30 June 2021

Peer review is the cornerstone of the ARC’s grants processes, and the essential mechanism that identifies the most competitive applications within the National Competitive Grants Program. This article is a brief explainer of the role of our large community of ‘detailed assessors’, about 20,000 strong, whose dedicated and tireless work is so important to the success of the ARC’s peer review and is integral to deciding which applications are recommended to the Minister for funding. 

The ARC’s detailed assessors are drawn from all across the research community, and it is their role to assess every application that is submitted to the ARC. Detailed assessors are allocated applications for their review, based on their expertise as recorded in the ARC’s Research Management System (RMS). Many are grant recipients themselves. The role of the detailed assessors is to make constructive comments on each application, to identify strengths and weaknesses, and assign scores against key criteria to support the College of Experts to make recommendations to the CEO of the ARC.  

Once the assessment phase closes, applicants can see the anonymised comments made by detailed assessors and have the opportunity to respond to them during what is known as the ‘rejoinder’ process.   

In addition to the assessment by detailed assessors, SAC members are allocated to each individual application (usually two but can be three or four depending on the scheme) They also provide ‘general assessor’ scores which are considered alongside the detailed assessments and rejoinders during the selection meeting. Each proposal has a SAC member known as ‘Carriage 1’ who leads discussion during the meeting, and who in most schemes selected the initial detailed assessors.  

Selection meetings are held for all scheme rounds, and at the heart of these meetings, the SAC discusses applications including detailed assessments and submitted rejoinders, and its budget. During the selection meetings, the Selection Advisory Committee (SAC) members - where there is no conflict of interest – will then consider all the available information in their deliberations. The SAC’s recommendations are then provided to the CEO of the ARC, and in turn to the Minister for approval.  

This process, from assignment to detailed assessment to the closing of rejoinders, is shown in the flowchart below.  

Frequently asked questions:

How are detailed assessors assigned to grant applications?

For most ARC grant schemes, the general assessors (SAC members) will assign several detailed assessors to each application.  For some schemes the ARC Executive Directors assign the detailed assessors, and they are also responsible for identifying additional detailed assessors when the initial reserves are exhausted. On opening the assessment process in RMS, each detailed assessor will be alerted that they have been requested to provide an assessment report.  

How many applications are detailed assessors requested to review?

The number of applications assigned to a detailed assessor depends on the availability of other assessors in their discipline area, and the number of applications received by the ARC. For example, detailed assessors will likely be assigned more Discovery Projects applications than anything else, as Discovery Projects receives more applications than other schemes. Chief Investigators and Fellows who are in receipt of current ARC funding are obligated assessors, in accordance with the relevant Grant Agreement, and are expected to assess up to 20 applications a year.  

Note that detailed assessors are often assigned 2-4 applications in a given scheme, as this assists the Selection Advisory Committee in understanding how the detailed assessor grades applications. 

Can detailed assessors reject assigned applications?

Yes, rejection of an application may occur due to an identified conflict of interest, if the application is outside the area of expertise, or for other possible reasons. In some instances, detailed assessors may be assigned several applications, and due to time constraints, they can only attend to some of the assigned applications. But whatever the reason, it is important that detailed assessors reject any assigned applications as soon as possible if they find they cannot do the assessment for a particular reason, so that the application can be reallocated to another detailed assessor in a timely way.   

What are some of the benefits of taking part as an ARC detailed assessor?

Being involved as a detailed assessor provides the opportunity to familiarise yourself with new, cutting-edge research, in confidence, within your field of expertise. Detailed assessors can see the breadth and depth of what the best researchers in the country are working on and become familiar with national and international research agendas and priorities. Additionally, the process provides unequalled opportunity to strengthen a detailed assessor’s own future ARC applications through exposure to grant writing examples and providing an insider’s perspective on the ARC peer review process. Being an ARC assessor furthers professional development, while providing an invaluable contribution to the ARC’s mission to support Australian research and innovation. 

How can I become a detailed assessor?

For additional information on peer review, the full ARC assessment process, and how to become an ARC assessor, please visit the ARC website. As a final note, opening an RMS account or submitting an application to the ARC does not automatically make an account holder a detailed assessor.