Introduction of the new grant program offered an opportunity to design peer review processes to meet the following long-term goals:

  • Support the objectives of each of the grant schemes
  • Streamline and harmonise peer review processes to reduce duplication of activities across schemes 
  • Run shorter review cycles which may enable more than one application round per year (e.g. by reducing the number of steps in the peer review process)
  • Obtain a larger number of independent assessments to improve rigour and allow panels to focus on those applications requiring discussion
  • Reduce the time required for panel meetings and discussions, to provide members with more flexibility in managing their time commitment.

Input from comprehensive public consultation, NHMRC Principal Committees and expert working groups was used to develop peer review models for the Investigator, Synergy, Ideas and Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies Grant schemes. These processes aim to achieve high quality peer review and minimise the burden on research applicants and peer reviewers.

Consultation on peer review

View the final consultation report on the development of peer review for NHMRC’s new grant program - See Download 

View the presentation from the Melbourne peer review public forum

Diversity Assessment Working Group

The Diversity Assessment Working Group advised the CEO on the concepts of diversity and multidisciplinarity in the new grant program, with a particular focus on the Synergy Grant scheme.

The Diversity Assessment Working Group focused on policy definitions of diversity and multidisciplinarity and not specific peer review processes. Peer review models and mechanisms for the new grant program were considered holistically as part of a broader consultation with NHMRC Principal Committees and the health and medical research sector.

Terms of reference

The Diversity Assessment Working Group advised the CEO on:

  1. The definition of multidisciplinarity and diversity, particularly in the context of the Synergy Grants scheme.
  2. Issues to consider in assessing multidisciplinarity and diversity across the four broad research areas.
  3. Potential metrics and their operationalisation (e.g. as category descriptors).
  4. Other matters as requested by the NHMRC CEO.

Multiple disciplinarity and diversity in the new grant program

The concept of research involving multiple disciplines is often denoted by terms such as multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary. However, the definition of these terms, and even the concept of a “discipline”, is constantly evolving and lacks consensus across different areas of health and medical research.

“Multiple disciplinary research” includes research by teams that integrate information, data, techniques, tools, perspectives, concepts, methodologies and/or theories from two or more disciplines or bodies of specialised knowledge to advance fundamental understanding or to solve questions whose solutions are beyond the scope of a single discipline or area of research practice.

This definition of multidisciplinarity:

  • incorporates comparable concepts that define research involving multiple disciplines including inter- and transdisciplinary research 
  • involves integration between NHMRC’s broad research areas and may also involve qualitative and quantitative methods across a range of research disciplines including, for example, social sciences, policy analysis, economics, engineering, mathematics and physical sciences
  • promotes an outcomes focus by requiring applicants to justify and demonstrate how the research question is addressed and operationalised using different disciplines, and
  • will, in part, be assessed based on whether an applicant’s multidisciplinary approach is necessary and sufficient to address the research question. 

NHMRC recognises the need to foster diversity in health and medical research teams beyond multiple disciplinarity. Health and medical research, from basic science to clinical and translational research, to policy formation, requires creativity and a diverse range of skillsets and viewpoints.

Research has shown that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams. They provide distinct perspectives, creativity and innovation, increased accountability and individual enterprise to address major research questions.

Diversity in Synergy Grants could span under-represented groups in health and medical research. This could include career stage, gender and researchers from different cultures (e.g. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers). Given the broad spectrum of research encompassed in the health and medical research sector, the opportunities to engage a particular group will depend on the type of research being undertaken. It is, however, essential that each of the investigators contributes to the scientific development and execution of the project in a substantive and measurable manner.

In addition to diversity in the research team, NHMRC strongly encourages and values collaborations with stakeholders who have direct experience and knowledge, or who are direct beneficiaries, of the proposed research. This could include consumers, community groups, policy makers and people from different cultures (such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples). The active involvement of these stakeholders will enhance research priority setting, increase the relevance of the research and its translation and provide critical knowledge that increases the quality and direction of the research.

Diversity Assessment Working Group Membership


Professor Rosalie Viney (Chair) University of Technology Sydney

Associate Professor Stuart Brierley

Flinders University
Professor Phyllis Butow The University of Sydney
Associate Professor Heidi Drummer Burnet Institute
Professor Mark Harris University of New South Wales
Doctor Willem (Joost) Lesterhuis University of Western Australia
Professor Anushka Patel The George Institute for Global Health
Doctor Yvette Roe Mater Medical Research Institute Limited

Innovation Assessment Working Group

The Innovation Assessment Working Group advised the CEO on the concepts of innovation and creativity in the new grant program.

The Innovation Assessment Working Group focussed on policy definitions of innovative and creative research and not specific peer review processes. 

