PCORI Merit Review is a multi-phase process that includes the external review panel’s preliminary online review of full applications and an in-person panel discussion of a subset of applications (identified by PCORI’s Program staff and based on the preliminary review and program priorities).

Merit review is informed by the PFA Development and LOI Review processes. After merit review, key steps include: post-panel review of application by PCORI staff; Selection Committee recommendation of applications for funding; and finally, award approval by the PCORI Executive Director.

We conduct scientifically rigorous evaluations of all responsive full applications. Our review process is distinguished by the participation of scientists, patients, and other stakeholders, enabling us to identify high-quality, scientifically rigorous, and patient-centered studies.

Learn More About the PCORI Funding Cycle


Merit Review Funding Cycle

PCORI Funding Announcement (PFA) Development

For the Broad Pragmatic Studies PCORI Funding Announcements (PFAs), PCORI's National Priorities for Health and Topic Themes have been incorporated. All applications must align the proposed research with at least one of the four National Priorities for Health described within the PFA. Applicants also have the option to select up to three of 12 Topic Themes, based on how their proposed research aligns with the themes. However, aligning with the indicated Topic Themes is not required. The National Priorities for Health and Topic Themes will assist PCORI in determining the optimal review pathway for the proposed research.

The Targeted PFAs are developed by PCORI staff and seek applications on specific, high-impact topics selected in response to input from patients and other stakeholders through our Advisory Panels and public workshops.

Letter of Intent (LOI) Receipt and Review

PCORI staff screen LOIs based on importance and relevance of the topic to PCORI priorities; response to LOI questions; and other criteria as outlined in the PFA and invite full applications only from applicants whose LOIs are deemed most responsive to the PFA. Only invited applicants may submit a full application.

Full Application Receipt

After receipt of invited applications, PCORI staff:

  • Review the application for administrative compliance and responsiveness to the funding announcement.
  • May administratively withdraw an application if it is incomplete; submitted past the stated due date and time; or it does not meet the formatting criteria outlined in the Application Guidelines, in the PCORI templates, and in PCORI Online.
  • May scientifically withdraw an application if it is non-responsive to the PFA.

PCORI Merit Review Officers (MROs) recruit external reviewers to serve on panels based on their level of expertise or experience with the topic areas in the invited LOIs. MROs recruit the panel chair and all reviewers, including scientists, patient representatives, and other stakeholder representatives. All panel reviewers are trained to help ensure that they have the tools needed to evaluate each application based on the programmatic and organizational goals of merit review.

Preliminary Online Review

On the basis of their expertise and absence of conflict of interest, members of each panel are assigned to complete a preliminary online review of assigned applications based on:

  • Merit Review Criteria
  • Adherence to PCORI’s Methodology Standards
  • Appropriate human subjects protections

Merit Review Officers (MROs) monitor the critiques and scores, and work with reviewers to ensure that critiques provide clear feedback to inform PCORI staff as they consider which applications to recommend for funding and negotiate contracts with successful applicants. Reviewer critiques are also included in the final summary statements that are issued to applicants at the end of the process.

Selecting Applications for Discussion

  • Not all submitted applications move forward to in-person review. On the basis of application critiques and scores, PCORI staff select a subset of applications to move forward for discussion at the in-person review panel.

In-Person Meeting of the Review Panel

  • During the in-person meeting, reviewers further clarify the merits of the proposed research and identify areas for improvement, and re-score the application based on the concerns raised during discussion.
  • The in-person panel meeting is led by a Chair and a PCORI MRO, who ensure that all applications receive a fair and thorough review that is informed by the requirements outlined in the PFA. The MROs also prepare notes from the discussion to provide applicants and PCORI staff with additional feedback.

Application Selection for Funding and Summary Statement Release

  • PCORI staff consider the critiques from preliminary review, discussion notes, final application scores following discussion, and portfolio balance to propose a slate of applications for funding.
  • Factoring in the total available funds allotted for their PFA, PCORI staff present to the Selection Committee high-scoring applications that fit programmatic needs, satisfactorily address reviewers’ concerns, and adhere to PCORI’s Methodology Standards. If PCORI staff have a strong interest in an application but have programmatic and administrative concerns, staff send the applicant their questions and concerns for response by a given deadline (also known as PCORI Information Request, PIR).
  • The Selection Committee is made up of members of PCORI’s Methodology Committee and a subset of the Board of Governors. The Selection Committee reviews and recommends the final slates of proposed projects to the PCORI Executive Director for approval.
  • Applicants receive their summary statements approximately two weeks before funding decisions are announced. If an application progressed to in-person discussion, it will include:
    • Discussion notes from the in-person meeting
    • Preliminary critiques

If an application did not progress to in-person discussion, the summary statement will include only the preliminary critiques.

For further information about a funded application's journey, see this blog post.

Updated: March 3, 2023

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