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Grants are currently given via an application process.

Grants could be given via a more efficient process: A single website - much like the patent database, filled with brief research proposals, categorized just like the patent databases, possibly restricted to one or several proposals per researcher to keep things lean. This database would be so organized that any grant giving agency could merely select which areas of research it wishes to fund and the browse the latest ideas in that field.

A large strength of this model is that researchers would not be bothered with a detailed proposal until the grant agency already established interest in the idea - this removing the waste associated with an obscene number of rejected proposals.

There are many small details that would have to be ironed out, but why is this system not used?

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    I don't really understand the question. Currently, funding agencies do already establish interest in a research area before soliciting proposals in that area. In most cases, they call for proposals in a specific area that they are interested in funding. I also don't see how your proposed system would lead to every published paper being "automatically categorized."
    – ff524
    Dec 22, 2015 at 19:22
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    (Also, in some cases funding agencies do multiple proposal rounds, with interested researchers submitting a brief pre-proposal for a given call, and then some of these are invited to submit a full proposal.)
    – ff524
    Dec 22, 2015 at 19:33
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    Um, because there is (much) more than one funding agency for grants and different agencies have different requirements? I also find the idea that a given agency would decide to fund certain areas and not others by reading brief proposals rather counterfactual. In my experience, to the extent that an agency is truly committed to funding research in one area versus another, they make that clear. Most of their evaluation is not deciding what area they what to fund but which individual proposals are most compelling. Dec 22, 2015 at 20:15
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    any grant giving agency could merely select — As I tell my students when they read papers, the word "merely" is code for "Here's a half-baked idea I thought of in the shower this morning; it won't actually work." (Similarly, "obvious" and "trivial" and "clearly" all mean "false".)
    – JeffE
    Dec 22, 2015 at 22:41
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    @JeffE not to mention "There are many small details that would have to be ironed out, but.."
    – ff524
    Dec 23, 2015 at 2:59

2 Answers 2

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First, let us consider why there are many organizations that fund research, rather than a single research-funding organization. This is a matter of evolutionary organizational structure. In most countries, research has a non-trivial budget and applies to many different concerns of government. That means there has to be some (probably largely hierarchical) structure for organizing it. Now, let's consider two prototypical organizational structures for government-funded research. First, we might have a general research agency, which contains subdivisions addressing the research needs of various other governmental tasks: Organization with one research funder Alternatively, each government department might have its own research agency: Organization with many research funders

Almost everywhere, we see organizations more like the second structure than the first---there might well be some countries in the world where research is so small or so controlled that is it organized in the first way, but if so, I am not aware of them. Why might that be?

Consider what happens if you are a leader in the department of agriculture, and you want to expand your agency's research work. Unless strong regulation prevents you from doing so, it's much easier to create or expand a research organization within the agriculture department than it is to get an independent research department to do it for you. A research sub-department within agriculture is also more likely to serve the peculiar needs, time scale, market structure, etc. as relates to agriculture. It's also easier and more rewarding to go to government leadership and fight to get resources for your own organization, where you can explain exactly how you plan to utilize them, than to fight to give them to somebody else.

Since both government structure and research needs evolve over time, we may thus expect research organizations to multiply, both across the government as a whole and also within individual sub-organizations. They are in fact occasionally reorganized and combined with the goal of making them simpler and more efficient to interact with, just as other government agencies are, but that will typically not reduce the number down to one, just to a smaller "many." Moreover, we've only discussed government funding, not industry funding or funding by foundations and NGOs, which all have their own separate needs and desires and further complicate the funding landscape.

Now, to the second aspect of the question: why is there no central database for applications? Sometimes there are, at least partially. For example, in the United States all government requests for proposals go through FedBizOpps. Most research solicitations can thus be found there (though not all, due to the diversity of mechanisms), along with requests for things like security guards for the US Embassy in Costa Rica. As you might guess, however, the sheer breadth means this often isn't a terribly efficient method of searching.

Likewise, every agency has different sorts of information it's looking for in research proposals. Again, taking the US as an example, the NSF really wants to know how its funds will support graduate student and postdoc education, since that's a key part of its mandate. AFRL, on the other hand, usually doesn't care much about supporting students, and has a mandate instead focusing on how its funds will affect current military concerns. As a result, a "universal" proposal would likely be quite cumbersome even if the bureaucracies were somehow reconciled.

Bottom line: "research" is too complex and pervasive a set of needs to readily stay contained within a single unified organization.

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  • I think the only aspect missing from this otherwise excellent answer is that, unless we are looking at an extremely tightly controlled structure, nothing is stopping your first schema from "devolving" into the second schema in no time. Even if there is a central "research agency", the (w.l.o.g.) agriculture department may, as one of its task, look into creating more farms. For funding these projects, it needs to decide what types of farms and what technologies to use in them. Among the different options for technologies, there might be one that is not well-tested yet, but that promises ... Dec 24, 2015 at 15:36
  • ... a much higher production rate than the other technologies. As a result, the agriculture department decides that 10% of the new farms are to be run with the new technology and also asks those farms to produce reports about the observed efficiency and perceived potential for optimization of that technology. There we are. We now have something conspicuously similar to a research project, funded by an agency unrelated to the central research agency, and without even officially creating a research department in the agricultural agency, or anything labeled research upfront from the start. Dec 24, 2015 at 15:36
  • @O.R.Mapper This is exactly the point I was aiming to make about how we can expect research agencies to multiply: "both across the government as a whole and also within individual sub-organizations"
    – jakebeal
    Dec 24, 2015 at 15:53
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I don't understand your concept of databases, but there are websites and systems for grant and scholarship/fellowship search! I don't know if it is allowed to put names here? I think in the USA you have similar systems. All websites I know are for Europe grants, but I also know one huge database (not free) that is available all over world.

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    The question is asking why grants are not administered with a single database and adjunct website, and not about websites for grant search.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Dec 24, 2015 at 13:40
  • They are! but these database are not free to access, unfortunately! @Wrzlprmft
    – SSimon
    Dec 24, 2015 at 14:39
  • @SSimon: It is completely allowed to put names of resources or services relevant to the question here (in fact, your answer, as it stands, is more like unverifiable hearsay due to the lack of a concrete reference). If you are affiliated with such a resource or service, you should, however, say so, and asking for open-ended lists of services is discouraged, as well. So, if you can actually point out a service that serves as a global, complete distribution system for all research grants, this might be a valid answer - even though personally, I doubt this exists in the extent being asked for. Dec 24, 2015 at 15:41
  • I didnt want to make public advertisement for such a company @O.R.Mapper some of universites are subscribed to database of that company ( info.researchprofessional.com/funding-opportunities) I was told in META dsccusion that I shouldNOT write names of institutions and organisations in STACK exchanges or post a question conserning it, I am suprise that you told me that I should put!
    – SSimon
    Dec 25, 2015 at 3:25
  • @SSimon: As you did not link to the particular Meta discussion, I can only guess what it was about, but in general, naming particular institutions is discouraged when you are reporting about questionable procedures or other problems - and many questions are about such issues. That is usually a different case than citing a particular institution as a verifiable example of something non-questionable. Likewise, linking to a company could come across as an advertisement, which is why I mentioned you should reveal any affiliation you have with that company, and the reference should, in your ... Dec 25, 2015 at 10:12

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