Thank you all for joining the inaugural Medical Research Future Fund Research Administration Officers Webinar. I'd like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the lands we are all joining from today. I'm joining from Ngunnawal country. I pay my deepest respects to Elders past, present and emerging and warmly acknowledge and welcome our First Nations colleagues who are here with us today. Apologies, I just had some troubles with the slides. The session today will cover a range of topics, beginning with the intent and purpose of these webinars. We'll also cover the following phases of the grants lifecycle: design, select, establish and manage, and the next webinar will cover the final part of the grant's lifecycle, which is performance monitoring and evaluation. Thank you to all of those who sent through questions. Most of those will be answered through the presentation, and we'll also have a Q&A session after the formal presentation.
This slide summarises why the Department has decided to hold the RAO webinars. We anticipate hosting two webinars each year, and we'll use them to provide practical information on MRFF administrative arrangements, to try to help RAOs to assist MRFF funded research and researchers, to support RAOs and researchers in adopting new MRFF policies and procedures, and to establish a mechanism for ongoing feedback and dialogue with research administrators.
This slide shows the five phases of the grants’ lifecycle. As flagged earlier today, we'll cover design, select, establish and manage, and at the next webinar, we'll look at evaluate. I'll now hand over to Dr Sophie Han. She'll be talking about the guiding documents that set the framework for the MRFF's operation and they are the first part of the design phase of the grant lifecycle.
Thank you, Masha. Hello, I'm Sophie Han, Director of Strategy and Governance Section. Today, I will be talking about a few key MRFF documents that guide the direction of the Medical Research Future Fund and the first one I want to talk about is the MRFF Act. The Medical Research Future Fund and the Australian Medical Research Advisory Board, led by Professor Ian Frazer and Professor Caroline Homer, are established by the MRFF Act. The Act also specified a five-yearly strategy and the two yearly priorities to be determined through a national consultation process, and the resulting priorities are taken into account when funding decisions are made, and these are reflected in our ten-year investment plan. The MRFF also have a monitoring evaluation and learning strategy which provides a framework for evaluating MRFF investments. The first set of documents I'll touch on is the MRFF Strategy and Priorities. They are developed by the Australian Medical Research Advisory Board following extensive national consultation.
The strategy sets out the vision, aims, strategic objectives of the MRFF, whereas, the priorities outlines key priority areas for investment. And in the priorities document, each of them is outlined in a table with its relevance, which explains the ‘why’ and a recommended implementation approach, which is the ‘how’. And these provide the context on how each priority will contribute to the key elements across one or more of the strategic objectives. Many of you would have seen the Second MRFF 10-year Investment Plan. So it allocates $6.3 billion over ten years from 2022-23 to 2031-32. It provides a mechanism for implementing the current MRFF strategy and related priorities. This document outlines the 21 initiatives under the MRFF and shows the investment across these initiatives over the ten-year period. It also articulates the alignment of the plan with the strategy and maps the 21 initiatives to the priorities. Together, these documents support the decision-making on how to use MRFF funds and if you would like to learn more about the MRFF initiatives, I encourage you to go to our website and have a look at the plan.
Another set of documents I'm going to touch on relates to Missions under the MRFF. So as a reminder, Missions are large programs of work designed to drive target improvements in areas of unmet need or with transformational potentials. They are designed to bring together relevant parties of the sector and set an agenda and support the implementation through the MRFF funding as well as consideration of leverage funding. The Roadmap and Implementation Plan are two key strategic documents that underpin the Missions. They were developed and then finalised by expert advisory panels following international review as well as national consultation. These documents articulate the aim, vision, goals and priorities for investment for Missions and directly underpin the grant opportunity guidelines. And I'll finish with just a snippet with the Missions and roadmaps that we currently have. So we have eight MRFF Missions. For six of them, we have gone through a comprehensive process to establish a roadmap and implementation plan.
And then, the roadmap and implementation plan are on our website as well as all the other documents I've mentioned earlier. So I encourage you to have a look at them and then get more insights into the MRFF. I'll now hand over to Dr Ruth Webster to talk about the design of MRFF grant opportunities.
Thank you Sophie and hi everyone. My name's Dr Ruth Webster. I'm the Director of Patients and Infrastructure within the Department and I'll be going through a few of those different grant lifecycle touchpoints, as Masha outlined earlier. So, firstly, I thought it would be good to start with how is the MRFF different from perhaps some of the other funding agencies that researchers are applying to. So, firstly, we do have rapid and flexible disbursements that capitalise on our strengths as a health and medical research sector to respond to emerging priorities and issues. For example, the bushfires, COVID response - I think we're all sick of that now - but we try and be flexible and responsive to some of those emerging issues. We are also priority-led, and that means that we focus on areas of unmet need or technology with transformational potential. And that's opposed to the NHMRC, for example, which is investigator-led, where you can bring any concept and as long as it has a good scientific premise and a good track record of the investigators, then you can get it funded.
