How Formas processes your application
The mandate of Formas
Formas is a governmental research council with a focus on sustainability. It is the mandate of Formas to fund and support basic and needs-driven research within the areas of Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning. The research must be of relevance to the sustainable development of society and must be of the highest scientific quality.
In Formas calls researchers apply for grant funding in competition. The calls are divided into two main categories:
1. the annual open call within the areas of responsibility of Formas and
2. thematically focussed calls.
Please note that the evaluation process in joint calls with other funding organisations, national or international, might differ from the process described below.
Factual and impartial evaluation
Formas evaluates applications in accordance with the instructions and stipulations stated in the respective call announcement texts.
Applications are evaluated for scientific quality according to three criteria:
1. research question
2. methods and performance
3. scientific competence
and two criteria for societal relevance:
1. potential societal value of the research topic and
2. communication of the research to stakeholders/users.
All criteria must be clearly described in the application. It is important that the applicant describes the relevance the research project can have for society, both nationally and internationally, over both the short and long-term. It is only the information provided in the application that is evaluated.
All criteria are of equal importance. The overall evaluation of the application is made with no predetermined weighting of the five criteria. In addition to these criteria there may be additional criteria in the thematically focussed calls. In such cases this will be stated in the respective call announcement text.
Discrimination in the evaluation of the applications, for example on the basis of gender, is not allowed. The scientific quality and relevance of applications take precedence over equality aspects, but when applications are assessed to be of equal quality preference will be given to the minority gender.
Who evaluates the applications?
International evaluation panels assess the applications. Members of the evaluation panels are either active researchers or users of the research results who are qualified to assess the potential societal benefit. Researchers comprise the majority. The different groups have the expert knowledge required to evaluate the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, health and engineering sciences within the responsibility areas of Formas. The groups also have the competence to evaluate multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research.
All of the members of the evaluation panels have the responsibility to report conflicts of interest and, on their own initiative, report any circumstances that could be believed to influence their opinions. If there is a conflict of interest the panel member cannot participate in the processing and evaluation of that particular application and must leave the meeting room when that application is discussed. A conflict of interest proceedings report must be written at the evaluation panel meeting.
The Formas Scientific Council makes strategic decisions about calls to announce the availability of research grant funding and about the formal decisions to award funding to different research projects. The evaluation panels rank the applications in the respective groups and this then provides the basis for the decision of the Scientific Council on which projects will be awarded funding. The Scientific Council consists of the Chairperson, Formas Director General and eleven additional members. The Scientific Council is appointed by the Swedish Government and elected by representatives of universities and university colleges.
Budget allocation within the Annual Open Call
The total Formas budget for the annual open call determines what proportion of the applications submitted can be awarded grant funding. The budget is allocated among the ten evaluation panels on the basis of the number of applications that have been submitted in each respective evaluation panel category.
The evaluation panels assess the applications according to the following specific criteria:
Criteria for Scientific Quality
1. Research question
- Scientific significance of the objectives of the research.
- Originality and novelty of the purpose, theory and hypotheses.
- Possibility of significant scientific results.
- Objectives consistent with the call.
- Multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches must be regarded as being advantageous when appropriate for the research topic.
- Equality and gender, or other critical perspectives, must be included in the research topic whenever relevant.
2. Methods and performance
- Feasibility and suitability of the scientific methods.
- Innovativeness of the methods.
- Specific and realistic work plan.
- Specific and realistic plan for scientific publication and dissemination of information.
- Coordination of the project and the research group.
- Suitability of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach.
- Ethical considerations
- Feasibility of the budget in relation to the structure of the project and the anticipated results.
- The feasibility and suitability of scientific methods must primarily be considered.
3. Scientific competence
- Scientific quality of the publications.
- Ability to carry out the project according to the project plan.
- Experience of supervision of younger researchers (postdoctoral and doctoral students, as well as degree project students for applicants who are young researchers themselves).
- Experience of project leadership.
- National and international activities, including projects, networks, commissions, honorary commissions, participation in or organisation of workshops and conferences.
- Interest in, experience and ability to disseminate research and research results to stakeholders/users.
- Strength and competitiveness of the research group.
- The quality of the scientific publications must be assessed, taking into account the standards within each scientific field.
- When several researchers collaborate the scientific competence of the individual researchers and the collective scientific competence of the group is assessed.
- For Mobility Starting Grants the strength and competitiveness of the research environment at both the home and the host university must be assessed.
