Formas is tasked with promoting research for a sustainable society within the fields of environment, agricultural sciences and spatial planning. Projects that are funded should be of the highest scientific quality and Formas should work to support and facilitate that results from the projects are used in society.
Every year, Formas grants just over 1.8 billion Swedish kronor in funding for various projects. About one third of this funding goes to projects through so-called researcher initiated calls that we announce annually. The other two thirds of the funding goes to targeted calls that we announce both nationally and internationally as well as to co-funded research.
Principles for Formas’ funding activities
The agency mainly carries out its funding remit by announcing grant competitions. Following a funding call, Formas must assess the quality of the project proposals received and select the projects to be funded. The selection process must be designed to ensure that projects with the highest quality and potential to benefit society are funded.
Formas designs the assessment and selection process that follows a call based on several fundamental principles. These principles are developed according to internationally agreed standards for the review of research and innovation applications*.
For certain funding calls, the agency cooperates with other funding organisations in Sweden and globally; in those cases, the call, assessment and selection processes can be managed by one of our partners. During such cooperation, Formas is required to participate in the call’s design and in the assessment and selection process in consultation with the other funders. The inputs Formas brings to the collaboration are based on the principles described below.
An application must be assessed by experts in the field that the application addresses. For this purpose, the agency recruits experts based on the qualifications required to assess the applications received and meet the procedural requirements of a call. In light of Formas’ task to fund research and innovation of the highest quality and to promote real-world impact, the agency uses both scientific experts and experts from other sectors such as the public sector, the business sector or civil society. The type of expertise recruited for the assessment is adapted to the purpose and objectives of the call and the assessment criteria applied in the call. Research questions and scientific criteria must always be assessed by experts who themselves hold doctorates and are qualified in the disciplines an application relates to. Questions and criteria that relate to other parts of Formas’ remit, such as societal relevance, innovation and impact, must be assessed by experts who have a solid understanding and qualifications related to these considerations.
The assessment must be based on established criteria, and the experts must be instructed on the scope of their task and the carrying out of the assessment process.
The agency must openly announce all funding calls. The purpose of each call and which applicants are qualified to apply for funding must be clearly described in the information provided about the call. The information must also describe how the assessment and selection process will be carried out and what assessment criteria will be applied. Following a decision on the awarding of funds, Formas communicates the outcome of the decision to all applicants.
Formas intends to openly publish data on how its funds are invested in research and innovation. After each call, the agency publishes information summarising the number of applications, the number of individuals and projects awarded funding, and the participants in the assessment process. Information on funded projects is transferred to SweCRIS, a nationwide database that shows how Swedish funding organisations distribute their funds to different recipients.
The agency’s funding decisions must be grounded in impartial assessments of quality and societal relevance. To this end, Formas has clearly defined guidelines in place for managing conflicts of interest. Examples of situations in which an expert cannot be considered to be completely impartial include direct or indirect financial interests, personal interests or hostility. Experts who are biased or involved in circumstances that can be viewed as biased by an outside party are prohibited from assessing an application for which the conflict of interest applies. They also do not participate in discussions about the application and must leave the meeting where such discussions are taking place. Experts are encouraged to report a conflict of interest at any time during the assessment and selection process as soon as it is detected. Events involving a conflict of interest are documented on an ongoing basis.
Formas’ rules on conflict of interest also apply to its employees and governing bodies. The employees in charge of a call must not process an application if there are circumstances that make them biased or that can be viewed as biased by an outside party. Decisions about an application must also not be taken by persons who show bias, or can be considered to show bias by an outside party, to persons or organisations in the application.
Formas must regularly train both employees and experts in managing conflicts of interest. Formas also takes measures to enable employees and experts to identify and manage unconscious bias. Such situations can include preconceived conclusions about an applicant’s competence and ability based on factors like gender, age, ethnicity, academic affiliation and more.
Formas’ assessment and selection process must be appropriately designed and take into account the scope and complexity of the call. The selection must be based on expert assessments, but the selection process can be adapted for the different calls. The purpose and objectives of a call, timeframe, expected applicant pool, total budget for the call, and budget expected to be allocated per project guide the assessment and selection process design. The process can be carried out in one or more steps, with complementary interviews, based on highest-ranking projects, with a spread among high-quality projects by subject area. The design must ensure that projects of the highest quality capable of making a real-world impact are funded while ensuring that resources in terms of cost and time do not exceed what is proportionate to the call’s budget and scope.
Formas is a government agency that is subject to the Public Access to Information and Secrecy Act (2009:400). This means that all documents received by the agency, including applications for research and innovation funding, are public documents and must be disclosed on request. Information that complies with the requirements of Chapter 30, Section 23(1) and Chapter 21, Sections 1 and 7 of the Act, however, must be classified and all applications are therefore assessed for confidentiality prior to disclosure.
Formas has extensive cooperation with funding organisations abroad in order to give Swedish researchers the opportunity to be involved in transnational research and innovation partnerships. In other countries, a project idea or information about intangible assets and intellectual property submitted in funding applications is often considered confidential information that requires protection. To avoid damaging the agency’s and Sweden’s intergovernmental relations regarding research and innovation, Formas applies secrecy in relation to a foreign state according to Chapter 15, Section 1 of the Act for applications and information received by the agency within the framework of international cooperation.
The experts’ assessment of an application must be frank and objective. In order to ensure that a completely honest assessment is made, the experts have a duty of professional secrecy regarding assessments and the discussions about applications that result in a final position on the quality of the applications. Furthermore, to exclude the possibility of influencing the experts’ assessment, the identities of the experts are published only after an award decision is taken, and not during the assessment period. Information about the composition of the review panel as a whole is published, but not the names of the individuals who reviewed a specific application.
As a government agency, Formas is accountable to the public for all work that it carries out as well as for how it is carried out. The agency’s employees and persons recruited for specific tasks are accountable to the agency. Personal considerations or preferences must not lead to biased assessments of cases related to the assessment or to award decisions for research and innovation grants. Assessments must be formulated in a factual and fair manner and must, as objectively as possible, state the merits and weaknesses of an application. Anyone involved in Formas’ assessment and selection process must show respect for the applicant and their work. Condescending statements and unsubstantiated statements in written or oral form are forbidden.
Research and innovation activities funded by Formas must comply with applicable laws and regulations, and members of Formas’ various bodies must strive to ensure that research and innovation is conducted in an ethically acceptable manner.
Formas’ starting point is that research and innovation must be conducted by people who hold the best qualifications. No other circumstances should affect an assessment of the capacity to carry out the idea presented in an application. Therefore, Formas works continuously to counteract both conscious and unconscious bias based on an applicant’s gender, age or other hierarchical structures.
The agency continuously works to achieve gender equality in the research and innovation system. Formas aims to ensure that both women and men have equal chances to be awarded funding in its calls. The agency’s review panels must therefore have a 60/40 balance in terms of gender. Formas also follows the gender balance of the applicant in the call in relation to the proposed grant recipients following an assessment in order to identify whether factors other than the applicant’s qualifications affected the outcome of an assessment and selection process.