Can you tell us briefly about FWF funding programmes and what makes FWF unique in the Austrian research funding landscape ?
The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) is Austria's central funding organization for basic research. The purpose of the FWF is to support the ongoing development of Austrian science and basic research at a high international level. In this way, the FWF makes a significant contribution to cultural development, to the advancement of our knowledge-based society, and thus to the creation of value and wealth in Austria.
Clusters of Excellence (COE) are the first of three pillars of the excellent=austria funding initiative to strengthen Austria’s position as a top location for research within the international scientific community. The dimension and scope of the research conducted in a cluster go far beyond what was previously possible within the FWF’s existing program portfolio.
COEs enable groups of researchers at Austrian research institutions to achieve outstanding cooperative research results (including arts-based research) in one area or interdisciplinarily and to firmly establish this research area in Austria in the long term at a top international level. COEs thus play a central role in shaping and strengthening core research areas at the participating research institutions.
How does FWF stay ahead in the dynamic research assessment landscape ?
The FWF is involved in various working groups and platforms that put current evaluation procedures to the test and discuss or try out new formats. The FWF strives to test innovative review formats in programmes that lend themselves to new approaches based on the specific programme objectives.
For example, in the 1000 Ideas Programme, which focuses on exceptional ideas and high-risk research, the FWF uses a random selection procedure when it is no longer possible to distinguish between projects on the basis of excellent scientific quality, but the budget is not sufficient for all fundable projects. Here, too, we are in close exchange with other funding organisations that follow this path.
How did partnering with ESF-Science Connect support FWF in achieving its goals for the COE programme ?
The COE programme brings together large groups of researchers at Austrian research institutions. At the same time, FWF funding decisions are made in the FWF Board, where researchers from Austrian research institutions are also represented. Due to the large number of people involved at the research institutions and on the FWF Board, the FWF has decided to externalise the review process to the ESF in order to ensure that transparency and the rules regarding conflicts of interest can be complied with without any problems.
Why did you choose ESF-SC to support you with your evaluation processes? And how has this impacted your organisation ?
It was an unusual step for the FWF to hand over part of its core acitvity to another organisation. However, the above considerations convinced us that this was the best way to implement a transparent decision-making process with the same high scientific evaluation quality.
What aspects of the ESF-SC support did you appreciate the most ?
The cooperation with the ESF was very straightforward and goal-oriented, and flexible when it came to implementing our premises and specifications within the framework of the COE review. Most applicants were satisfied, but there were also a few critical voices that questioned the competence of the reviewers. However, from the FWF's perspective, this is not unusual for such review processes.