Criteria for societal relevance
1. Potential societal value of the research topic
- The research topic addresses important social/sectoral issues within the focus areas of the call (all of the responsibility areas of Formas in the Annual Open Call), nationally and/or internationally.
- The project can, over a short-term or long-term perspective, contribute to sustainable development nationally and/or internationally.
- Stakeholder/end-user needs have been taken into account in the design of the project.
- The objectives are consistent with the call.
- Taking into account stakeholder/end-user needs can include reference to, for example, directives, environmental goals, global sustainability targets and strategies, as well as discussion with relevant stakeholders/end-users.
2. Communication with stakeholders/users
- Description of relevant stakeholders/users.
- Specific and realistic plan for the involvement of relevant stakeholders/users in the project and for the communication of the research and its results to these parties.
- Stakeholders/users must be regarded in a broad sense as actors outside and/or sometimes also within the scientific community (depending on whether the project has a more basic research or applied research character), nationally as well as internationally, who can benefit from the research results or facilitate the future use of the results in society.
- Communication with stakeholders/users may take different forms and have different time scales depending on the research topic addressed, but should include different forms of dialogue with stakeholders and potential users of the research and the research results. Support to address the criterion for communication.
How is the evaluation process carried out?
Initial check of the application
Formas checks every application submitted to make sure that it is within Formas areas of responsibility and within the framework of the call. Applications that do not fulfil these criteria are rejected. An application may also be rejected if it contains formal errors or is incomplete, i.e. lacks the information required in the application form or appendices. It is the Formas Secretary General who makes decisions about rejection. More information about reasons for rejection of an application can also be found in the Formas General Guidelines.
Assessment of the competence of the evaluation panel
All members of the evaluation panels report their competence to assess each of the applications to be reviewed by the evaluation panel and state any potential conflict of interest. Competence to review the applications is made using a three level scale:
3 = higher competence
2 = medium competence
1 = lower competence
Reviewers are assigned to evaluate every application
Formas usually appoints four reviewers for each application. The reviewers must be panel members with the competence to evaluate the application in question. One of the reviewers is appointed as the rapporteur. The rapporteur is responsible for a summary presentation of the application at the evaluation panel meeting and for compiling the written opinion statement of the evaluation panel.
External reviewers are used in cases where not enough panel members have sufficient competence to review an application. These may be members of another Formas evaluation panel or may be entirely independent experts. The application is still reviewed by four members of the review panel, but the assessment of the external reviewer or reviewers is used as a guide. When an external review is carried out, points and a written assessment are made for each of the review criteria. The Formas principles concerning conflict of interest (see More about managing conflict of interest below) also apply to external reviewers.
The applications are points scored
The reviewers evaluate the applications they have been allocated and points score these according to the evaluation criteria for scientific quality and societal relevance. They also write a comments summary describing the strengths and weaknesses of each application. These comments are mandatory and are used to facilitate discussions at the evaluation panel meeting and to assist the rapporteur in preparing the opinion statement. The points allocated by the individual panel members and the written comments are the working material of the panel and are not communicated to the applicant. For each of the evaluation criteria the evaluation panel members allocate points according to the following scale:
7 – Outstanding. The application successfully addresses all relevant aspects of the criterion in question. Shortcomings are insignificant.
6 – Excellent. The application successfully addresses all relevant aspects of the criterion in question. Shortcomings are minor.
5 – Very good. The application addresses the criterion very well, but with some notable shortcoming.
4 – Good. The application addresses the criterion well, but with several notable shortcomings.
3 – Acceptable. The application broadly addresses the criterion, but there are considerable weaknesses.
2 – Poor. The application addresses the criterion in an inadequate manner, or there are serious inherent weaknesses.
1 – Insufficient. The application fails to address the criterion under examination or cannot be judged due to missing or incomplete information.
Evaluation panel meeting
Each evaluation panel meets to discuss and rank the applications in order of merit. The points allocated by the individual panel members and the written comments are used as a starting point for the panel group discussion. This provides the basis for the panel's collective final ranking and opinion statement.
The applications in the Annual Open Call are ranked at the panel group meeting according to the different types of grants available:
- Research and Development Projects
- Research and Development Projects for Future Research Leaders
- Mobility Starting Grants for Young Scientists
Collective review panel statement
Each project leader receives a written report containing the collective assessment of the application by the review panel. The collective statement reports the assessment in terms of:
- The points score for each criteria.
- The overall points score.
- A written comments summary.