But we are a priority-led funder, and that's just something that's good to keep in mind. One of our big focuses is to bring together key researchers, health professionals, consumers, stakeholders, industry partners with that real outcomes focus and that transformational potential, and how are we going to translate impact and outcomes in sort of a very short time frame after the grant's been awarded. We are very much looking to harness resources across the system through collaboration and involvement of different types of expertise, as I touched on in the previous point. And we also are trying to use innovative grant research approaches through different grant models to try and achieve our aims and objectives.
So when we design grant opportunities, what do we take into account? Well, there's many factors that we actually take into account. The key priorities, the government's priorities and objectives that they set, we take the advice from AMRAB as outlined by Sophie, which is through those strategy and priorities documents that she's just mentioned.
We have the Mission roadmaps and implementation plans. These are not just documents that sit on our website. They are taken into consideration when designing the next grant opportunity. We must take into account the aims for each initiative at a very simple level. I manage the primary healthcare initiative so every grant that goes out underneath my primary healthcare initiative must have a primary healthcare focus, which sounds silly, but we do actually take that into consideration when designing grant opportunities. We take into account the funding that's available for that initiative in that financial year, and that's something that we map out quite closely and stick to that ten-year plan. We do a literature review. We have a science unit that does a good evidence-practice gap analysis about some of the key issues to really try and focus our attention on those priorities or areas of unmet need and we're constantly scanning the research area for trends and research gaps as well to really try and outline where our priorities should lie in terms of what we're funding.
So, grant opportunities, you'll have noticed, if you've kept an eye on us in the last five years or so that we've been running, they can be very general in terms of topic. They can be something like early to mid-career researchers, which is more of a stage of career focus, but it can be very topic specific. For example, pain relief for pancreatic cancer, which is something that's a real challenge out in clinical practice. So we can be quite different in terms of the topics or the focuses of the grants that we open. We do use different grant models, as I've just mentioned, and I'll go into that a little bit more in a couple of slides. And you may have noticed, we can have multiple streams. And as a priority-driven funder, this can allow us to focus funding on different priorities or multiple priorities under a single topic. And just as a bit of a tip in terms of, if there are different streams, if we have differences in eligibility or assessment criteria or anything between the streams, they will always be spelled out in the grant opportunity guidelines. So certainly just keep that in the back of your mind to just have a look for that if there are different streams to grant opportunity.
So what do you look for in each grant opportunity when we release it? So as I've mentioned, each grant opportunity is different. So look beyond the title and look to the objectives and outcomes. They're always in Section 1.3. Our templates are quite standardised in terms of our grant opportunity guidelines. So Section 1.3 always outlines the objectives and outcomes of what we're trying to achieve through that grant opportunity that's been released. Have a look at the eligibility criteria in Section 3. They might be standard, there might be some specific ones, for example, the early and mid-career researcher scheme had specific criteria, and then look at the selection criteria of what we're looking for in Section 5. So those sections are always standardised throughout our grant opportunity guidelines. Each grant opportunity must align with the Australian Medical Research and Innovation Priorities, as mentioned by Sophie, so just have a think about how this grant opportunity fits in with those.
And we actually do require researchers to identify how they are going to contribute to the MRFF's measures of success. So there is a document called our ‘Measures of Success’. It is available online and you are required to align your grant application with those measures of success. You don't need to align with all of them, and some of them might be short-term, some of them might be long-term, but you do need to specify in the grant application how that grant application is going to align with our measures of success. We specifically include assessment criteria that are focused on outcomes. So have a really clear look at the assessment criteria in that grant opportunity guidance that may change slightly between grant opportunities to reflect the focus of the grants that we are looking to fund. And finally, once again, we do use different grant models within the MRFF. So just have a look for the specifics around the grant model that's being utilised in that grant opportunity.
So I've mentioned the grant models a few times. So this is a little bit more detail about the different types that we are using within our grant opportunities. So they range from incubator grants through to innovation, accelerator, targeted calls for research. And they might be smaller pockets of funding that are intended to support early-stage, small-scale research projects which are looking to assess the potential and the feasibility of running a larger project in the future. They might be intended to support straight, direct, large-scale research projects which are longer-term, larger pockets of funding. They might be accelerator grants which are looking to really accelerate that interdisciplinary research to drive implementation of substantial improvement, so quite significant innovative and complex projects. And then innovation grants, really trying to generate some evidence that might be able to be used to be competitive for further funding down the track.
So have a look within the grant opportunity guidelines for what grant model is being used in that grant opportunity. It will outline what the maximum amounts are or funding that you're able to apply for, any other things that you need to know about. And it is something that is required to be addressed when you write the application for the grant opportunity. And I'll go into that a little bit later with our assessment criteria that we provide to our grant assessors as well.
