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DARMA Annual Conference 2016:

A gender neutral process? A qualitative study of the evaluation of research grant applications

Lisbeth Söderqvist, Swedish Research Council, Stockholm (Sweden)

Download Lisbeth's presentation as a PDF file...

Lisbeth gave a similar presentation at the Gender Summit 7 Europe 2015 in Berlin, which was recorded and is available on Youtube; Lisbeth's presentation starts at c. 48:30 in the video.

The Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) performed two studies on how gender is handled in the evaluation of research grant proposals, the first in 2013 with a follow-up report published last year, in 2015. The method was to let specially trained observers sit in as "flies-on-the wall" on review panel meetings, to document how discussions went with a special focus on gender. The findings were partly unexpected, and both the findings and the results of the actions made following those findings provide a unique insight into how a fundamental part of research funding works—and of course insights into what really means something when addressing gender imbalances.

These two reports—both are available in English as well as Swedish—should be required reading for anyone working with research funding. Both the 2013 report, and the 2015 follow-up report can be downloaded VR's web pages: 

Lisbeth will be with us on video link from Stockholm, and available to answer questions.

Here is an excerpt from the summary of the first report:

"These observations on gender equality aim to investigate and bring to light any differences in the Swedish Research Council’s evaluation process in regard to gender and to provide recommendations for how the process can be developed and improved. The observations are divided into three main areas: group dynamics and interaction during evaluation meetings, process and approach, and evaluation of applications and applicants.

[...]

In some, but not all, panels there are clear gender patterns in the group dynamics during meetings. This may involve how members were seated in the room or how well people were heard and how of- ten members were acknowledged when speaking. There were also differences in who informally assumed higher status in a panel and who raised or lowered their grades. The role of the officer from the Swedish Research Council was often unclear, and their ways of dealing with procedural and policy questions during evaluation meetings differed. Similarly, the chairpersons’ ways of structuring and running the evaluation meetings varied.

Concerning evaluations, the disciplinary domains differed in terms of the extent to which the re- search or the researcher was the focus of discussions. Further, the expert panels displayed disparate ways of formulating and assessing what constitutes good research and what qualifications or attributes are desirable in a researcher. Comments on the age, parental leaves, collaboration, and independence of the applicants were brought to bear in certain discussions, but this varied across subject areas and evaluation panels. Objectivity in evaluations was seldom treated as problematic by members. Only in one panel was there any conscious calibration of grades at the beginning of the meeting.

In many panels the expected gender balance and gender distribution among approved applications was problematised, which often led to discussions in which women were reduced to representatives of their gender. Affirmative action was seldom applied and was regarded as somewhat negative, as it was seen as lowering the status of an application. Generally speaking, members felt there was a shortage of tools and clear guidelines for dealing with the issue of gender distribution in a more coherent and consistent manner."


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