The current process for allocating research funding is in need of reforms

by Jasmin Ronach

The allocation of research funding is a difficult and intransparent political process. A Dutch group of young scientists and scholars called The Young Academy started a project to incorporate scientists into policymaking. Their goal is to make the process of determining which research gets funding more democratic.

The Young Academy is a group of fifty people who all received their doctorates less than ten years before becoming a member. Their aim is to represent scientists across disciplines from various Dutch universities and research institutions. One of their four pillars is science policy. To support this pillar, the group is trying to facilitate constructive discussions of scientific policy.

In one of their projects titled “Research Funding Consultation”, The Young Academy hopes to gain insights from Dutch academics that are currently active in research about how the funding process can be improved.

According to a recent interview with Sanli Faez, member of The Young Academy and physicist at Utrecht University, the funding process in its current form is not democratic enough. Faez states that decisions are usually made by representatives or committees behind closed doors, and do not take the opinions of experienced current researchers into account.

the funding process in its current form is not democratic enough

In order to obtain suggestions for improvement, The Young Academy uses an approach known as participatory value evaluation (PVE). It is a type of survey with the purpose of familiarizing respondents with the choices of policymakers. Their survey is specifically targeted at Dutch academics. The respondents are also presented with the effects of possible choices and any real-life restrictions they may face, before making their decisions. At the end, they also have to explain their conclusions. This way, the “Research Funding Consultation” can help to get an overview of the opinions of the average Dutch researcher.

According to Faez, The Young Academy already boasted “500 responses in the first week and [we] are going to continue collecting answers until the end of June”. Once the results are known and later publicized, any common ground could be useful for starting a conversation on how to change the funding process.

By gathering the opinions of a large number of Dutch researchers, Sanli Faez hopes that the “silent majority” can voice their ideas for change. Ultimately, The Young Academy hopes to find a way to improve the funding process so that within disciplines, researchers have a say in what projects receive funding.