So when you apply for an MRFF opportunity, what are some of the key considerations? And some of this might be really clear to some people, but might be a little bit novel to others. But what we're really looking for is how well does your application align with the objectives and intended outcomes of this grant opportunity? So that's that Section 1.3 of the grant opportunity guidelines that I mentioned before. We're very keen to look at the project impact criterion as well. How are you going to deliver against, and how are you going to deliver impact against those objectives and outcomes that we're looking to fulfil within the grant?
As I mentioned, we also do look seriously at how the project is going to contribute to the monitoring, evaluation and learning strategy that we have. So have a look at that. Have a look at the measures of success. And in those project impact and overall value and risk sections of the criteria, that's where we really want to see that brought out as to how this project is going to deliver against those measures of success that we have outlined.
And then, finally, again, grant model, check the intent of the grant model and make sure that in the project methodology section that you're addressing that criterion for that grant model, that this is what we're looking for, this is how this project, this is why we as a team to deliver this project, to deliver against that... those criterion that we're aiming to fund projects in.
So just a couple of things to note. We're trying to address some of the, I guess, maybe common things that come up and some of these came from questions that were submitted in the webinar registration process.
So I think there can be a little bit of a perception that because we say that the overall value and risk is unweighted compared to the technical assessment criteria, that that means it doesn't matter. And that's actually not true. It does matter. So we have three technical assessment criterion. Applications must rate highly against all criteria in order to be funded. If you don't meet the minimum standards against one of those criterion, you can't be considered for funding. But the same goes for the overall value and risk. So it does impact what gets funded, and it is something that we do assess and look at quite seriously.
In terms of partner organisations and participating institutions, and I know this question comes up a lot, just a couple of broad comments on this. The letters of support are intended to speak to the feasibility of the project as proposed in the grant proposal. So that's what we're trying to achieve with those letters of support. And in particular, trying to document the commitment to participate, particularly if the project is dependent on third parties or other people committing significant in-kind support or facilities or whatever it is, we want to make sure that that is a genuine offer and is it going to be backed up should the project get funded? In general, it is assumed that for investigators who are listed as chief investigators on the application that their institutions do not need to provide letters of support unless there is something specifically otherwise mentioned in the guidelines. And I only throw that in there in case there is a specific grant opportunity for which, say, for example, under the National Critical Research Infrastructure Grant that's open at the moment, you're required to provide a letter of support stating the cash contribution. That's a mandatory thing for that grant opportunity. But in general, if you're named as a CI, we don't need a letter of support from your institution. We have noted, however, that there is a lot of... we probably need to increase our clarification about this issue, and we are actually working on this to make it much more clear in our guidelines moving forward. So in the meantime, if you have questions, certainly still send those queries in about partner versus participating institution, but we are taking that on board that there needs to be a little bit more clarification that we could offer around that as well.
In terms of information about currently open grant opportunities, just wanted to throw this in, that queries about open grant opportunities should be sent through to the hubs that are managing our grants on our behalf. And so, that's the Business Grants Hub or the NHMRC. And the grant opportunity guidelines always specify who is the grant hub that's managing that grant opportunity for us.
We send them all through the grants hubs, primarily for consistency of response, and you do want consistency of response to queries, so you don't want to get conflicting advice on these things. And so, each hub has their own processes in place for ensuring consistency of advice that goes out, but if those responses are not consistent, then please do let us know because everyone's human and mistakes do happen. So if you are getting inconsistent advice about eligibility criteria, let the hubs know as soon as you can and then so that they can address that and so that we can ensure that there is consistency across the responses but by and large, those are managed by the hubs. The source of truth for any response is always the grant opportunity guidelines, including any associated addenda.
And so, that will be a nice segue into my next slide to talk about addenda and when we might issue an addenda to the Grant Opportunity Guidelines. So the decision to issue an addendum primarily sits with the grant administration hub, Business Grants Hub or NHMRC, but they do that in consultation with us in the Department. Pardon me. Addenda are generally issued to ensure that there is equity of information provided to applicants and when there are points that require clarification of intent or definition. We don't always issue addenda, particularly for specific administrative matters that only pertain to like a single application or is not relevant to other applications, but by and large, if there is a significant issue that is become apparent, then an addenda certainly can be issued. I just want to note that we also pay attention to the need for addenda for any grant opportunity guidelines and we are continuously trying to update our guideline templates for future grant opportunities openings to try and address issues for future grants that are open.
And we wanted to specifically mention the recent issue around the definition of the five-year period for publications, because we know that was top of mind for a lot of you, for a lot of grant applications, and we just wanted to say we are taking that on board and we are working to see how we can be more clear in the future for future grant opportunities.
