. This included a commitment to fund at least 400 grants per competition. If we look at all the grants funded within each competition we have been able to keep this commitment for all competitions since and plan to continue to do so in the future.

We recognize that the limitation in CIHR’s capacity to fund additional numbers of grants through the OOGP contributes to a highly competitive funding environment which brings with it opportunity losses, applicant fatigue, reviewer fatigue and funding challenges for many researchers. In committing to fund at least 400 grants per competition CIHR is acting, within its capacity, to bring stability to this program.

Q7. Why do some success rates for past competitions appear to fall below the 23% you quote in the E-Alert message from the Scientific Council of CIHR, based on data available on the CIHR website? See, for example, the funding decisions notifications for the March 2010 OOGP competition, the September 2009 OOGP competition and the March 2009 OOGP competition.

A. The statistics reported at the time of OOGP funding decision are the ones available at that time. Additional full term grants and bridge grants, particularly those funded by partners, are frequently unconfirmed when we post our results, and are therefore not included in our totals at that time. The graph included with the E-Alert message provides the total number of grants funded through these past competitions.

In the Funding Decisions Notification for the September 2010 Open Operating Grant Program competition, CIHR has acted to provide improved transparency with respect to funding through the core OOGP budget and funding through other budget sources for this competition. CIHR will follow this reporting model for future competitions. This includes reporting on:

  • total number of applications in the competition;
  • total number of fundable applications (rated >=3.5);
  • total number of grants funded from the core competition budget and estimated multi-year investment;
  • estimated number of additional full term grants funded through priority announcements and estimated multi-year investment;
  • estimated number of additional bridge grants funded through priority announcements and other sources and estimated one-time investment;
  • total number of grants approved within the given competition;
  • average full term grant size;
  • average duration of full term grants (not originally posted but posting is being updated to include).

Q8. Why is your success rate statistic 23% when the cutoff in the OOGP competition and its committees was closer to 17%?

A. The cutoff for funding of full term grants out of the core budget of the open competition for the last two competitions was approximately 17%. The overall success rate referred to above includes all grants funded out of the competition from all sources of funding – the open competition budget, through priority announcements and other funding sources.

For an explanation of how funding is determined for the Open Operating Grant Program competitions and the linked priority announcement grants see Question 11.

Q9. Will CIHR put more money into the OOG Program?

A. Every year, CIHR carefully reviews its budget and allocates money across its programs to maximize impact and deliver according to all aspects of our mandate. The OOG Program is one of CIHR’s cornerstone programs and we intend to keep our commitment to create and maintain a stable Open Operating Grant Program — i.e. a commitment to fund at least 400 grants per competition.

Q10. How were RCTs treated in the September 2010 OOGP competition?

A. The September 2010 competition cycle represented the third competition since CIHR integrated applications for randomized controlled trial (RCT) grants into the general competition. This was done in response to a clear need expressed by the RCT community. Combining the RCT and Open Operating Grants funding opportunities into a single competition results in a more stable, sustainable and fully integrated process and further supports the goals outlined in CIHR’s five-year strategic plan, Health Research Roadmap: Creating innovative research for better health and health care.

In the September 2010 competition, we received a slightly lower number of RCT applications, although the number received is consistent with the number received in the previous fall (September 2009) competition. We received 154 applications in the September 2010 competition, 167 applications in the March 2010 competition, and 149 applications in the September 2009 competition. [Note regarding data: the number of applications for the September 2010 competition includes those applications identified as RCTs according to a specific CIHR definition of RCT, whereas the reported numbers of applications for the March 2010 and September 2009 competitions include those applications self-identified as RCTs by the applicants.]

The total of 28 RCT grants funded compares well to funding in past competitions: September 2009 (10 trials funded); February 2009 (11 trials funded) and September 2008 (13 trials funded). In addition 5 RCT proposals received bridge funding.

Q11. How is funding determined for the Open Operating Grant Program competitions and the linked priority announcement grants?

A. Core Open Operating Grant Program (OOGP) competition budget

For each competition of the Open Operating Grant Program, a core budget is allocated. Once all OOGP peer review committee meetings are complete for the competition and CIHR has in hand both the committee rankings and the application budgets as adjusted through peer review, CIHR staff calculate how many grants can be funded within the allocated core OOGP competition budget.

The overall sequence of funding priority as dictated by peer-review results for all applications in the competition (the overall ranking list) is determined by calculating the percent ranking for each application (i.e. the within-committee rank placement divided by the number of applications in the committee, multiplied by 100), and then combining the percent rankings for all applications into a single overall list. Applications are funded, in rank order, until the available funding is exhausted. This calculation takes into consideration ties in percent ranking across the full set of OOGP committees (i.e. applications with tied percent ranking are either all funded or none of these are funded). An across-the-board reduction to the budgets recommended by peer review is included in the calculation to permit funding of a larger number of grants from the core budget. The across-the-board cut has ranged from 11% to 17.6% over the past 4 years.