More information about the composition of the evaluation panels and their work
Evaluation panel members
For the Formas Annual Open Call the members of the evaluation panels are appointed on an annual basis. Each member of a panel can participate for a maximum of four years. For thematically focussed calls an evaluation panel is appointed that has the competence to assess the subject area in question.
The Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, with the support of Formas, are responsible for ensuring that the work of the evaluation panels is carried out in accordance with Formas' general mandate, conflict of interest policy, guidelines for evaluation of applications and good ethical practice in general. The Deputy Chairperson acts as Chairperson if the Chairperson is not able to lead the work.
Terms of appointment
It is possible to be a Formas Annual Open Call evaluation panel member for a continuous period of four years. The appointment of panel members is however revised each year. The Chairperson may serve for an additional one year term. When five years have elapsed after a previously concluded term, a person may again be appointed as a member of a conventional Formas evaluation panel. It is the intention of Formas that the members of the evaluation panels should be replaced successively, so that only a minority of panel members are replaced each year.
Guidelines for the composition of Formas evaluation panels
- The evaluation panels comprise a Chairperson, a Deputy Chairperson and a suitable number of panel members for the call. By suitable is meant the number of panel members necessary to satisfy the breadth of competence required for assessing the applications submitted in response to the call. The Chairperson does not review the applications.
- The panel members have the mandate to assess both the scientific quality and the relevance within the responsibility areas of Formas.
- The Chairperson is a researcher who has professorial level or equivalent competence, has a broad knowledge of the subject area, has experience of strategic work and has insight into the societal value of the research from a sustainable development perspective.
- The appointed Deputy Chairperson is a representative of the users of the research results. The Deputy Chairperson must have a broad knowledge of the user value and societal value of the research from a sustainable development perspective, as well as having significant experience of strategic work.
- The majority of panel members are active researchers, within or outside of Sweden, who have been selected to become members of the evaluation panels primarily because of their competence to assess the scientific quality of the applications. The researchers must have a broad knowledge of the subject area, at or equivalent to senior lecturer/associate professor level, and must be able to work strategically.
- A minority of panel members are users who have been selected to become members of the evaluation panels primarily because of their competence to assess the relevance with the Formas areas of responsibility. They may be active within or outside of Sweden.
- The users should have documented experience of research, e.g. by possessing a doctoral degree, previous reviewer experience or strategic development experience. The users must have an overview of the short-term and long-term needs of society and have experience of strategic work.
- The evaluation panel as a whole must be able to assess applications within the entire subject area spanned by the applications allocated to the panel, i.e. the panel must have a subject-wide coverage and be able to evaluate basic research and needs-driven research, as well as user and societal benefit. The final decision regarding the composition of the evaluation panels is not made until the applications have been received. If necessary, external expert reviewers may be recruited to supplement the competence of the evaluation panels.
- Each evaluation panel must have an equal gender distribution with each gender having at least 40 per cent representation.
- The Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson in the Formas evaluation panels must as a whole constitute an equal gender distribution.
More about managing conflict of interest
All of the reviewers involved in evaluating applications on behalf of Formas must read the Formas Ethical Policy before embarking on their assigned task. Applications made by review panel members may not be evaluated by that review panel, regardless of whether the applicant has the role of project leader or another participatory role. If a panel member wishes to submit a grant application to Formas and no other relevant review panel exists, that review panel member will be replaced. Review panel members must notify Formas as soon as possible of the possibility that they may intend to submit an application.
A fundamental requirement of the work carried out by the review panels is impartiality. Provisions governing conflict of interest can be found in sections 11 and 12 of “The Administrative Procedures Act” (1986:23). Conflict of interest is regarded to exist in the following instances:
- The matter concerns the panel member or a person close to the panel member, or the outcome of the matter can be expected to result in significant advantage or disadvantage for the panel member or a person close to the panel member.
- The panel member or a person close to the panel member is a representative of, or works at, the same department or company as the applicant, or is a representative of another party for whom the outcome of the matter may result in significant advantage or disadvantage.
- The panel member has a current or recently concluded collaboration with the applicant. There is also conflict of interest if any other particular circumstance exists that may influence the credibility that a panel member is impartial in the matter. Examples of such circumstances are friendship, rivalry or financial dependence.
Members of the evaluation panels are obligated to take into account and notify conflict of interest and on their own initiative report if there may be any circumstances that may be regarded to influence their opinions. If conflict of interest exists the panel member must not participate in processing and reviewing the application in question and must leave the meeting room during discussions concerning the application. A conflict of interest proceedings report is written at the evaluation panel meeting.