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Directing research funds to the right research projects: a review of criteria used by research organisations in Australia in prioritising health research projects for funding
  1. Haitham W Tuffaha1,2,
  2. Najwan El Saifi1,2,
  3. Suzanne K Chambers1,3,
  4. Paul A Scuffham1,2
  1. 1 Griffith University Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
  2. 2 Griffith University Centre for Applied Health Economics, Nathan, Queensland, Australia
  3. 3 Faculty of Health, University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Haitham W Tuffaha; haitham.tuffaha{at}


Objectives Healthcare budgets are limited, and therefore, research funds should be wisely allocated to ensure high-quality, useful and cost-effective research. We aimed to critically review the criteria considered by major Australian organisations in prioritising and selecting health research projects for funding.

Methods We reviewed all grant schemes listed on the Australian Competitive Grants Register that were health-related, active in 2017 and with publicly available selection criteria on the funders’ websites. Data extracted included scheme name, funding organisation, selection criteria and the relative weight assigned to each criterion. Selection criteria were grouped into five representative domains: relevance, appropriateness, significance, feasibility (including team quality) and cost-effectiveness (ie, value for money).

Results Thirty-six schemes were included from 158 identified. One-half of the schemes were under the National Health and Medical Research Council. The most commonly used criteria were research team quality and capability (94%), research plan clarity (94%), scientific quality (92%) and research impact (92%). Criteria considered less commonly were existing knowledge (22%), fostering collaboration (22%), research environment (19%), value for money (14%), disease burden (8%) and ethical/moral considerations (3%). In terms of representative domains, relevance was considered in 72% of the schemes, appropriateness in 92%, significance in 94%, feasibility in 100% and cost-effectiveness in 17%. The relative weights for the selection criteria varied across schemes with 5%–30% for relevance, 20%–60% for each appropriateness and significance, 20%–75% for feasibility and 15%–33% for cost-effectiveness.

Conclusions In selecting research projects for funding, Australian research organisations focus largely on research appropriateness, significance and feasibility; however, value for money is most often overlooked. Research funding decisions should include an assessment of value for money in order to maximise return on research investment.

  • research prioritisation
  • selection criteria
  • value for money

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  • Contributors HWT and PAS conceptualised the manuscript. HWT and NE-S conducted the review of funding criteria and drafted the manuscript. PAS and SKC critically reviewed the findings. All authors contributed to the writing, review and approval of the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding Haitham Tuffaha is supported by an Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) fellowship (GNT1121232). This project is funded by Menzies Health Institute Queensland and the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Further details on the selection criteria and scoring weights are provided in online supplementary file.

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