Evaluation in the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) is competitive, based solely on scientific considerations. The process in the different programs combines individual, external expert peer reviews and subsequent discussions in broader professional committees, aiming to identify scientific merit -scientific excellence, innovation and originality. Nevertheless, the ISF has a mandate to reject proposals promptly due to administrative or scientific considerations, without sending them out for review.
The ISF has programs in which a pre-proposal is required. In these programs a professional committee first examines the relevancy of the proposal to the program. The best suited proposals are chosen to submit a full proposal. At this stage, the researchers receive messages with no remarks.
In some programs applications are reviewed in depth within study sections and are not sent for external peer review (in this type of review there are usually two committee members in charge of each proposal).
In the foundation's three broad areas of interest - Exact Sciences and Technology, Life Sciences and Medicine, Humanities and Social Sciences. The professional committees are established on a yearly basis
(members are recruited in accordance to the specific research topics submitted each year).
Each of the (~)70 foundation's committees includes 3-12 members; each member assumes the primary responsibility for up to seven research proposals.
The researcher classifies the most suitable committee to which he submits his proposal. However, the ISF may transfer an application to a more appropriate professional committee.
The foundation's scientific review process is dual and combines discussion by broader local scientific committees that lean on specialized external peer review, mostly overseas experts. Each proposal is sent to approximately 8 reviewers, since the goal is to receive at least three-four evaluations per proposal. Every year the foundation sends more than 12,000 requests for evaluation to leading scientists in Israel and abroad.
This combined method of review, which is accepted in prestigious scientific journals and leading competitive foundations in the world, provides a particularly comprehensive evaluation process of choosing the best proposals for funding.
The committees include recognized experts in different fields, who refer each proposal to the appropriate reviewers according to their professional knowledge. It is important to emphasize that the professional committees are established yearly and include experts in the specific topics submitted each year. Therefore, the constitution of the committees changes from one year to the next.
According to ISF's management decision, identity of all committee members and reviewers as well as all discussions are kept strictly confidential. The committee does not rely merely on a specific review but on all reviews, remarks and marks as a whole, as well as on the professional opinions of the committees' members.
Towards the first committee meeting, the members receive 'their' proposals asked to suggest a list of 8 reviewers for every proposal.
These lists are formed based on the professional knowledge of the committees' members, the bibliographic list of the proposal and a list drawn by the foundation's information specialists from various professional data bases, according to key words and context of each research plan.
The ISF tries to respect researchers' requests not to send the proposal to a specific reviewer if the list is not too long and by agreement of the committee.
The committee may decide not to send the proposal for external review. In such a case it is discussed in depth within the committee and the researcher receives the committee's opinion. This decision is never a one-man opinion and is always approved by the committee.
A re-submitted proposal competes with other proposals submitted that year. The proposal might be sent to the previous reviewers but not necessarily, all according to the committee's decision.
Reviewers are approached mainly by e-mail. Each reviewer receives a reviewer number and a pin number which enables reviewing the proposal on the Foundation's website, and sending the evaluation online. The ISF staff actively follows up this intricate process of sending the proposals to reviewers and makes sure the minimum number of evaluations is received, which includes sending reminders as well as searching for additional reviewers in case there is a need or lack thereof.
For the concluding professional committee meeting, all members receive all reviews and all abstracts of the proposals subject to discussion. Each professional committee member presents to the professional committee both the comments of the external peer reviewers and his own detailed recommendations for each of the proposals assigned to him. After further deliberation, the professional committee classifies and rates all proposals, based solely on scientific merit, not related in any way to the researcher's institutional affiliations, gender or prior/present sources of funding.
At the end of the process, the reviewers' main points are brought to the attention of all researchers.
The professional committees' decisions are considered by the Area Chairman in context of the various recommendations and budget available. The Area Chairman submits them with his own comments to the ISF Academic Board. They, in turn, submit their recommendations to the ISF Executive Council for final approval.