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Welcome to the "learning from NFR proposal failures" Wiki !

What's the point of this?

This is a catalogue of statements from NFR proposal rejection letters that are generic, i.e. not about the specific idea being proposed. The idea is that this can become a checklist to avoid unnecessary mistakes in future proposals. Please feel free to add statements to this list! ...but please do not include your own interpretation of the feedback here - this page is meant to be strictly used for literal copies of reviewer statements only.

A subjective interpretation of this feedback, to derive guidelines for proposals, is here.


READ: this Wiki is open for read access to the whole world - limiting read and/or edit access to IFI or UiO was not an option (it once worked in the past, but the code that made this possible is now broken, and fixing it is not a current priority, I was told). I could not find a statement on the NFR webpage or in the NFR feedback letter that would restrict publication of these reviewer feedback statements. If I did miss such a statement, please tell me! Then, well, I'll probably have to delete this Wiki, or look for other options (I'm out of ideas, though).

WRITE: click around, visit this page, try to log in, and you'll see that you cannot edit. Only then will I, as wiki administrator, see your user name in a list, and can give you edit rights. So, after failing to edit, send me an email (usernames match UiO email addresses) and I'll give you the rights. No, there is no more convenient way to do this.

The list

Generic reviewer statements from NFR proposal rejections

Note: the headlines below are just my effort to categorize the comments; this is not direct advice to write text addressing them into the respective section of a proposal!

All plain text, per bullet, is directly copy+pasted from a proposal review document.

Excellence (the research idea itself, methods, ..)
  • Unclear, not enough detail, not ground-breaking enough:
    • The proposal also mentions analytic evaluations, but does not become specific there.
    • In a few cases, the concrete results, e.g., simulation model, prototype etc. are not given in sufficient detail.
    • The quantitative goals defined in the proposal seem realistic, but somewhat vaguely specified not very ambitious (20% improvement over state of the art does not seem a ground-breaking result, nor it is clear what metrics will be used to quantify the improvement).
    • The proposal can be strengthened though by better explaining its groundbreaking nature and generalisability.
    • The proposed research directions are clearly innovative, but the goals seem somewhat incremental rather than truly ground-breaking.
    • On the one hand, the existence of a solid set of initial results reduces the risk that the project fails in achieving its planned goals. On the other hand, though, it makes the proposal somewhat incremental, reducing its creativity and originality.
    • Some more details on how some of the questions are going to be tackled might have been useful.
    • Limited novelty due to the relatively small size of the community doing research around [..].
    • A lot of repetitions in the text because the research questions are somehow embedded in the objectives.
    • The scope of the project is very broad. Probably, each of these topics is a project on its own.
    • […] is a popular topic. Originality should be highlighted.
    • The actual benefits are presented as a vision, yet they are not substantiated.
    • The actual need or benefits are not well identified.
    • … some applications are only vaguely described, like […] use case …
    • On the downside, this is an area of the literature that is already very crowded. This creates the risk that the project may lead to incremental advancements of the state of the art.
    • Some realization points of the [..] framework are not very clear. Often the choices are taken without a motivation and explanation, even though the proposer demonstrated a very good knowledge of his specific field.
  • Problems with methods:
    • The scientific method limits itself to the experimental space, complementary analytic alternatives are not considered. Scientific achievements are expected more on experimental developments rather than on theoretical aspects.
    • Research methods are not well defined.
    • In some of the research activities related to the topics mentioned, quantitative research methods are missing.
    • Details on experimental evaluation are not sufficient.
  • Related work:
    • The proposal does not consider alternative Future Internet approaches.
    • How the project will differentiate from other approaches is not described in detail.
    • No adequate comparison to existing approaches.
  • Other matters:
    • Ethics, safety and gender issues are not explicitly detailed in the proposal.

