We receive many questions about how PCORI selects applications for funding. We have documented our rigorous merit review process, which includes input from scientists, patients, and other healthcare stakeholders. But applicants often want to know what happens next. How, they ask, do we make final selections among the applications? How do we let them know if they’ve been funded? Why do we announce awards during a public forum?
So to address those and other questions we expect many of you have, we’d like to describe how an application travels from merit review to project funding.
First Stop: Development of Funding Slates
Over the several weeks following the in-person meeting where merit reviewers assess applications, PCORI program officers and program directors review scores, critiques, and discussion notes of each proposed comparative clinical effectiveness research project. The staff also consider:
- How well each application fits within its intended PCORI program area
- Whether the proposed project overlaps, or has synergy with, research described in other applications being considered for funding or already funded projects
- Whether any methodological flaws limit a proposed study’s value, and if so, whether the applicant is likely to be able to improve the proposed methodology before the funding decision
Second Stop: PCORI Information Request
Sometimes, PCORI staff have a strong interest in an application but have programmatic and administrative concerns that need to be addressed before they can recommend the proposed project for further consideration. Common concerns include reasonableness of budget, duplication of personnel effort, ability to meet recruitment goals according to timeline, methodological issues, and meaningful engagement of patients and other stakeholders.
During what we call the PCORI Information Request (PIR) phase of our process, our program officers and contracts management staff send the applicant a list of questions and concerns for response by a given deadline. The staff fully consider the responses before deciding whether to recommend that the application advance in the evaluation process. Keep in mind that a successful response does not guarantee that the application will be recommended for funding. Staff then assemble a list of recommended projects for each funding announcement and conduct an internal review of these slates to ensure organizational and programmatic alignment.
Third Stop: Selection Committee
The staff send the recommended slates to PCORI’s Selection Committee, which consists of a subset of members of our Board of Governors and a member of our Methodology Committee. The Selection Committee reviews the slates, considering their merit review scores, programmatic balance and fit, and PCORI’s strategic priorities.
Fourth Stop (Almost There): Board of Governors Vote
The Selection Committee presents the final slates of proposed projects to the Board for approval during a meeting that is open to the public via teleconference and webinar. The Board considers each slate for funding as a whole and then votes on whether to approve it. Because of the rigorous, multistep vetting process that has already taken place, Individual projects are not discussed in detail at the Board meeting. Slate consideration takes place during this public forum because PCORI's authorizing legislation requires that the Board approve major funding and Board meetings be open to the public.
Final Stop: Contract Activation
Immediately after the Board meeting, PCORI staff notify applicants by email whether their proposed projects are approved. The awards are also posted on the PCORI website. However, a project isn’t funded until PCORI conducts a final business and programmatic review, and PCORI and the applicant’s primary institution have fully executed a contract.
At PCORI, we continue to streamline our review process and welcome your suggestions. We look forward to collaborating with our awardees throughout the research process to produce findings that will have a positive impact on health care.