A research proposal is part of the normal two way flow of academic discourse. We have noted how the kind of argument involved in a research proposal is unlike much academic writing because of its future orientation. But it is still an argument which must communicate with and convince a sceptical audience: here the reviewers and assessors who are the gatekeepers for funding your research proposal. The assessors who make the funding decision and the proposal reviewers who advise them will evaluate the argument you advance in your proposal about what you are promising to do and what impacts you aspire to achieve. They are likely to be sceptical, fair, knowledgeable, open-minded, and busy academics and senior practitioners.
Funding agencies make various arrangements for identifying reviewers and appointing assessors. The ESRC has a Peer Review College of around 2000 experienced academics and senior practitioners, who each agree to review up to eight proposals per year. The initial list of College members has been published by the ESRC: See here.
ESRC assessors include members of the ESRC Research Committee and other experienced academics and practitioners who serve on assessment panels for particular funding schemes.
For a small grant proposal, two experienced academics serving on the Research Committee with expertise in your main field or discipline will assess your proposal. For the first grants scheme you may be invited to submit an outline proposal which will be evaluated by a panel of assessors. If your outline proposal is shortlisted you will then be invited to submit a full proposal. Your full first grant proposal will be sent to several academic reviewers, and possibly to one or two user reviewers. ESRC officials will choose one of the two academic reviewers you nominate on the proposal form. They will also choose others, probably from the ESRC’s Peer Review College, and maybe one or more of the authors whose work you refer to in your proposal. If you opted in your proposal to nominate one or two user reviewers, the ESRC officials may also choose one of them. The reviewers will be invited to assess your proposal against the criteria above, and two academics from the first grants panel then assess your proposal, taking into account the reviewers’ comments.
Whatever your target funding agency, the assessors and reviewers constitute the audience for your argument about why your proposed research is especially worthy of funding. You are strongly encouraged to keep an image of this audience firmly in mind as you build up your argument.