FWO's Reviewer's Corner

FWO Call for Fundamental Research Projects

FWO - ESF-Science Connect Partnership

Since 2012, ESF-Science Connect (ESF-SC) has partnered with funding organisations, universities and international programmes for the scientific assessment of research proposals and fellowship applications submitted in the context of competitive calls for funding (http://www.esf.org/scientific-support/research-grant-evaluation/). Since 2016, ESF-SC has processed more than 7,000 projects and applications. When implementing its assessment process, ESF-SC strictly follows core principles to ensure its robustness, in particular those of Excellence, Impartiality and Integrity.

FWO is entrusting ESF-SC to contribute to the scientific assessment of applications submitted to the calls. In doing so, ESF-SC is identifying and appointing two expert reviewers per application. Expert reviewers have the required expertise to provide an informed opinion on the scientific merit of the applicants and their research projects. It has to be noted that the identification, appointment and coordination of reviewers is an independent process fully implemented by ESF without any external intervention. 
ESF will consider the two assessment reports to be provided as a whole and not only as the juxtaposition of the individual assessments. As such, the disciplinary perimeter of the evaluations will coincide with the disciplinary coverage of the proposal considered. This is particularly important for inter- or multi-disciplinary proposals for which complementary assessments covering all the disciplinary aspects will be sought. 

The 1 348 submitted applications are to be assessed by two specialists in the relevant domain(s).

The assessment reports will be checked for quality by ESF-SC scientific staff; this may require some editing and typo correcting but also some interaction with the reviewers on the actual content of the report. Once validated, the assessment reports will be provided to FWO. 

What’s Next? FWO - Selection process

The eligibility check of the applications is conducted by FWO. Eligibility conditions are described here: www.fwo.be/en/fellowships-funding/research-projects/junior-and-senior-research-projects/

During the external evaluation process implemented by ESF-SC, each application will also be assessed by two panel members from an FWO’s expert panel: www.fwo.be/en/the-fwo/organisation/fwo-expertpanels/. These two evaluation processes will run independently.

Applicants will then have the opportunity to react to the comments of the external referees (ESF) and FWO panel members (rebuttal). FWO Expert panels will evaluate applications taking into account the external and internal reviews, and rebuttal. The expert panels will report to the board of trustees which will take the final decision. Feedback will be provided to applicants after the panel meetings have taken place. 

Results will be announced in December 2020. Successful applicants will start their projects from 1st January 2021.



Reviewers are to evaluate the scientific capacity of the research group and the scientific quality of the application and express their opinions in an assessment form filled online. The assessment will be based on the three evaluation criteria below (80 words minimum/criterion).  All aspects of the application should be taken into consideration. The three evaluation criteria have to be graded from A+ (highest grade) to D (lowest grade).

1. Scientific capacity, track record and collaboration of the research group

This criterion assesses to what extent the applicants have the necessary competences and infrastructure to implement the proposed research project. This criterion also assesses to what extent the individual applicants, taking into account their scientific seniority, have made important contributions to the state-of-the-art in their respective domains.

2. The project

2.a Scientific quality, relevance of the research project & originality
An FWO research project must make an important contribution to the current international state-of-the-art. To what extent is the proposal original and will it generate knowledge that goes beyond the state-of-the-art (e.g., novel theories, innovative concepts or approaches, new methods, …)?

2.b Quality of the research approach and feasibility of the project
To what extent is the proposed research approach appropriate to achieve the goals laid down in the research project? To what extent is the outlined scientific approach feasible, bearing in mind the project duration of four years? Feasibility also includes an assessment of whether adequate staffing (profile (PhD, postdoc, technicians) and required consumables/equipment) are requested, and whether a good estimation of the workload has been made.


Maximum size of the scientific core of the proposal is 10-15 pages long, including graphs, tables, illustrations. It is accompanied by CVs of applicants and supervisor-spokespersons, and administrative forms. 


The ESF wishes to ensure that the highest standards of integrity are observed in the evaluation service. To ensure the high standards of integrity in all processes, the ESF has developed conflict of interest guidelines which are targeted to cases of real or potentially perceived vested interests, which inevitably affect external reviewers from time to time. An interest may be defined as where a person may benefit either financially, professionally or personally by the success or failure of a proposal

Before submitting a written evaluation, experts will be requested to check whether circumstances exist that could be interpreted as a conflict of interest and complete a confidentiality agreement and conflict of interest declaration. 

Experts should inform the ESF-SC office immediately of any possible reservations so that the office and the evaluator can determine together whether the participation in the review process is appropriate.

According to the FWO guidelines, reviewers present a conflict of interest if they were partners of the applicant(s) in a research cooperation, whether formalised in a research project or not, that has been applied for or running after 1st January 2017. In this context, the following shall in any case qualify as research cooperation (non-exhaustive list):

  • cooperation under a research fellowship, granted by the FWO;
  • cooperation under a research project, whether relating to a specific subject or not or under an international cooperation project, granted by the FWO;
  • cooperation under the Odysseus programme or the Big Science programme, granted by the FWO;
  • cooperation under a Scientific Research Network, granted by the FWO;
  • cooperation under programmes similar to those mentioned above, granted by organisations other than the FWO;
  • joint research work not formalised in a cooperation structure as defined above;
  • research carried out in the research areas and/or with research facilities provided by the applicant to the reviewer or vice versa;

In addition to the elements above, the following situations are also considered to represent a conflict of interest:

  • members of the Board of Trustees of the FWO;
  • members of an FWO Expert Panel;
  • persons appointed to a Belgian university, research institute or any other organisation; 
  • in the case of calls for proposals in the framework of bilateral or lead agency agreements, persons appointed to similar institutions or organisations in the country where the foreign project partner is professionally active;
  • any co-authors with the applicants of a publication that was submitted or published after 1st  January 2017, unless the total number of authors is greater than 10. 
    Please note that 'Co-authorship' is understood as follows:
    • co-authorship of a monograph of which the applicant is also a co-author;
    • co-authorship of an article or another type of contribution to a collection (book, journal issue, report, conference proceedings, abstract,...) of which the applicant is also a co-author;
    • Editors are not be regarded as co-authors insofar as they have not also acted in what is understood under 'co-author' as described above. Co-editors of an applicant is not accepted as a reviewer. 

In addition to the elements above, ESF-SC will also consider as conflict of interest the following situations:

  • Relatives;
  • Teacher/student relationship, unless independent scientific activity of more than 3 years exists;
  • Dependent relationship in employment during the past 3 years.

If reviewers are unsure about a potential CoI situation, they are kindly asked to describe such a situation to ESF-SC which will confirm whether it is a CoI and therefore grant (or deny) access to the proposal.