The Australian Research Council’s (ARC) National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP) supports the highest-quality fundamental and applied research and research training through national competition. It comprises two funding programs, Discovery and Linkage. These programs are each made up of several schemes that provide a structured pathway for researchers to build the scope and scale of their work and collaborative partnerships. Peer review is fundamental in the selection process for funding decisions under the NCGP.

Peer review—sometimes called merit review—ensures that government funding is spent on the highest quality research that will advance knowledge and benefit the community. The Global Research Council, of which the ARC is a member, has agreed on seven principles underpinning peer review—Statement of Principles for Scientific Merit Review (Global Summit on Merit Review), 2018. These seven principles underpin the ARC’s policies and processes regarding peer review:

  • Expert assessment:
    • assessors should possess knowledge and expertise in the broad context of the research field; and
    • be able to assess specific methodologies and objectives of an application.
  • Transparency of the review process:
    • applications will be treated equally through a consistent process aligning with documented procedures and assessment criteria; and
    • applicants will receive appropriate feedback from assessor reviews.
  • Impartiality:
    • assessments must be free from bias achieved through strict conflict of interest policies, assessor training and rigorous processes; and
    • applications will be assessed on their merit and in regards to national and international research.
  • Appropriateness: 
    • selection processes should be consistent with the complexity of the objectives of the funding scheme; and
    • be appropriate for the size of the scheme.
  • Confidentiality: 
    • assessors must keep all material in applications confidential, including intellectual property (IP) and data.
  • Integrity and Ethical considerations:
    • responsible conduct of research to maintain society’s trust in science.
  • Gender, Equality and Diversity:
    • the quality of the review process will be enhanced by the inclusion of all the finest minds in our society incorporating the vast talents and resources offered from underrepresented groups.

Additional considerations which may not be universal and may vary depending on the scope of an individual scheme are also recognised by the Global Research Council.  Additional criteria may include:

  • Consideration of the broader impacts of the research;
  • A balanced approach to risk, accounting for potentially transformative and high risk/high reward research; and
  • Inclusion of international reviews especially where research is addressing global challenges.