So that was a little bit about how we design a grant opportunity, a few things to look out for when we release the grant opportunity guidelines and writing your application. I'm going to move into now a little bit about the process for... you put your application in, what happens now? How do we select and establish MRFF grants? And I'm speaking on behalf of Pru Glasson, who was one of the other directors who was supposed to be speaking on this. She's unfortunately unwell, so that's why you're going to hear my voice for two sections of this presentation. I do apologise in advance. So the grant opportunity has closed. What happens next? So firstly, we do go through the eligibility checks and we do that in consultation with the hubs that are running the grant opportunity, and we make sure that those eligibility checks are just aligned with the grant opportunity guidelines and particularly those eligibility criteria in Section 3, just to make sure that that's all been satisfied. And if it is not satisfied, then the grants can't proceed.
Then what happens? We also finalise our Grant Assessment Committees, and I'll go into that a little bit more detail in terms of what we're looking for and how we go about that. We actually begin that process before the grant opportunity closes, but then it's completed after we close. It's a combined process between the hub and the Health and Medical Research Office in terms of bringing together that mixed expertise that we want to make sure that we are assessing grants so that we're achieving what we're intending to achieve with that grant opportunity. Once we have that Grant Assessment Committee finalised, we do undertake briefings with them. And that, again, is a combined effort between the hubs and also the policy areas, which is the Health and Medical Research Office. So we provide some training on the policy intent of that grant opportunity. Again, it's very consistent with what's in those guidelines. It's nothing new or different, it's just revisiting some of that and bringing it to top of mind for the grant assessors before they start scoring the applications.
And then the hubs go through the process, the technical bit of you need to score these grants and this is how you enter your scores and this is what happens then, and then they actually also manage the meeting process as well. Then assessors are assigned to each grant application. Once they all have been scored and entered into the various systems, then we do shortlist for the committee discussion, and that's the scoring process. Then we hold a GAC meeting which, you know, is... we have spokespeople that present on behalf of an application and lead the discussion on that. We also have consumer reviews and those Grant Assessment Committee meetings are also attended by a representative from the Health and Medical Research Office. So I sit in on a number of those for my section, and that's to try and learn and grow and get those feedback loops happening about are we assessing grants, are we funding grants that we're trying to achieve with the objectives and outcomes? Is there things that we could learn to do better in the next grant opportunity guidelines? And so, we're very much there as a learning process, but the actual process itself is run by the hub, and that's NHMRC or the Business Grants Hub. And then we go through the outcomes process, and I'll go through that in a little bit more detail where the delegates make the decisions and then grants are announced.
So how do we form a Grant Assessment Committee and what are we looking for? So the Department works with the grant administration hub to identify suitable members. All the assessment is independent by expert reviewers in their capacity as members of the Grant Assessment Committees. We don't assess applications here at the Department. They are all done within the committee. We do consider gender balance and geographical representation informing those committees. We actually have a quite a strong focus on trying to get international experts as well to get that international flavour in the review process and make sure that we are funding research that is genuinely competitive against international research as well.
So we select members based on experience and expertise in a range of areas, and they can be very much transdisciplinary, they can be academia, clinical, health services delivery, translation research, consumers, Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander health, as well as industry and commercialisation expertise. So we do try and go beyond just that core academic research group to bring a real transdisciplinary nature to those Grant Assessment Committees. And there is more information available in that document that is probably a little bit blurry for you to see. But that document is available on our website about our Grant Assessment Committees and what we value in those assessment committees.
So in terms of the actual grant assessment process, much as I just outlined in a previous slide, we do hold briefings for our Grant Assessment Committee members, and we try and emphasise to them that the MRFF is unique with exactly the same bullet points that I presented to you earlier. We've got different objectives and criteria to that of other funders. And then we try and link that to how does this reflect an expert assessment and how they might review our grants as opposed to those from another funder. Again, the information we provide to them is all the same that you have access to either in this webinar or those documents.
So we provide our Grant Assessment Committee members with the application documents, obviously, the grant opportunity guidelines and the scoring matrices, and they are all publicly available. There's nothing new or novel that we provide to them other than what applicants have access to themselves.
In terms of the scoring process, it's very similar to a lot of other funders that do evaluations. We have a spokesperson model, so each application is scored by nominated assessors. If there's a low number of applications to a round, all applications may be assessed by all assessors. We may not have a particular spokesperson kind of model, but we do tend to nominate one spokesperson to lead the discussion, to start that conversation about the benefits and the risks may be associated with an application within the committee meeting. And then everyone scores and rescores all the shortlisted applications based on the discussion of the Grant Assessment Committee meeting. So it's quite a standardised process, very similar to what happens, for example, with the NHMRC grant rounds that they run.
The committee chair and the consumer representative are usually non-scoring members. However, in some situations, the consumer representative can also score if they are confident with assessing the methodology and capacity aspects of the application. And those with lived experience are invited to provide genuine comments and we do ask the Grant Assessment Committee members, even if the consumer representative is non-scoring, to take those comments into consideration when they are scoring the applications within the Grant Assessment Committee meeting.