Terms of reference

The Innovation Assessment Working Group advised the CEO on:

  • The definition of innovation and creativity, particularly in the context of the Ideas Grants scheme
  • Issues to consider in assessing innovation and creativity across the four broad research areas
  • Potential metrics and their operationalisation (e.g. as category descriptors)
  • Other matters as requested by the CEO.

Innovation and creativity in the new grant program

Innovation in NHMRC’s Ideas Grant scheme requires fresh thinking and a creative approach that pursues new ideas, embraces intellectual risk and, if successful, may lead to a breakthrough or major impact in a particular health and medical research area. It could extend from the generation of entirely novel areas of research, to driving change in current practice. 
Innovation and Creativity is defined as ‘health and medical research that seeks to challenge and shift current paradigms and/or have a major impact on a health research area through one or more studies that creatively:

  • develop or use novel and creative research concepts, approaches, methodologies, technologies or interventions; or
  • propose a reinterpretation, refinement, improvement or new application of existing theoretical concepts, approaches, methodologies, technologies or interventions; and/or
  • integrate and adapt concepts, approaches, methodologies, technologies or/and interventions / approaches from other research fields or disciplines for a new purpose or in a new way’.

The definition recognises:

  • the relevance and applicability of innovation across all four pillars of health and medical research (basic science, public health, clinical science and medicine and health services)
  • that innovation should foster an outcomes focus, be relevant and have an impact on an area of research, and
  • that although innovation is often considered in a commercialisation and technology frame, it equally encompasses changes to research concepts, approaches, methodologies and interventions that may improve policy, social aspects of care, quality of life or health processes and outcomes.

Innovation Assessment Working Group Membership

Professor Roy Goldie (Chair) NHMRC N/A
Associate Professor James Bourne Monash University Research Committee
Professor Jeffrey Braithwaite Macquarie University

Research Committee

Professor Edwina Cornish Monash University Health Innovation Advisory Committee
Professor Maria Kavallaris AM University of New South Wales Research Committee
Dr Dean Moss University of Queensland Health Innovation Advisory Committee
Dr Buzz Palmer STC Australia Health Innovation Advisory Committee
Professor Vlado Perkovic George Institute for Global Health Health Innovation Advisory Committee
Professor John Prins Mater Research Institute Health Innovation Advisory Committee
Professor Graeme Samuel Monash University Health Innovation Advisory Committee
Professor Patsy Yates Queensland University of Technology Research Committee

Track Record Working Group

A Track Record Working Group was established to advise the CEO of NHMRC on track record assessment to assist in the implementation of NHMRC’s new grant program. Its terms of reference included:

  • Review the existing NHMRC track record assessment and consider its applicability to the new grant program
  • Review data including literature on track record assessment, international practice and gender
  • Consider the work of NHMRC’s Health Translation Advisory Committee relevant to outcomes focussed assessment criteria
  • Test scenarios for a common track record assessment
  • Advise on a high level framework for track record assessment which aims to achieve the implementation goals of the new grant program for funding commencing in 2020.

The Track Record Working Group developed a working definition of track record and principles to guide the design of a high level framework for track record assessment (the Framework).

Track record is defined as ‘the value of an individual’s past research achievements, not prospective achievements, quantitatively scored using evidence-based components’.

The Framework is the key deliverable of the Track Record Working Group which has been adopted in the new grant program to assess research track record. It is composed of three major elements: Publications; Research Impact; and Leadership.

The Framework shifts the focus away from traditional measures of track record, or ‘inputs’, and places greater emphasis on research output and impact. The research impact element of the Framework considers how research has made an impact on knowledge, health, social and/or economic benefit using a Case Study format. This approach is commensurate with practice internationally and received strong support from Australia’s health and medical research sector during NHMRC’s consultations.

NHMRC is working with its Principal Committees to consider the feasibility of implementing other recommendations of the Track Record Working Group which require further investigation and analysis.

Track Record Working Group Membership

Professor Philip Mitchell (Chair) University of New South Wales N/A
Professor Warren Alexander Walter and Eliza Hall Institute Research Committee 
Professor Jonathan Carapetis Telethon Kids Institute Council of NHMRC
Professor Annette Dobson University of Queensland Specialist – Accredited Statistician/Biostatistician
Professor Gail Garvey Menzies School of Health Research Principal Committee Indigenous Caucus
Professor Caroline Homer University of Technology Sydney Women in Health Science 
Doctor Daniel Johnstone University of Sydney Early/Mid-Career Researcher
Professor Sharon Lewin AO University of Melbourne Health Translation Advisory Committee

*members have been appointed based on their individual expertise and are not representing their affiliation.

Peer review presentation 

Accompanying slides with presentation - see attachment


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