Evaluation procedure – this is how we select
What happens to your proposal once you have submitted it to the SNSF? Our evaluation process ensures a fair, efficient and transparent selection of the best projects and researchers.
As the SNSF, we not only want to invest in excellent research, but also provide excellent funding services ourselves. The evaluation process contributes significantly to this. We apply it to almost all funding schemes. Its rules are based on the principles and criteria of the SNSF and on the DORA Declaration. All researchers and their ideas have equal chances of success in the process. Those whose projects and performance are most convincing from a scientific point of view will receive funding.
To avoid conflicts of interest, our guidelines on bias and recusal apply to everyone involved in the evaluation process. And, of course, we expect you as a researcher to follow good scientific practice.
The rating scale
All reviewers and the members of the responsible evaluation panel rate your proposal according to a standardised scale from 1 to 9. Grade 1 on the scale means that the project has few or no strengths, but many serious weaknesses. Grade 9, on the other hand, means that the project is convincing in all aspects and has no or only negligible weaknesses.
The standardised numerical scale provides clarity and comparability. In addition, it allows the evaluators to apply a statistical procedure to establish a final ranking of the proposals based on the ratings.
From evaluation to communication of results
As a rule, we process and evaluate your proposal in six steps:
- Administrative verification
- Evaluation: external review
- Evaluation: internal review
- Evaluation: discussion and rating
- Funding decisions
- Communication of results
For some funding schemes, additional steps are included. For instance, you may have to submit a project outline or pre-proposal before you submit the full proposal. Or you may have to present your project in person. Information on these processes can be found on the pages of the individual funding schemes.
The evaluation process in detail:
1. Administrative verification
You have submitted your proposal on our online platform. In an initial step, the Administrative Offices verify the following points:
- Does the proposal meet the formal requirements?
- Are the personal requirements met?
- Is there any violation of the rules of scientific integrity?
If everything is in order, the SNSF will consider your proposal and initiate the review. We will inform you about the outcome of this first stage.
If scientific misconduct is suspected, we will carry out an investigation. If the suspicion is confirmed, the SNSF may impose sanctions.
Once the Administrative Offices have verified the requirements, they will forward your proposal to the appropriate evaluation panel of the National Research Council. Some funding schemes have several panels. In such cases, the scientific discipline in question determines who will evaluate it.
Please note: until the proposal is submitted, the Administrative Offices will be happy to answer your questions. If necessary, we may ask you to provide additional information during the verification phase so as to prevent any delay in the process. After the verification phase and through to the communication of results, we cannot provide you with any additional information.
2. Evaluation: external review
Selection of reviewers
The administrative check is followed by the scientific examination. For most funding schemes, at least two external reviewers assess your proposal first. How do we choose them? The Administrative Offices and the evaluation panel look for researchers who are at the cutting edge of international research in their field. They must be independent of the SNSF and have no ties with you. That is why most of the reviewers are based abroad.
Are there certain people you don't want us to ask for an expert review? You can mention them by name when submitting the proposal. We will take your request into account as long as you can provide objective reasons.
Assessment of the proposal
The reviewers will assess your proposal independently of each other and will each prepare a review based on the criteria defined by the SNSF. These include, for example, the scientific relevance of your project and its originality or your expertise and scientific track record. For each criterion, the evaluators provide a rating on the nine-point scale. Then they evaluate the entire proposal and summarise the main reasons for their assessment. The reviewers are aware that you can read the review in anonymised form once the procedure is concluded.
3. Evaluation: internal review
Assignment of proposals
Now at least two members of the responsible evaluation panel will review your proposal as referees. The Administrative Offices assign it to them based on the scientific discipline as well as the keywords and a short description.
All members of the evaluation panels work on an honorary basis and are elected by the National Research Council because of their expertise and research experience. On the panel, they represent the SNSF rather than their own institution.
Evaluation of the proposal
First, the referees assess the usefulness of the external reviews. Are they coherent and comprehensible? Are the assessments clear and properly substantiated? The referees then give their own rating for each evaluation criterion on the basis of the reviews. In most funding schemes, they also examine whether the requested budget is appropriate.
Is this a resubmitted proposal? If so, the referees assess to what extent you have taken into account the criticisms of the previous proposal.
Recommendations to the evaluation panel
Finally, the referees rate your proposal as a whole according to the nine-point scale and recommend this rating to the evaluation panel. In their written and independent recommendations, they list the main strengths and weaknesses with regard to each criterion. We will inform you of these in broad terms in the event of a rejection.
Procedure with prior internal review
For some funding schemes, your project will first be reviewed internally, either in the form of a pre-proposal or a full proposal. Based on the referees' assessments, the evaluation panel will make an initial decision. If your project is selected, it will go through the evaluation process from external review to the communication of results.