So in terms of assessing applications against criteria, we have project impact, which is one of our criterion as a general rule that accounts for 40% of the weighted score of those first three. We have project methodology, which counts for 30% and then capacity, capability and resources to deliver the project is the remaining 30%. And those are the weighted criteria that I mentioned before.
The particular relevant grant proposal sections are just listed there on the right, and all this information is available in the grant opportunity guidelines. And it's just trying to link those things together for the grant assessments. And then there's that final criteria of overall value and risk of the project. And this is where we take into account the risk management plan, the budget, any partner funding and those sorts of things, as well as the measures of success statement. And as I mentioned before, you do need to score at least a 'good' on overall value and risk for you to be considered for funding. For the threshold for funding for the other assessment criteria, for NHMRC, it's four or higher across all of the criteria, and that's out of a maximum of seven. BGH is out of a maximum of ten, and you have to score five or higher against all of those other assessment criteria, against the technical criteria. So, they are things that do matter when we are scoring the grants.
The assessment criteria matrices that we provide to the grant assessors are all available as well. Most of you are probably doing this already, but a really sensible thing to do is to ask your people who are applying, or your researchers that are applying for funding, have a look at those assessment criteria scoring matrices and make sure that your application is right up in those higher numbers. You want the assessor to be able to go, "Yep, tick, yep, tick, yep, tick." So, we're very open and transparent about how we ask our grant assessors to score against the criteria, publicly available. Use those as a benchmark when you're writing your application.
In terms of the outcomes process, once the grant assessment committee has scored and once they've left for the day, so then the scores are all tallied and the recommendations are provided by the delegate from the hub to the Department delegate. The grant office themselves, so we award funding on the basis of the ranked lists that we are provided. It's not something that we then decide differently. We take those ranked lists and we award funding based on those lists. And then the grant offers are signed off by the Departmental delegate here within the Department. We notify the Head Minister for Health and Aged Care of all the successful funding applications, and then we announce the grants. So, we are reviewing our processes at the moment for how applicants are notified that they've been successful or unsuccessful. So, I'm just sort, of watch this space, we are working on that at the moment.
In terms of feedback that is provided to the applicants, at the moment, feedback varies between the two hubs. NHMRC provides scores to applicants, but we are actually reviewing that process at the moment as well, and we are also keen to move towards alignment between the two hubs about what feedback is provided to applicants after the grants are announced because we know that's something that's important to the sector.
Just a few things that you might have noticed, and this is trying to draw attention to the fact that we are working on a lot of processes and procedures behind the scenes. So, you might have noticed that more grant opportunities are bunching together with common opening and closing periods. We're really trying to work towards being a little bit more predictable in terms of when grant opportunities will be released. We do try and take into consideration holiday periods. We've noted that as being a concern of the sector. But sometimes we do have to function within the bounds of when money needs to be spent. So, stemming from the MRFF Act itself, we actually do need to expend funds in a certain time period, which is different from the NHMRC. And so, that means that sometimes we do have to get money out the door, otherwise it may be lost. So, that's what we're meaning when we say that. We are working to, and a lot of progress has been made to try and get ahead on disbursement of money, which will assist us in having consistently longer opening times so that there's plenty of time to put your application together and get it in. So, you'll have noticed that there's a lot more progress has been made and hopefully it's a lot more consistent across our grant opportunities now.
You'll also have noticed that we have two different grants administration hubs, the Business Grants Hub and the NHMRC. They do have different processes, and that's just business reasons for how they run their processes. But we are doing ongoing work behind the scenes to standardise those processes and align with each other more and more. So, watch this space. We are continuing to work on that in the background.
And finally, we are working... We are setting up these continuous feedback loops that I've mentioned previously. We are listening and learning. We do receive feedback through a number of different processes, through the AMRAB's consultation process. We also seek and receive feedback from the sector, including through some structured processes, some ad hoc processes. We are observing which grant opportunities generate the most interest, which had challenges, and we do try and learn from that for the next time. We're trying to identify gaps in funding opportunities. We're scanning the environment for emerging issues and unmet needs.
And so, I just wanted to, or we all want to, reassure the sector that we are implementing these continuous feedback loops to continually listen and learn. We do have some system limitations in what we can do. For example, the Sapphire System with the NHMRC, but we do address what we can when we can, and we just want to encourage the sector that it is ongoing in many different ways.
So, I'm going to stop now. Thank you for your patience in listening to me for a long period of time. And I'm going to hand over to Misha Hutchings, who's going to take you through the managing MRFF grants section of the webinar.
