Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) – Revisions to Assessment Process Due to COVID-19

The HRC issued a Special Update on 6 April 2020 about revisions to its assessment process to ensure research proposals continue to be robustly assessed within the timeframes planned and funds continue to be allocated to the research sector.   Read the full update below our in your browser here.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of Alert Level 4 on the work of the research community, the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) has revised part of its assessment process to ensure research proposals continue to be robustly assessed within the timeframes planned and funds continue to be allocated to the research sector.

We have cancelled our planned full-stage science assessing committee (SAC) meetings for the remainder of the HRC's annually-run funding rounds, and instead will collect scores from individual SAC members through our online funding applications portal, HRC Gateway.

Though the cancellation of meetings means round table committee discussions will not take place, SAC members will still have access to applications, committee reviewer and external reviewer reports, in addition to applicant rebuttals to inform their assessment and scoring of a proposal.

This change was deemed necessary to ensure continuity in the HRC’s funding processes during this phase of the COVID-19 crisis, and to enable research to proceed once the restrictions of the Alert 4 lockdown are eased and a return to work is feasible.

SAC members are being guided to score applications on face value, as they were submitted. However, for those applicants offered funding, the HRC is open to a degree of contract negotiation should research proposals need to be revised or adapted to the current COVID-19 environment.

Every care has been taken to ensure the revised process is robust, fair, and transparent, and that any conflict of interest is identified clearly and managed appropriately, in keeping with HRC policy. The HRC’s assessment criteria and exemplary standards apply, and other significant elements of the usual assessment process remain the same, including external peer review and the requirement for sign-off from the Grant Approval Committee and Council.

Here are some answers to questions you may have:

Which rounds will the revised process apply to?

The revised process will apply to the HRC’s 2020 Project Grants, 2020 Programme Grants, 2020 Pacific Health Projects, 2020 Emerging Researcher First Grants and 2020 Pacific Emerging Researcher First Grants.
For 2020 Programme Grants, the revised process will apply to the initial scientific assessment of applications by the SACs. Assessment of shortlisted applications by the Programme Assessing Committee (PAC) will still proceed. Given the uncertainty around the timeframe of the COVID-19 pandemic, the PAC format may however be revised. This is currently under consideration.
Assessment for the HRC’s Feasibility Study Grants and Explorer Grants has already been completed under our usual assessment process and, as such, these grants are not affected by this change.

Why not hold virtual meetings when face-to-face meetings aren’t possible?

Several members of our SAC committees work in the health delivery sector and are involved in the front-line of the pandemic response. Full-day virtual (or videoconference) meetings were considered not feasible under these challenging circumstances.

What do the changes mean for applicants?

As no round table assessment committee discussion will take place, applicants will not receive a written review summary. Instead, applicants will receive a percentile ranking for their overall total score, as an indicator of the relative strength of their proposal. Results will be sent via Research Offices in the usual way - with outcome letters - and notification on HRC Gateway.

We know that this is a challenging time, and these are early days still. By making a few adjustments to our processes, we hope to reduce some of the stress and pressure on the research community as a whole and allow the assessment process to continue to take place. If you have further questions on the revised process, please contact us at and one of our investment managers will come back to you.