Spotlight | Yassir Hussein
How does QNRF determine where to allocate funds?
Research funding is an integral part of sustaining and advancing Qatar’s well-established RDI ecosystem as it influences the volume of research activities as well as the productivity of researchers within the field. Since its inception in 2006 as the first national competitive research funding agency in the Middle East, Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) has served as the main research funding body in Qatar that fosters original, competitively selected research in engineering and technology, physical and life sciences, medicine, humanities, social sciences and the arts.
But how are the decisions to award grants made? And what happens when researchers and research performing organizations receive the grants? Yassir Hussein, Ethical Compliance Officer at QNRF Programs, explains the process of grant development at QNRF, awarding grants, and highlights the rigor of ethical evaluation and the importance of ethical compliance.
How does QNRF determine where to allocate funds?
QNRF uses a two-tier review process. Initially, qualified and unbiased peer reviewers, who have no conflict of interest in the assigned, evaluate research proposals for their scientific merit. Essentially, they ensure that only research proposals that are based on valid science and facts move to the next stage. Proposals are then evaluated by a panel of scientific experts and local stakeholders for the value these proposals bring to Qatar and the scientific community.
In some cases, the criteria used to determine the value to Qatar and the research community is developed by a steering committee. The steering committee is made up of 7 – 9 members from various backgrounds who help design the call structure and its parameters, as well as identify the topics and themes of research.
Otherwise, a panel of reviewers undertakes a programmatic evaluation of the research proposal with criteria made of 6-7 points used as a guide for panelists. This may include how the proposed research adds value by addressing the nations’ economic, social, human, and environmental development goals as outlined by Qatar National Vision 2030. Research that meets the established criteria and has the potential to inform any one of these national priority areas is shortlisted for discussion among the panelists. The panel then uses this information gathered and discussed to vote democratically to determine whether or not to allocate funds.
What are other areas of ethical considerations relating to the research process apart from allocating funds? How does QNRF manage them?
Ethical compliance is not limited to fund allocation – it is also a core part of how the research itself is conducted. How are participants recruited? Is it unbiased? How are they treated afterwards? Will there be any lasting, potentially harmful, impact on them as a result from their participation?
In order to maintain research integrity and the fair and ethical treatment of anyone involved, QNRF puts a great focus on ensuring the protection of research animals, human subjects, and the safety of those involved in its funded research by referring awarded researchers to the relevant institutional review boards (IRB). QNRF then monitors the oversight requirements set by the IRB and requires researchers to provide evidence of their compliance with the requirements set by the IRB through a technical progress report of the project. If any issues are discovered, an investigator is required to work with the IRB to address and resolve them.
What happens if the research hits roadblocks?
Each research proposal awarded by QNRF is assigned an expert who monitors the project’s progress and ensures its adherence to the approved goals. In cases where a project faces issues, QNRF’s team works with the leading research investigator to find solutions to the problems faced during its lifetime.
In extreme cases and as absolute last resort, when the research is facing many obstacles that impede progress, the project may be evaluated for termination by a committee so that any remaining research funds can be reallocated and utilized to support other research projects. In these cases, a full follow-up report is documented to provide insight and inform future decisions.
For QNRF, ethical compliance is paramount and the rigorous processes in place aim to preserve research integrity. But ethical compliance also relies heavily on the individuals that make up this process. The responsibility for ensuring that the funds and resources for research are utilized optimally without any misconduct, along with the ways in which research is conducted, lies with researchers, research performing organizations, ethics committees, and the funding organizations.
Despite the efforts of QNRF, MoPH, and institutional RECs, responsible conduct of research can only be accomplished if investigators personally carry the burden of ensuring the proper use of funds and the safety of their research subjects. Through monitoring and support, QNRF will always provide researchers with avenues available to encourage ethical compliance in their pursuit of success. Over the years, QNRF and its researchers have continuously maintained high ethical standards. Collectively, we work to ensure that this responsibility and these lessons-learned are passed on to the next generation of researchers who work closely with ethical regulatory entities to ensure these principles and high standards are upheld