Hello, I'm Misha Hutchings, Assistant Director of the Grants Management Office. Ragini Singh was unable to attend today, so I'll be talking about project reporting, variations and some upcoming changes in the post-award space. The post-award phase in the life of a grant comprises all the steps that occur once an agreement has been signed and accepted by the relevant parties. This includes managing grant agreements, which we do through the reporting and variations processes, and it also includes monitoring grantee performance as well as compliance with the agreement and relevant guidelines. Post-award management is essential because it allows both the grantee and the Department to proactively assess the progress of projects and to manage any risks and issues as they arise.
So, with project reporting, it's essential for assessing progress toward achieving the grant opportunity objectives and outcomes, to assess whether the project is on track and within budget, as well as to identify whether there is a risk to the project not meeting its objectives. We'll soon release some updated project reporting templates. We’ve aimed to make the instructions in these templates clearer and to remove duplicate questions in response to some feedback that we've received. The template should lend itself to carrying forward information from one report to the next, so the completion of the reports should become easier each time.
So, some basic tips we'd like to give you regarding what grantees should include in progress and final reports. It's important to use plain language and just tell us what's happening with the project. Things such as potential issues that you are managing, so it's not a surprise if the issue escalates later on in the project, or emerging commercialisation opportunities. Also, make sure to provide enough information to enable the Department to gauge progress against the milestones and the objectives. Don't use progress reports to request variations. We know that this has been a mechanism in the past, but what should be included in the progress reports is to outline where variations are in draft or where they've been approved and are impacting the ongoing project progress.
So, progress reports are for reporting approved research activity to date. So you should aim to submit any variation requests to the respective grant administration hub in advance of the progress report deadline so that your progress report can then focus on and include details of approved changes to the project. If you're running a little late on a progress report, just get in touch with the grant administration hub so that we can work with you to ensure that the project can continue and can achieve its objectives. Reports should also highlight newsworthy content that you'd like the Department to consider highlighting through its own publicity pathways.
As you may be aware, a new MRFF grant variation policy was launched in June of this year to create a consistent approach to project and grant agreement variations across all MRFF grants. Procedural appendices and templates will help make the request process for grantees a lot clearer, including by providing guidance on content that should be included within the request and by streamlining the submission steps.
So, what can you do to ensure that a variation request is reviewed in a timely manner and approved? One thing to do is make sure that the request is well justified. It should be framed in terms of the policy and include details and evidence that will paint the full picture of the project and allow the Department to make a decision without having to request further information. If a change of research activity or expenditure is being proposed, for example, include revisions to the related aspects of the agreement or application such as the milestones table or risk management plan, so that the full impact of the requested changes can be assessed.
Try to submit requests in advance of the proposed effective date. Now, sometimes unforeseen circumstances can prevent you from doing this. If that's the case, just submit the request as soon as possible and ensure that the request includes an explanation of the unforeseen circumstances that prevented you from submitting the variation request in advance.
With the new policy and support resources in place and requests submitted with complete information for assessment and with enough time to review and approve them prior to the effective date, we should all see a streamlining of both the request and approval processes over time. That's the hope.
So, our key aim over the next 12 months or so involves streamlining grant management processes and guidance. For NHMRC administered grants, one change the sector will see over the coming months is trying to align project reporting with financial reporting. So this is an effort to reduce requests for duplicate information and to consolidate the report completion effort. Revisions to the templates will also make the reporting process clearer and easier through the lifecycle of the grant, and as I mentioned earlier, we will release forms and procedures to support proactive, complete and timely submission of variation requests. I'll now hand over to Masha Somi for Q&A.
Thank you very much to Ruth and Sophie and Misha for the presentations. And I'll just move to the Q&A format, working through the questions that have been submitted today. So, the first question I think I can answer is about whether the session will be recorded. Yes, it will, the session's being recorded and will be made available on the MRFF website very shortly, and we'll also provide some written responses to any answers that we don't get to today, should that be the case.
I think this is a question for you, Ruth. So, this is a question with regard to including community members or consumers as chief investigators. What is the perspective of the MRFF, and is this encouraged? We've received contradictory advice from senior academics and strategists who review applications.
Good question. So, certainly we appreciate a broad and diverse group of chief investigators on your application. And certainly, in the team capability and capacity section, we want to see the best team that is positioned to deliver against that grant opportunity. So, we do value consumer representation. There is not a requirement that you have a consumer as a CI, from memory, unless I've mistaken our own guidelines. So, if it's not in the guidelines as a requirement, it's not an essential requirement, but we do value a diversity of experiences and expertise on that CI team. I'm not sure if you want to add anything to that, Masha, from your perspective.
No, I don't have anything to add. And I think it's a really good point and well raised, and it really goes to the different role that MRFF grants play and the value that's placed on the impact, particularly on consumers and health professionals. So, thank you for that response, Ruth. Another one for you, Ruth, 'cause you were talking about the assessment. Who and how are consumer reviewers... How are consumer reviewers assigned to grant assessment committees?
