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CPR - Centralized Grant Proposal Repository
Scientists and funding agencies need a more efficient way to match their interests - enter CPR.
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Posted 24 February 2008 by Noam Y. Harel
Addendum 1 May 2008:
I have received many useful comments regarding this proposal (most of which I've manually posted onto the 'discussion' tab of this page). One of the most frequent criticisms is the uncertainty of submitting proposals to a 'public' repository. However, the CPR does NOT have to be public, as originally stated (and now boldfaced/underlined) in the proposal below...
Here's a little-known fact: writing grant proposals is a time-consuming task. Obtaining the preliminary data, writing the background and design, and gathering the references are difficult enough. Worse yet, each funding agency has its own set of myriad bureaucratic forms to fill. Finally, keeping track of different deadlines for different agencies makes life an endless cycle of procrastination and frantic preparation.
Wouldn't it make sense to have a centralized proposal repository (CPR) where grant proposals can be submitted at any time, in a common format that emphasizes science rather than red tape? Funding agencies could search the repository for proposals matching their interests, then send those proposals to their own scientific panels for further review. A minimum of bureaucratic information would be required up front. Budget details and the like could be worked out between individual funding agencies and candidate winning investigators when necessary.
Ideally, all proposals would be publicly accessible and searchable. However, most of the scientific community has not yet accepted the inevitable dawn of truly open science. So for now, CPR submissions could be made accessible only to funding agencies that register and agree to keep proposals private (unless a submitting investigator indicates his or her willingness to share the proposal publicly).
This concept is so obvious, yet the closest thing that searches on Google and PubMed came up with is the NIH’s CRISP database – a listing of summary information on all NIH-funded grants. But these are just summaries, just of grants already reviewed and funded, and just by one (albeit huge) agency. In contrast, CPR would include full grant proposals, available to any funding agency, searchable by topic and keywords. It would make life easier for scientists in the same way that universal applications for college or med school make life easier for applicants.
It should be emphasized that the CPR system would not have to be public and collaborative in the SCIEnCE mold.
It could be completely compatible with the current system of secretive competition in science. The difference is CPR would immediately make life much easier for individual scientists by eliminating the hassle of searching for suitable grant mechanisms, and the stress of meeting various deadlines. For funding agencies, CPR would expand the pool of applications from which to choose. In the future, however, ALL scientific proposals should be developed, funded, and executed publicly and collaboratively.
Of course, the very best proposals may attract offers from multiple agencies. Similarly to the current situation, investigators would be ethically obligated to disclose all active AND potential sources of funding. Similarly to the current situation, funding agencies could insist that projects not be funded in duplicate. OR, multiple agencies interested in funding the same project could decide to negotiate shared funding agreements that could benefit everyone involved.
In effect, CPR would serve as the mediator between grant-seekers and grantors. In a world where eBay, Facebook, and Google powerfully demonstrate the communal nature of our web, it is a pity that scientists and funding agencies don't have a similarly modern forum in which to match interests and offers. Is the concept of CPR just too obvious?
Though the arguments for CPR are very strong, there are at least a few issues and potential pitfalls to resolve:
Submitting proposals without regard to deadlines is great. But what about the uncertainty of not knowing if or when a proposal will be funded?
CPR would include a mechanism to inform investigators at each step of the process: when an agency has looked at a proposal, when it has initiated review, and for what type of grant/budget/timeframe it is being reviewed. Hopefully this information will help labs plan budgets and further funding proposals accordingly.
Why would I want to submit my great proposal to a public repository before it's actually funded?
It needs to be re-emphasized that the CPR would NOT have to be any less confidential than current grant submission mechanisms. Subscribing funding agencies would have to commit to a written confidentiality policy. Individual agencies would review selected proposals in the same manner as they do now. All CPR would do is increase the size of the pool of proposals from which to choose. This is bi-directional - a bigger pool of proposals for agencies to choose from, and a bigger pool of funders for scientists to solicit. All without the annoyance of different deadlines and different forms to sift through.
My institution’s Grants and Contracts Office requires all grant proposals to be approved internally before being submitted.
CPR would in no way attempt to bypass the mission of Grants and Contracts Offices, which cumbersome as they may seem, attempt to ensure that appropriate and ethical procedures are being carried out in terms of human/animal protection, budget/administrative issues, etc. But why can’t these issues be addressed after a proposal has achieved initial approval?
Who would develop and host the CPR?
CPR would be an online tool in the mold of eBay or Monster. An organization with expertise and academic goodwill such as Google.org would be a perfect choice.
Modified versions of this proposal have been submitted as a letter to
, and as a pitch to
. The Nature letter was published on 27 March 2008.
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