The National Agency of Research and Development has piloted a new program, called ‘Exploration Projects’, that allows funding of disruptive, unconventional, and high novelty science and research in all areas of knowledge. The program goals are to promote this type of science, propose the exploration of new and unconventional perspectives, methodologies, theories, and technologies, with the potential for significant reward to its discipline, field of knowledge, as well as society.
To respond to the increasing global challenges and the lack of support for disruptive and unconventional science, that can have a long-term negative impact on a country's ability to move forward and deliver solutions to complex problems, the National Science and Research Agency (ANID) developed a new funding program, innovating the programmatic offer and strengthening the science and technology ecosystem.
In this context, ANID piloted a new funding program, called “Exploration Projects”, with a focus on funding high novelty and high uncertainty research projects, and, in this way, encouraging researchers to undertake risk and adapt to changing contexts, allowing them to explore new areas, frameworks, methods, and techniques, which can lead to unpredictable, high-profit new discoveries and even, paradigm shifts.
The objective of the funding program pilot is to:
- Contribute to the development of disruptive, novel, high uncertainty, and with high transformative potential scientific research
- Support the development of unconventional science oriented to solve complex problems
- Generate new research lines and researcher profiles.
This program funds a duo of researchers, in all areas of knowledge such as Arts, Social Sciences, Humanities, Life Sciences, Engineers, Exact Sciences, and Inter and Transdisciplines.
Some references used to create this program were ‘Moonshot’ from Japan, NSF Raise Programme from USA, New Frontiers in Research Fund ‘Exploration’ from Canada, Frontiers for the Future Programme from Ireland, and Spark and Sinergia from Switzerland. These programs show the importance of funding with a focus on unconventional approaches, methods, and theories, and aim at promoting original ideas. All these characteristics were new for the public service in comparison with the other funding programs. For this reason, the creative process had five phases:
- Research, analysis, and elaborate a diagnosis of the public funding problems;
- Design the proposal;
- Socialization and feedback with other actors;
- Development of pilot;
- Implementation of the pilot (current stage).
The pilot was designed to promote new paths in the researcher's career and ways to develop science, not only based on the conventional result, as an article, but also patents, policy briefs, outreach, public engagement, and advisory in public and private decision-making. In aware of the uncertainty component of the granted projects, an advisory and follow-up program was designed, integrating scheduled meetings with expert panels and reports where the researcher duo must account for the advance and show any troubles during the research execution. Additionally, each proposal had to present a mitigation plan, in order to balance the risks and have an action plan to draw on upon failure.
During the 2022 pilot contest, 250 proposals were received from twenty-three research institutes or universities in the different research areas, covering twelve of the sixteen regions of Chile.
The grant, that 30 applications will award, consists of $270 million Chilean pesos (approximately $300.000 US dollars) for 24 to 36 months and will allow the researcher duo to finance R&D personnel, equipment, and operational and administrative costs.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The Exploration Projects pilot is an innovation in the Chilean science ecosystem because:
- It’s the first funding program for unconventional, disruptive, and high novelty science. This way, the projects will explore a new frontier having a high possibility to fail.
- Enable junior and senior researchers to explore new approximations and create new research lines.
- The program was co-designed in near collaboration with the scientific community and strategic actors in the ecosystem.
- Introduced a new paradigm of doing science in contrast to existing programs, considering a duo of researchers, the high failure possibility, focus on complex problems, and new evaluation factors like a high novelty, disruption, uncertainty, and transformation potential.
- Innovation in the advisory and follow-up program, monitoring the execution of the proposals.
What is the current status of your innovation?
As of the date of submission in 2022, this project is pilot stage. This pilot contest received 250 proposals: 107 in Life Sciences, 59 in Engineers and Exact Sciences, 46 in Inter and Transdisciplines, and 38 in Arts, Social Sciences, Humanities. Of these, 224 have been admissible to continue, that represents 90% of total. Currently, a technical admission is being held and soon will start the panel review.
Collaborations & Partnerships
ANID created the ‘Exploration Projects’, hosted in Scientific Coordination with the collaboration of other departments. Moreover, the design process considered the feedback of Chilean Scientific Societies, University Research representants, technical advisers, Ministry advisers, and other professional groups.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Exploration Projects benefit national and international researchers residing in Chile from different institutions, companies, and universities. This also means strengthening the Chilean scientific ecosystem and bring the opportunity to create collaboration between researchers and encouraging new research profiles.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
We receive 250 proposals. According to the number of applications, could potentially benefit a 34% female directors and 66% male directors, and 35% female and 67% male in the role of attached directors (duo). Finally, the 2022 contest will award 30 projects approximately. Each project led by a duo could award an amount of $270 million Chilean pesos (approximately $300.000 US dollars) for 24 to 36 months. In the future, it is expected that the program will continue awarding an increasing number of projects.
Challenges and Failures
- This pilot faced challenges relating to creating a new program to fund science and research in Public Service in Chile.
- Challenge to set up the institutional systems of application and evaluation. In other words, ‘we hack’ the traditional system. We adapt our own system for these goals
- Carry on meetings to socialize the new program with Institutional Agents, Universities, Public services, Ministry, and other institutional services.
- Now, we have fronted the challenge of building databases of reviewers, who have an important role in the evaluation phases, being a difficult process to get the ideal number of reviews. We need to test our strategy and rethink this matter
- Also, the requirements to accredit the experience and trajectory of the researchers, having to assess the profiles that applicated, and establish the concept of this new researcher profile
- In the near future it is necessary to evaluate the continuity of the government funding.
Conditions for Success
Basically, some needs for this pilot to continue are:
- Supporting infrastructure and service: Especially virtual support, namely increasing the quality of technological systems for admission, review process, help the applicant, and monitoring process of projects.
- Human Resources: Training other inter-departments of the Agency to understand the characteristics of these kinds of projects. Also, create a special team for management.
- Financial resources: The Government should engage and secure funds for the success of this program.
This pilot could be replicated by other agencies (as we were inspired by the example of other), especially Latin American agencies. Factors that would condition replication would include:
- A need to identify the scientific ecosystem and elaborate a diagnosis of the programs public and problems associated with public funds.
- A culture that values disruptive and unconventional science research.
- A leadership that takes risks and can implement the conditions in the public service. Also, a professional team, with creative, flexible, and multidisciplinary quality, in this case, is called the Scientific Coordination team.
The greatest learning was designing and implementing a public science program in the post-pandemic context. We had to learn many things about the Agency and public regulations, considering many points of view (stakeholders, universities, researchers, and public agents). Of course, many things have been learned in the implementation process. In general, we see this process as valuable learning, and finally, it will strengthen the Chilean science ecosystem.
This is a long-term result, having started the idea in 2017-2018, reviewed experiences in 2019, established the fundaments in 2020, formulating and feedback processed in 2021, and, finally, its implementation in 2022. In the same way, we will continue to learn and reformulate, improving the funding program and public policy each year.
- Developing Proposals - turning ideas into business cases that can be assessed and acted on
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
18 January 2023