Another good question. So, they are predominantly done by the grants hubs. You have, much like, say, NHMRC has a list of reviewers that are suitable for reviewing different grant applications with different expertise. They do have a list of consumer representatives that they do call on for the grant assessment committee panels. In an ideal world, you'd get a perfect match between lived experience of your consumer and every grant application on a panel. But that's in reality not feasible due to the breadth of the grant opportunities, the applications to a grant opportunity that we get, but they are experienced consumer representatives. We're always looking for more and certainly looking to expand into different populations, different lived experiences. But basically, the hubs have their consumer representative lists that they draw from.
Thank you. Ruth, you're very popular today. Is there any point in including a letter of support from an organisation that is not a partner or an AI on a grant application?
So, I think as I mentioned in the presentation, what it comes back to is showing feasibility and commitment and the fact that your project has a really good, strong chance of achieving what it's setting out to achieve. So, if that letter do you think would really add significantly to that, then there's certainly no problem in including it. If they're not a named partner organisation, then there's not a requirement to include it, but if you think that it will add substantially to your application, then it can't hurt. But keeping in mind, it really needs to sort of speak to the feasibility and the chances of that project then achieving against the goals of the grant opportunity.
OK, thank you. This goes to scheduling, and, again, goes to the establish, assess and establish. So, Ruth, again for you, I think. We're very thankful for the longer lead time from grant opportunity announcement to closing. However, the closing dates are being pooled together with many grants due on the same day. This is putting enormous pressure on RAOs to deliver appropriate services to ensure eligible, compliant grants. Is there any way that closing dates could be slightly more spread out?
Oh, good, another thorny question. Look, in principle, acknowledge that it does get tough on RAOs when you've got lots of clustering of grant opportunities closing together. And yes, you're right, the burden does get put on RAOs. And I know there's not often big teams looking after a lot of grant applications. I think one of the juggles we face is trying to get the closing dates not on school holidays, ideally non-Christmas holidays, with lots of lead times, being more predictable. So, in principle, yes, it's feasible, but we also have a lot of grant opportunities that we release each year. So, I think it's one of those things to say, can I take that on board? Can I take that on notice and take it back to the policy teams and say, can you add that into the mix of how you're considering the opening and closing dates? And we can certainly work to try and make it a little bit more, even if there's like a week, if possible. But I think it's going to be impractical to have them all spread out, simply just due to the number of grant opportunities that we have that open and close at any one time.
But noted, and let's have a think about how we can add that into the mix.
Thank you, Ruth. And I think another really important consideration for those schemes is the assessment processes. So, in addition to not having the closing dates aligned with holidays and peak periods within the academic cycle, we also have to think about availability of assessors, and so we work very closely with the grant hubs who are experts in trying to manage all of those different competing interests. So we appreciate the feedback and we'll continue to look at it, acknowledging the challenges of trying to ensure that we give applicants sufficient time, and assessors sufficient time as well. Ruth, another question.
I'm too popular. (LAUGHS)
I think you are. How important are track records in different MRFF grant opportunities?
Come up with one blanket statement that covers all our grant opportunities - this will test me on the fly. So, I would come back to the aim of the track record section is - what we're trying to find is the team that will deliver against this grant opportunity. And so, the track record will actually probably look different depending on the grant opportunity. For some, if you have a basic science grant application, you probably need more basic scientists on your application, you need that kind of track record. If you're going to do an implementation science trial that's looking to implement something and embedded into practice, I don't want it to be top-heavy with academics. I want it to be top-heavy with the people who will be implementing it on the ground, potentially. So, I think it's going back to, what is the purpose of the grant opportunity, and the track record should fit that purpose of what we're trying to achieve, the outcomes and objectives of that grant opportunity. And so, it will look slightly different.
So, the actual technical weighting is about, I think it's 30% in terms of the weighted criterion, but what it looks like is actually quite key in terms of delivering against the objectives and outcomes. Does that answer the question, Masha? I got a bit carried away. I might have got a bit distracted.
I think so. And I guess that's again another quite important point of difference between us and other funders that aren't priority-led. And so, we don't really have a... The concept of track record is a bit different within the MRFF. We have a capacity, capability and resources required to deliver the project, and that's not only the skills and the experience and the backgrounds of the people, but it's the capacity and the resources that are brought to bear to deliver on that project. And so, it's a slightly different framing and a nuance.
So, Sophie, I might throw one to you. Hopefully, you can address this one. Regarding the MRFF measures of success, they refer to long-term and short-term timeframes for each. Can you indicate how short-term or long-term is?
Thank you, Masha. I can have a go. So, in the evaluation strategy, you can see that the timeframe for the evaluation for each of the initiatives differs. So, I would think that the long-term is something like, for example, for commercialisation and translation when you're talking about, you know, five years or beyond. But for shorter term then you, perhaps, are talking about three to five years. Masha, do you have anything to add?
No, I think that's great. Thank you so much, Sophie. A question for you, Ruth. Does Business Grants Hub currently provide any feedback for grant application outcomes?