Implementation (management)

  • PhD student supervision:
    • The project manager main research so far has been in the area of [different from proposal theme]. He has a strong experience in [..], but less so in [proposal theme]. More details regarding the supervision of PhD students should have been given in the proposal.
    • It is, however, not clear who will advise the researcher to be hired during Phase 1.
  • International or industry cooperation:
    • This project is an international cooperation (..). However, the proposal does not provide much detail on how this international consortium will be managed.
    • It is not clear how they will collaborate in the project, but there is a plan of exchange visits and the intention to submit joint publications.
    • Most expertise [on security] lays in the external collaborators – this is a risk as the project investigations focus on this topic.
    • Engagement with stakeholders from the […] industry other than [major company] could have been stronger.
  • Other management issues:
    • The number of requested PhD students might be at the upper edge for this work.
    • No work package is dedicated to the integration of WP1 and WP2, the evaluation of the results, the project management and the dissemination, which can constitute a risk for the implementation.
    • … task dependencies, timing and deliverables are not detailed.
    • Work packages are well planned, but results are not appropriately described. Results are mainly publications but not the concrete achievements and developments of the work.
    • The management structure is not sufficiently described.
    • Project management and governance mechanisms have not been sufficiently detailed.
    • The proposal is rather vague about the division of research tasks and responsibilities between team members.
    • The risk management plan appears to be quite generic and the mitigation actions do not appear to be so refined.
    • The risk management is adequately described although lacking more general risks like failing to recruit the right staff.
    • One risk that is not discussed is the delay in hiring the full-time researcher: in this case the PM will be the only senior member at UiO and there is the risk that the PI may not have sufficient time to allocate to the project.
    • Work package structure highly simplified in a waterfall arrangement. The timeline and dependencies are not well identified.
    • Regarding this sentence: "IFI has well-established procedures to ensure that a Ph.D. student can pass _his_ work successfully." Does the Ph.D. program at IFI support only male students?
Impact (dissemination, exploitation, ..)
  • Dissemination is rather standard, i.e. dissemination activities are mainly based on publications in journals and international conferences.
  • The technological impact is described, which is however not the case for the impact on / importance for society.
  • The impact of the proposed research is described in the form of specific challenges but fails to map those challenges to specific impact for industry or the society at large.
  • Outstanding impact on research community is not fully convincing in view of the reference list provided, since most of them are of the research team without a significant number of non self-cites.
  • There is a lack of KPIs for dissemination activities.
  • Also, the potential exploitation of the research results is not addressed.
  • But there is a lack of information about contacts to standardisation channels.
  • Better explaining how this project will generate impact on Internet standards would strengthen the proposal.
  • The whole impact description appears to be detailed but quite generic.
  • The proposed system will require systemic change across different parts of the value chain before they can become effective.
  • The planned publication output is not very ambitious: only one conference paper per year, albeit in very competitive venues.
  • Societal impact is not analyzed in detail.
  • In terms of publications the work can have great potential in the conferences and journals. However, those are rather focusing on [main field], but less on [two other fields that this project interacts with].

Final words

Here's some kind of FAQ... not that anyone really asked a question, let alone frequently  :-) ...but the style seems to fit:

  • Isn't this useless, isn't it just about the quality of the idea? Will good proposals really fail only because of a minor detail? I do believe that it's mainly about the idea. Reviewers who don't like an idea will find negative points in a proposal, but... why give them negative points to begin with? Only top score proposals tend to get funded - every minimal reason to take a point away can kill your proposal.
  • Why not make this page more general, instead of focusing on NFR proposals only? Research papers and other types of project proposals are different. In case of papers, good venues tend to give constructive feedback, and the next opportunity to use this feedback is right ahead - different from NFR, where there may not be another suitable call at all, or the next fitting call may only be around a year later. European proposals are a different ballgame too: e.g., there is much more focus on the management side of things, proposals dedicate much more space to this kind of text - so, it doesn't seem very useful to me to make (yet another) catalogue of all the general things to consider for EC proposals.
  • Why this page, are you just a grumpy failure man? No no, not grumpy. Failure, sure, I've had my share. I have experience both in failing (a lot) and succeeding (a little), in two national funding bodies and the EC - but no, not ALL the comments above are from my own proposals! I just felt that this is a constructive (and easy) thing to do.
  • Who are you anyway? Michael. But I'm only the dude who started this page (and, sigh, also the dude that needs to individually give everyone access rights... I wish there were an easier way) - in the long run, I hope that it will develop a life of its own!

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