Directing research funds to the right research projects: A review of criteria used by research organisations in Australia in prioritising health research projects for funding

Publication Type:
Journal Article
BMJ Open, 2018, 8 (12)
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© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2018. Objectives Healthcare budgets are limited, and therefore, research funds should be wisely allocated to ensure high-quality, useful and cost-effective research. We aimed to critically review the criteria considered by major Australian organisations in prioritising and selecting health research projects for funding. Methods We reviewed all grant schemes listed on the Australian Competitive Grants Register that were health-related, active in 2017 and with publicly available selection criteria on the funders' websites. Data extracted included scheme name, funding organisation, selection criteria and the relative weight assigned to each criterion. Selection criteria were grouped into five representative domains: Relevance, appropriateness, significance, feasibility (including team quality) and cost-effectiveness (ie, value for money). Results Thirty-six schemes were included from 158 identified. One-half of the schemes were under the National Health and Medical Research Council. The most commonly used criteria were research team quality and capability (94%), research plan clarity (94%), scientific quality (92%) and research impact (92%). Criteria considered less commonly were existing knowledge (22%), fostering collaboration (22%), research environment (19%), value for money (14%), disease burden (8%) and ethical/moral considerations (3%). In terms of representative domains, relevance was considered in 72% of the schemes, appropriateness in 92%, significance in 94%, feasibility in 100% and cost-effectiveness in 17%. The relative weights for the selection criteria varied across schemes with 5%-30% for relevance, 20%-60% for each appropriateness and significance, 20%-75% for feasibility and 15%-33% for cost-effectiveness. Conclusions In selecting research projects for funding, Australian research organisations focus largely on research appropriateness, significance and feasibility; however, value for money is most often overlooked. Research funding decisions should include an assessment of value for money in order to maximise return on research investment.
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