Open and Equitable: Exploring Unconscious Bias in Grant Review

Recently, Liz Jackson, senior specialist of grants and scholarships at the Foundation for Physical Therapy Research, members of the Scientific Review Committee, and the Board of Trustees participated in an Open Research Funder’s Group — a cohort of funding organizations — to pilot recommendations to enhance the Foundation’s grant programs to make them more open and equitable and to foster open scholarship practices.

This cohort came together through the Open & Equitable Model Funding Program, a joint initiative of the Health Research Alliance and the Open Research Funders Group. This program reunites a cohort of funding organizations striving to promote transparent, fair, and inclusive practices in research grant making and resulting outputs. This includes designing equitable funding programs and incentivizing open scholarship practices to ensure inclusivity. The Foundation is one of 11 research funders participating in this pilot.

This group of funders explored unconscious bias in grant review, among other recommendations implemented during its participation. As a result, the group co-developed seven videos containing concise pieces of training for grant reviewers and program staff to manage unconscious bias in grant making, as well as bias mitigation strategies. These training videos will be added to the Foundation’s review platform, ProposalCentral, and there will be required training for the scientific review committee, research committee, and staff.

Adopting Guidelines

The Foundation provides a rubric and evaluation criteria for reviewers. Making these open and accessible allows candidates to plan their applications for consistency with these goals. The Open & Equitable Model Funding Program seeks to make both the grant-making process and the resulting research outputs more transparent, equitable, and inclusive. The Foundation, along with the other organizations in the cohort, share feedback using a community of practice model to improve interventions and learn from each other’s experiences.

The purpose of understanding and mitigating unconscious bias is to award more candidates from diverse backgrounds scholarships and research grants, which in turn advance research and better represent the profession. “The more people we fund from diverse backgrounds, the more diverse the physical therapy profession becomes, which leads to better health care for all seeking support,” said Jackson.


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