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Grant Application Review Process

All applications received in response to NIJ solicitations undergo a three-step review process for funding consideration: (1) basic minimum requirements review; (2) peer review; and (3) review by NIJ staff and director.

1. Basic Review, 2. Peer Review, 3. NIJ Review

Basic Minimum Requirements Review

Upon submission of an application to the JustGrants portal, NIJ screens applications to determine if they meet the basic minimum requirements (BMR) for review. Although specific requirements may vary by solicitation, the following are standard requirements that apply to all NIJ solicitations:

  • The applicant must meet the eligibility requirements for the solicitation.
  • The application must be responsive to the solicitation’s stated goals, objectives, and requirements.
  • The application must include the critical elements identified in the solicitation: a program narrative, a detailed budget and budget narrative, and curriculum vitae or resumes for key personnel.

When NIJ finds that an application does not meet BMR, it notifies the applicant. This affords them the opportunity to appeal the decision in time to move the application forward in the review process should the appeal be successful.

Peer Review

NIJ uses one of three different types of peer review processes to evaluate if applications meet BMR:

  • External – A panel of peer reviewers not employed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Peer reviewers are selected after being screened for research and/or practitioner expertise. NIJ also has a policy of ensuring demographic diversity. Further, it annually aims to enlist 25% of peer reviewers who are new to the peer review process to ensure new perspectives are represented each year. External reviewers receive monetary compensation for completing assessments and may receive a per diem and/or stipend for in-person reviews — unless they are federal, non-DOJ reviewers, who serve as part of their job and are not compensated. (If you are interested in becoming an NIJ peer reviewer and gaining more insight into the process, please visit Becoming a Peer Reviewer for NIJ.)
  • Internal – A panel of peer reviewers employed by DOJ or other federal agency partners.
  • Hybrid – A combination of DOJ employees and reviewers not employed by DOJ.

Of these three approaches, NIJ most often uses an external panel. (Exceptions include solicitations for which there is only one viable application.) Panels may be either ad hoc (meeting only once to review of a single solicitation) or standing (reconvening to review solicitations annually).

An ad hoc panel consists of three or more peer reviewers selected for their expertise relevant to the solicitation goals and objectives. The ad hoc peer review follows a two-step process: individual review and collaborative review. During individual review, each reviewer independently scores applications against the merit review criteria. They score each section on a scale of 1 to 10; once weighting is applied, this yields a total score of 100. Based on their initial overall weighted scores and considering available funding and the number and quality of applications, NIJ then sets a numerical threshold (often employing a natural break) to determine which applications the panel will consider during collaborative review.

Collaborative review provides peer reviewers an opportunity to discuss their application merit assessments and resulting scores. The aim is to achieve greater consistency in peer review scores towards a more consensus-driven, objective, and fair review process. In addition to considering those applications meeting or exceeding NIJ’s threshold, the panel also considers applications with significant variances in individual reviewer application scores.

A standing review panel consists of about 15-30 rotating members who serve up to three-year terms. Under this review process, each proposal is assigned to a pair of panel members who conduct an initial technical merit review. Only the top-scoring applications advance to consideration by the full panel, which votes to determine a consensus final score. The standing review panel employs a quantitative scoring methodology similar to that used by ad hoc review panels. Reviewers select a numerical score from 0 to 10 for each criterion, but they do not use weighting.

NIJ Review

Peer review ratings, while carefully considered, are strictly advisory. The final weighted scores resulting from the panels’ collaborative discussions create a list of rank-ordered applications for further consideration by NIJ staff. The panelists’ comments inform NIJ scientists in their independent merit assessments and their funding recommendations to the NIJ Director.

The NIJ director makes all final award decisions. The director may consider not only peer review ratings and NIJ staff recommendations, but also other factors such as NIJ’s strategic priorities, how the research aligns with NIJ’s existing research investments, and available funding.

Date Published: February 21, 2024