Why I’ve decided to publish a recently rejected grant application

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-08-00-37In February this year, I submitted a research grant application to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The aim of the project was to develop, implement and evaluate an innovative set of reporting guidelines for social policy research. I was a bit nervous of course, as the project was quite large, complex and ambitious. But I was also very confident that the project was relevant (given the amount of evidence about the inconsistent quality of social policy evaluation reports) and thoroughly planned. I was very proud to lead a consortium including great research institutions: the London School of Economics, the University of York, Loughborough University and Simetrica Ltd. I’d like to use this opportunity to thank my co-investigators: Sarah Blower, Lisa Holmes, Daniel Fujiwara and Ricky Lawton and consultants Howard White and Larissa Shamseer. The project also involved Penelope Research and Sense About Science.

Last month, I got an e-mail from ESRC informing me that the grant application had not been graded highly enough to merit funding. I’m not going to list the project’s strengths and weaknesses here – it’s not my point (but please do get in touch if you want the juicy bits). In the weeks following the notification, I’ve had all sorts of emotions including anger, disappointment, paranoia, hopelessness, cynicism, etc. It’s tough to be an early career researcher these days!

Now that I’ve made my peace with it, I’ve decided to publish the central part of the research proposal, namely the ‘Case for Support’. There are many reasons for this, including:
(1) The fact that I’m still proud of it – if not of the outcome, at least of the attempt;
(2) Researchers interested in reporting guidelines might build on this failed attempt to design a better product/project for the benefit of us all;
(3) They might even contact me or my co-investigators/consultants to be part of their team or get advice;
(4) Publishing unsuccessful research proposals is in line with the ethics of science: results must be published and widely shared with the scientific community to maximise and speed-up learning/innovation;
(5) Failing is an inherent part of the research/development/innovation process. It’s a great learning opportunity.
(6) It can still be good for CV building (now I know how to write an ESRC research grant application).

The Case for Support is available on my Open Science Framework. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch and share this post if you too think that research proposals should be published, regardless of their outcome.

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