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Expert help and review processes – some of the routes to more funding at BSS

Vice-dean Per Baltzer Overgaard believes that politicians will not be giving more money to research in the future. So the route to retaining, and hopefully improving, the level of research at the School of Business and Social Sciences (BSS) is more external funding. For this reason, BSS has hired two associated deans and introduced review processes for applications.

Fully understanding procedures for applying for EU funding and private foundations can be a demanding task for researchers. For this reason, BSS has decided to hire two experts on 1/3-time to help in these areas.

"They can help departments get the right information and take a systematic approach to funding work. Through his own research in the area, our EU expert knows about relevant calls, requirements and procedures, and the system in general. He also sits on the faculty's research committee two to three times per semester. This secures communication all the way around," says Per Baltzer. Furthermore, the deputy heads of department meet to inspire each other and enter into collaborations.

And he believes that this has given the departments a certain degree of homogenisation in their work. So knowledge sharing is an important part of funding work.
Private foundations are also an important source of external funding at BSS. But experience shows that successful applications require good knowledge about the foundations, as their procedures are not always entirely transparent. BSS's expert in this area is therefore very helpful when applicants have to navigate the foundations’ procedures. He has a lot of knowledge about who you should actually approach. And he will contribute academic input and write down research areas that he can present to private foundations at the right time. And this has generated results.

Higher quality – selection and peer review
In 2018, BSS defined a number of elite tools e.g. Sapere Aude, ERC etc. Among other things, this means that BSS now tries to identify as early as possible researchers who may be relevant for these tools. BSS also wants to ensure high quality in what is submitted, so that the academic environment can vouch for it. Applicants must have a strong CV. And if they themselves can't see that their CV has failings, then someone in the academic environment has tell them, as Per Baltzar says. However, a strong CV is not enough, an application also has to be razor-sharp.

Therefore, BSS has set up an interdisciplinary peer review panel with one person from the local academic environment and two from other departments. "So we have what you could call a broad reviewer panel. After all, this is also how the EU assessment panels are made up. Peers can assess the academic content. But we know that communication is also important. What raises readers’ blood pressure or stimulates their emotions on page one? Assessors have to be convinced on the first two pages. And this is where external members of our review panel can contribute,” says Per Baltzar.

BSS has a fixed pool of senior researchers from which reviewers are taken for each application. This pool covers the wide range of Aarhus BSS’s academic areas. In composing the panel, BSS has assessed that it is important that panel members are widely respected academically. Otherwise, researchers may not take their feedback seriously. And the applicants like this model, as the vice-dean says. “They know that everything has to be razor-sharp if they are to stand any chance at all. And clones of themselves will not pose the sharp questions they need.”

Per Baltzer believes it is too early to assess the effect of the initiatives. Some applications are still being processed, and some aspects are a matter of chance.
"But we can see that better applications have been sent to the Danish National Research Foundation (DG). Suddenly, we’re seeing some early career researchers with great potential and who perhaps will get through next time, so that they can get a DG centre," says the vice-dean, who believes that the stronger focus on dialogue across departments, processes and quality should continue, because there is always something that can be adjusted, and because the foundation landscape is constantly changing. However, so far Per Baltzar Overgaard is very satisfied with the process and the results.