4. Evaluation: Discussion and assessment
Basis for decision
The external and internal assessments provide a uniform basis for decision-making for each proposal. All members of the evaluation panel are provided with the proposal, information about the applicants, the external reviews, the recommendations of the referees and the budget. This allows for a structured, informed and fair discussion. Some funding schemes require an interview or a presentation as a broader basis for decision-making.
Discussion and vote
During the meeting of the evaluation panel, the referees present the proposals assigned to them and justify their recommendations. Subsequently, the panel members discuss the proposal in terms of the identified strengths and weaknesses and based on the SNSF criteria. The external reviews play an important role in this discussion, but the panel may not always share the reviewer's opinion.
Each member then rates the proposal electronically on the nine-point scale. Only after everyone has voted are the individual ratings displayed. This ensures an independent vote based both on the recommendations of the referees and the discussion.
Optional preselection for rejection
If your proposal clearly has many weaknesses, the evaluation panel may preselect it for rejection. In such cases the proposal is not discussed in detail. We will inform you about this in the written ruling (see point 6 – Communication of results). The decision is based on written recommendations by the referees and is subject to clear rules. All panel members will be notified of the preselection prior to the meeting. However, any panel member and also the Administrative Offices may request that the proposal be discussed.
As a general rule, evaluation panels should discuss at least 50 per cent of all proposals. Preselection for rejection is applied only to those proposals that are classified as significantly weaker.
For some funding schemes, such as Postdoc.Mobility, it is possible under certain circumstances to preselect proposals of outstanding quality for funding.
5. Funding decisions
Creating a ranked list with Bayesian Ranking
The members of the evaluation panel have evaluated each proposal. This now makes it possible to create a ranked list. However, a classification based solely on average ratings is problematic. Perhaps some members did not vote on all proposals because of conflicts of interest. Or some are reluctant to give high marks, while others judge less harshly. Therefore, the SNSF applies a procedure based on the Bayesian Ranking. This statistical model takes into account random fluctuations and other uncertain factors. In this process, each proposal is compared with every other proposal to create the final ranking.
Article: Rethinking the Funding Line at the SNSF: Bayesian Ranking and Lottery (Heyard et al., 2021)
Setting the funding line and optional lottery procedure
Based on this ranking and the available funding, the responsible body of the Research Council determines a cut-off point for funding ("funding line"). If your proposal is above the funding line, it will be funded; but if it is below, you will unfortunately not receive any funding.
The funding line might run through a group of proposals that are of exactly the same scientific quality. The responsible body of the Research Council may then make a random selection by drawing lots; the proposals that are drawn will be funded. Alternatively, the SNSF may refrain from funding the entire group.
Final decision by the Presiding Board
The panel's provisional funding decisions are submitted to the Presiding Board of the Research Council. It checks whether the evaluation has been conducted correctly and whether the budget and framework conditions have been adhered to. If this is the case, the Presiding Board approves the decisions, which are then final.
6. Communication of results
After the final decision, the Administrative Offices will inform you about the result as soon as possible. You will receive a reasoned written decision, in accordance with the Federal Act on Administrative Procedure. Generally, you will also learn in which quintile your proposal was classified. The top 20 per cent of proposals are in the first quintile.
The SNSF has approved your proposal
You can carry out your research project. The ruling on the award contains information about:
- the total amount approved and its division into annual instalments.
- the approved project duration.
- the classification of the proposal ("quintile").
- the further procedure for release and transfer of the grant.
In addition, the SNSF may set conditions for the implementation of the project. These must be met before the grant is transferred.
The SNSF has rejected your proposal
Unfortunately, your proposal was not successful in the evaluation process. The rejection ruling contains information about:
- the main grounds for the rejection.
- the classification of the proposal ("quintile" or pre¬selection for rejection).
Reconsideration and appeal
Do you disagree with the rejection because you believe mistakes were made in the evaluation process? Then you can either request that the SNSF reconsider its decision or lodge an appeal with the Federal Administrative Court.
Justified reconsideration requests are assessed by the Administrative Offices. If there are no indications that the decision was flawed, the request will not be followed up. However, if there are any indications to the contrary, the reconsideration request will be discussed by the Research Council. The Council will then either reject the request or make a new material decision.
If you do not accept the decision, you will need to lodge your appeal with the Federal Administrative Court within 30 days of receiving the SNSF's ruling. Instead of stating its case before the court, the SNSF may reconsider its decision and issue a new ruling. As a matter of course, we recommend that you contact the Administrative Offices for information about the appeal procedure. The 30-day period will remain unaffected.