The percent ranking cut-off for grants funded out of the core OOGP budget allocation for the latest competition (September 2010 intake) was 17.95%. All grants with a percent rank of 17.95% or better were funded from the core OOGP competition budget.

Priority Announcements - additional sources of funding for each competition

Priority Announcements represent additional sources of funding beyond the core OOGP competition budget that are available for funding of highly ranked applications that meet specific relevance criteria defined by CIHR's priority announcement partners. In applying for the OOGP competition, applicants can identify up to three priority announcements to which their application may be relevant. In addition, some Institutes will automatically consider an application for funding from their Institute budget based on the selection of that Institute as a primary and/or secondary Institute for that application. These additional opportunities are also published as priority announcements for each competition but do not require any additional steps during the application process to be considered eligible.

Once funding through the Core OOGP competition budget is determined, additional funding through individual priority announcement budgets is applied as follows:

1) Full-term funding: All applications deemed eligible and relevant to published Priority Announcements for full term grants are funded in rank order from the assigned priority announcement budget envelope.

2) Bridge funding: All applications deemed eligible and relevant to published Priority Announcements for bridge or partial term grants are funded in rank order from the assigned priority announcement budget envelope.

3) Additional "generic" bridge funding: Should funds become available within the overall CIHR budget due to less than planned investment in other funding programs (funds that must be invested within the fiscal year by CIHR or must otherwise be returned to the central government), additional bridge grants may be allocated to the remaining unfunded applications, in rank order, beginning with the highest ranked application in the overall list that is still unfunded until the budget assigned has been exhausted. The amount of funding for this type of bridge grant for a given competition is not predictable as it is based on outcomes of other CIHR competitions.

The percent rank of the first unfunded application will differ from one committee to another once the priority announcements have been applied as applications in those committees may have been relevant to one or more priority announcements. In total, for the latest competition (September 2010 intake), an additional 99 applications were funded through additional sources of funding beyond the core OOGP competition budget. As a result, the total number of funded grants was 501 of 2,338. While this number can be interpreted as an overall success rate for the competition of 21.4% this does not indicate that all grants with a percent ranking of 21.4% or better were funded or that no grants with a percent ranking of less then 21.4% were funded. A combination of both overall rank order and eligibility/relevance to the published priority announcement criteria determines the next application on the overall ranking list that is funded through the priority announcement process.

Reporting of results

In providing the results for a given OOGP competition, CIHR reports on:

  • total number of applications in the competition;
  • total number of fundable applications (rated >=3.5);
  • total number of grants funded from the core competition budget and estimated multi-year investment;
  • estimated number of additional full term grants funded through priority announcements and estimated multi-year investment;
  • estimated number of additional bridge grants funded through priority announcements and other sources and estimated one-time investment;
  • total number of grants approved within the given competition;
  • average full term grant size;
  • average duration of full term grants.

Q12. How does the application pressure compare to previous competitions?

A. Through the September 2010 OOGP competition we reviewed a total of 2,338 applications (withdrawals are excluded) compared to 2,230 for the March 2010 competition and 2,186 applications in the Fall 2009 competition.

Q13. How do you intend to communicate with us on these important funding-related issues?

A. We are engaging the University Delegates in further discussions on these matters. They will not only provide feedback on these discussions to their Institutions and the research community but can also forward your views to CIHR.

CIHR E-Alert: News for Researchers, also commonly referred to as CIHR's E-Alert, will be another means of communication with the research community. We encourage those of you who do not already receive this electronic newsletter to subscribe by visiting the CIHR website. Click on the Useful Link titled "Subscribe to CIHR's News for Researchers" which is located on the right-hand side of the web page. This will open a pop-up subscription form which you or your colleagues can complete. Click the "Submit" button. You will then see a pop-up message thanking you for your subscription. There is no charge for this subscription.

In addition, CIHR regularly provides updates to the community through messages on our website, and through other means such as visits to institutions.

Figures – Open Operating Grant Program

1.Application and Funding Statistics OOGP and Related Programs

1. Application and Funding Statistics OOGP and Related Programs

- Additional full-term grants: Applications to the OOGP that are funded from other program budgets beyond the core competition budget,
e.g. Institutes and external partners; usually financing the full peer review recommended term and amount.

- Bridge grants: Applications to the OOGP that are provided with up to one year of funding from other program budgets beyond the core competition budget.



2. Application and Funding Statistics OOGP and Related Programs (Graph including only Fundable Applications – i.e., applications rated 3.5 or above)

2. Application and Funding Statistics OOGP and Related Programs (Graph including only Fundable Applications – i.e., applications rated 3.5 or above)

- Additional full-term grants: Applications to the OOGP that are funded from other program budgets beyond the core competition budget,
e.g. Institutes and external partners; usually financing the full peer review recommended term and amount.

- Bridge grants: Applications to the OOGP that are provided with up to one year of funding from other program budgets beyond the core competition budget.

Pierre Chartrand, Ph.D.
Vice-President, Research Portfolio