Research on research driving practical solutions to make research better (part 1)

By turning the tools of research back on itself, the RoRI consortium is working together to generate data, evidence and analysis that can improve how research is funded, practiced, communicated, and evaluated. 

What we’ve been up to

Since our launch in autumn 2019, we’ve been busy with six projects and as these draw to a conclusion, we’re excited to share teasers of what you can expect from us over the coming months. 

Sign up to our newsletter to join our fast-growing community and be the first to get your hands on our findings, tools and reports.  

Below, we share how three of our projects are progressing.   

1) CRITERIA: Who gets research funding and why does it matter?

Research funders want to give out their grants in an equitable and fair way. By gathering data on who receives funding and how these decisions are made, we’ll be able to understand where and how inequalities arise and how the system needs changing to realise the full potential of people and projects.

When funders review their processes they tend to look scheme by scheme. Our CRITERIA project is taking a larger, collective look across multiple funders to see how grant application criteria influence inequalities in funding success.  

The project’s most significant output is the Funder Data Platform. This secure platform allows RoRI partners to upload and share data about their funding and review processes in ways that enable it to be analysed together. After a lot of hard work, we now have all the necessary legal and governance frameworks and data protocols in place so that our partners can begin to use the platform, and share their findings openly. 

Keep your eyes peeled for a report coming soon which will – for the first time – provide a standardised view of funding success rates by gender and scientific field across different national research systems and funders.   

This will help funders to better understand potential drivers of inequalities in their grant allocation, and identify where they might be able to mitigate for it by changes to their funding processes. 

2) EXCELLENCE: What is ‘excellent’ research and why does it matter?

‘Excellence’ has long been placed at the centre of research funding, policy and evaluation frameworks but it remains an ambiguous concept. This could mean that some deserving researchers are overlooked or miss out on opportunities to contribute bright ideas.

Facing this head-on, our EXCELLENCE project is taking a deep dive into how the concept of ‘excellence’ is being used by eight funders in the RoRI consortium, and how those uses are changing. 

The team have completed research and interviews and will be sharing their findings in a paper out soon. This will be followed by a series of in-depth case studies providing practical guidance for funders thinking about how to apply ‘excellence’ in strategy and evaluation.   

For a sneak preview, join us on 24 September at MetaScience 2021 where we’ll use this latest evidence to debate whether ‘excellence’ is still a useful concept or whether something else should be put in its place. 

3) RANDOMISATION: Are lottery-style funding mechanisms a good idea?

Hundreds of billions of pounds are invested in research every year, but we spend tiny amounts experimenting with how we allocate and evaluate research funding.

The RANDOMISATION project is supporting several RoRI partners to design, carry out and evaluate uses of randomisation in processes of funding allocation. Funders are sharing data and lessons learned, building a better picture of the pros, cons and practical aspects of randomised funding.

Alongside these experiments, we’re taking a deeper look at the motivations, drivers and constraints of using randomisation methods in research funding, by analysing the views of funders, panel members and researchers themselves.   

All these insights will feed into a practical handbook for funders and others who want to test and experiment with new ways of allocating and evaluating grants. We’ll be launching this on 1 December 2021 as part of a workshop hosted in partnership with the Swiss National Science Foundation. 

Work with us

As we enter our next phase, we’re on the lookout for more project opportunities and partners to join us. If you are interested in becoming a RoRI partner, please contact James Wilsdon, Director of RoRI on 

Read about our other projects in Part 2 and and don’t forget to sign up to the RoRI newsletter to keep up-to-date.