Science and innovation funding

Developing more effective and equitable science and innovation funding processes

Why it matters

Science and innovation are the engines behind economic growth and prosperity. This is why it is worrying that recent trends suggest that the current approach to S&I funding is not up to the task. The traditional funding model has been shown to be excessively burdensome for both applicants and funders, and potentially biased against certain groups or more disruptive proposals, potentially missing the most innovative and impactful ideas.

There are, for example, many areas where changes could be made to make selection processes more effective, efficient and equitable. And the emerging evidence demonstrates that even small changes in processes can have large impacts. IGL is working with partners to develop experiments and undertake data analysis to test how funding processes could be optimised, reducing biases, increasing diversity, and supporting high-impact high-risk projects.

Our work and impact

IGL has a range of past, current and planned projects within the theme of optimising science and innovation funding processes. This work kicked off with early exploratory projects we did together with our IGL government partners, building on a partners’ working group set up to share and develop ideas.

For example, IGL helped FFG, the Austrian Innovation Agency and an IGL Partner, to examine data from their funding competitions and develop a number of new ideas for tweaks that might optimise their processes. Two of these ideas were further refined during the Taftie Experiment task force and piloted through “shadow experiments” (where the alternative assessment process is undertaken in parallel to the official process without having an impact in decisions). Another idea became the basis for a more substantial field experiment, the EU-funded “FeedFirst” project that IGL also supported, looking at the impact of changing the way feedback is provided to funding applicants. 

In parallel, we also collaborate with the Research on Research Institute (RORI), a global consortium bringing together some of the largest science funders in the world. Together with them, we produced the Experimental Research Funder’s Handbook, which provides suggestions, examples and guides for how to design and implement experiments with funding processes. 

In 2020 we collaborated with NASA to explore how its SBIR’s operations might be made more effective through the adoption of a culture of systematic experimentation. We also teamed up with Challenge Works to experiment with the scoring process used to rank the best solutions to tough societal challenges, developing a score normalisation process that controlled for differences in judges’ “leniency”.

We are also working with the European Innovation Council (EIC) to extract value from the data it collates to improve its impact, mapping data-prone problem-spaces at the EIC, developing data pilots using cutting-edge approaches, and facilitating peer-learning.

We are exploring a number of new projects and are always looking for further opportunities to work with policymakers, funders and researchers.

Key resources