Yes, so, I'm going to proviso this with, I joined the Department about six months ago, so I'm still very fresh. And so, I'm hoping I'm not going to lead you astray on this one. So, certainly, they do provide some outcomes to grant recipients, primarily related to scores from the Grant Assessment Committee. And one of the reasons that we want to keep it very consistent is... And we do, sorry, we do want to keep it very consistent across what we provide to make sure that some people don't get something and some don't get different information. So, we're trying to stick to written information, and this is a work in progress as well, but they do provide some feedback. At the moment, there is two different groups within the Business Grants Hub as well, so depending on who you're dealing with, the framing of it might look slightly different. But yes, they do provide some information, primarily around grant scores from the grant assessment.
Thank you, Ruth. And I think that's potentially an area that we could provide some more information to the sector about the provision of advice following an application being assessed. Sophie, I think you'll be able to respond to this one. Can people self-nominate to be a member of a grant assessment committee? If yes, how?
Yeah, so you can. And then NHMRC manage a process on behalf of us that, like, accepts applications from people to become GAC assessment members. So, the information is available on our website. And then if you have a problem finding them, feel free to email our inbox, which is firstname.lastname@example.org, and then we will provide you with the link.
Thank you, Sophie. Just a comment before I move to the next question. Feedback to applicants is essential to ensure future project planning and grant applications can be improved. This is particularly important for early career researchers. A move to see further feedback would be greatly appreciated. And this could be a question for you, Sophie. With regards to the priorities, the Australian Medical Research and innovation priorities, when there is more than one priority, does a proposal have to map to all of the priorities?
The proposal doesn't need to map to all the priorities, but feel free to map to any relevant priorities, which could be one or two or three, and then that will actually contribute to the consideration of the overall value of the research. But definitely, you don't need to map to all of them, just whatever is relevant.
Thank you. So, Misha, I'm not sure if you're best placed for this one. If not, just let me know. We are increasingly and appropriately have consumers as associate investigators, best practice to provide remuneration to consumers for their time. However, the guidelines explicitly state that associate investigators cannot receive salary. Can you confirm that remuneration would not be in contradiction with the rules?
Let's see. So, remuneration for consumers or for associate investigators. So, I think I can pretty clearly state that if a consumer advisor or representative of consumer is included as an associate investigator on an application that's administered by the NHMRC, then they would not be able to receive remuneration. The only way to do that would be to include them within the... as an unnamed role within the grant budget and then select a salary for them through the budget portion of the application. But as long as they're named in the system as an associate investigator, they're unable to receive salary.
Thank you, Misha. And I guess, that's the complication, is we're able to have the support... the contribution of consumers as direct research costs. That's the delineation that Misha's making there, is the difference whether they're recorded as associate investigators or had their time and contribution reflected through direct research costs. I'm not sure if anyone will know the answer. It's quite technical. Misha, you may be best placed for this one. Are grant monies taxed in the hands of grantees, or is there some sort of standing exemption, i.e. so that grant monies are not taxed as income in the hands of grantees?
I think it's flung to me, but I don't have the answer to that.
OK, that might be one that we take on notice, unless there's somebody with knowledge of tax arrangements. Ruth, I might put this one to you, and I'm not sure if there's a straight answer. The implementation plan submissions are great and help facilitate the best possible solutions to health issues in Australia by enabling earlier planning for grant opportunities. Is it possible for some of the other initiatives to also develop and release implementation plans of a similar structure? Obviously, it's not possible for initiatives such as emerging priorities, but say, for example, Preventative and Public Health?
That's a great idea. It's certainly something that I'm keen to do for my initiatives, and there have been some discussions across the Department thinking that would be good. There's a couple of limitations to that. As you say, we can't do it for all of them because then we would lose our capacity to be flexible and responsive depending on emerging priorities and needs. But certainly, I think some of the schemes would lend themselves well. So, can I say, thank you, that's a really good suggestion. We'd love to offer a little bit more predictability to the sector, and that's partly what we're trying to do with a lot of these documents that are now being published online. But let me take that on board and see how we could maybe factor that into our planning moving forward.
Thank you. And I think we're right on 3:00 o’clock. So, thank you, everyone, for your attendance today. Here are some opportunities for keeping connected with the Medical Research Future Fund. If you've got any other questions, please send them through to email@example.com. We'll be collecting all of the unanswered questions from today's presentation and providing summary response on our website along with the video of the recording of today's session. And I would just like to thank you all very much for your time.
On 4 August 2022 we hosted a webinar on the MRFF for research administration officers. Topics included:
- MRFF research administration officer webinars
- phases of the MRFF grant lifecycle
- the MRFF Act 2015, Strategies and Priorities
- selecting and establishing MRFF grants
- managing MRFF grants
- questions and answers
- keep connected.
Read the webinar presentation