General Questions About Minerva

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Why has the Department of Defense singled out these topics as important areas of research?

Each year’s research solicitation includes updated topics informed by input from DoD policy makers and operators, as well as the academic community, to ensure that Minerva priorities continue to target the most critical knowledge gaps and long term security needs.

Does DoD research undergo peer review? What steps are being taken to ensure the quality of the research?

The Minerva program works diligently to ensure technical quality while targeting its resources at questions related to the problems most critical for national security. This includes drawing upon peers to assist in the review process. (Award selection criteria and the review process are described below, in the "Applying for a Minerva Research Award" section.) Moreover, Minerva-funded research has a strong publication record, with our researchers' work appearing in many top journals with their own well-established peer-reviewed processes.

Does DoD funding of social science research represent a conflict of interest?

We do not consider it a conflict of interest for DoD to fund social science research. Many of the world's conflicts have social components and we believe it important for DoD to gain understanding about these challenges from researchers, with the aim of more thoughtfully and humanely addressing security concerns. Since its inception, one of the key components of the Minerva Research Initiative has been its commitment to complete openness and rigid adherence to academic freedom and integrity. Minerva research is entirely unclassified and in the form of grants rather than contracts to allow the flexibility that basic science research often demands. Researchers may be of any nationality (and in fact several non-US institutions receive funding) and publication of academic papers and public commentary alike is unrestricted.

Are there any publication restrictions that would apply to someone with a Minerva award?

The Minerva program funds only unclassified basic research. Federal policy ensures that such research not be subjected to any restrictions on publication or participation by foreign nationals, and in the case of Minerva this point is especially emphasized as it is considered essential to the nature of the research.

Is there a place I can go to access data, tools, and reports produced by Minerva projects?

At this time, you must contact Minerva staff or the researchers themselves to access this information. We are working to build a central repository to share research-generated data and tools in the future.

Applying for a Minerva Research Award

  • Funding for Minerva basic research comes from the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Importantly, this means findings coming from the work should be generalizable across time, geopolitical regions, and/or other socio-cultural domains. In other words, the research should have predictive value and should contain useful lessons learned. It is often very challenging in the Social Sciences to meet this generalizability requirement in a compelling (valid) way because arguments from situation(s) X to situation(s) Y are usually based on correlational, rather than experimental, analysis. As a consequence many variables of uncertain impact differentiate among the complex socio-cultural situations of interest. Given this challenge, it is critical that every effort is made, in terms of the research questions asked and the approaches taken to address them, to understand and minimize the impacts of confounding or potentially contaminating contrasts across situations. Considerable thought and space should be given to this issue in the formal proposal. 
  • Please make clear what in your focus and your approach is novel. What new does your proposed work bring to the disciplinary table? What novel insights might they provide to DoD decision-makers? Why are these insights important? 
  • Very clearly state how and in what senses your proposed methods provide a compelling test of your theoretical ideas or hypotheses. 
  • If your work relies on access to particular data sets that are not generally and openly available, please include in the proposal either a strategy by which you would gain access or a statement from the organization/individual controlling the data set indicating they will provide access.

When is the next opportunity to apply for a grant?

The Funding Opportunity Announcement for new Minerva research will be available on Grants.gov in February 2017. The topics of interest are available under Research Priorities.

How many Minerva proposals are expected to be funded in the current FOA?

The number and size of awards is dependent each year on the budget Congress appropriates. In the 2016 competition, Minerva made 11 awards, ranging from $125 K to $750 K per year for three years.

As many know, the funding landscape remains highly uncertain. We are working hard to anticipate the budget climate but likely will not know the exact number of projects selected for awards until the review process of full proposals is already underway or complete. Whatever happens, we will work to optimize our resources over the proposals received and support as many of the new projects as possible.

How large are Minerva awards?

Typical Minerva awards range from around $150 K to $1 M per year, for three years in most cases. Factors impacting budget include the number of key researchers, international field work required, data collection and annotation needs, scope of research questions tackled, and other project-specific contexts. Cost of the project is largely evaluated not in terms of total cost but rather value – the cost in relation to expected outputs and impact.

It often makes sense for project size to be correlated to perceived relevance to the Department. For example, identifying more reliable ways to measure state fragility would have value for national security, but perhaps not large consortia-team value. More expensive projects in general should be more innovative, more interdisciplinary with top experts, and addressing some critical question that has many broad unknowns (but still a strong foundation from which to start.) Smaller projects are generally more narrowly focused, targeting hard but well defined questions. Proposals with small budgets come with the natural advantage that, if it is deemed of adequate quality and relevance, fitting it into the total Minerva budget may be done with more flexibility.

What are Minerva's award selection criteria?

Solicitations for new Minerva research are conducted through the Department of Defense Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) mechanism. Five criteria for Minerva, specified in the FOA, form the basis for source selection:

  • Technical merit
  • Relevance
  • Impact (e.g. to the field, by training students, by having strong government outreach plans, etc.)
  • PI qualifications
  • Cost: Value

How are proposals evaluated?

Minerva grants are selected through a two-stage solicitation process. Proposers first submit a white paper (four-page mini-proposal) corresponding to one or more topics defined as being of interest. From this pool, a subset of proposers is invited to submit a full proposal. Full proposal submissions are then reviewed by panels of:

  • Defense Science & Technology program managers and researchers;
  • Defense policy and operations experts; and
  • DoD-external academic researchers.

This diverse set of inputs helps to optimize award selection over a number of constraints. Peer review is an important tool for ensuring that the research to be funded is of the highest quality, and is the motivation of including DoD-external academic researchers in the panels. Research program managers in the Army, Air Force, and Navy have advanced academic training in relevant disciplines, but are also trained to spot the types of high-risk, high-reward opportunities important to the Minerva program but are often eliminated in consensus-based peer review processes. Finally, as a DoD basic research program, the Minerva Research Initiative aims to fund research generating insights that may help leadership identify and mitigate sources of present and future conflict. Including perspectives from defense policy and operational experts helps the review panels focus their recommendations on quality research that will also contribute to those problems most critical for national and global security.

How many institutions should be part of a proposed project to warrant a large team application?

There is no set rule, but in general the higher category should involve several distinct disciplines (two or more) and at least two key investigators. The research questions addressed should extend across a fairly broad range of (interrelated) issues, where there is clear potential synergy among the contributions of the disciplines represented on the team.

It is important to justify why a five year project has been proposed, rather than a three year effort that could be continued later through follow-up proposals. How would Years 4 and 5’s research relate to the larger project goals, and what additional insights/impact would they provide?

Is there a preference for collaborative work over single investigator awards?

Minerva does fund awards to university-employed single investigators (as do individual military service research organizations), but most of its awards go to support multidisciplinary efforts, either through small teams or via larger research consortia.

What research outputs are expected?

All Minerva research is unclassified and by federal policy is not subjected to any restrictions on publication or participation by foreign nationals. It is expected that copies of all products emerging from Minerva-supported research, such as academic papers, will be shared with the Minerva program staff.

All publications should acknowledge Minerva Research Initiative support through language such as: “This project was supported through the Minerva Research Initiative, in partnership with [relevant Service partner issuing grant] under grant number [award_number].” Posters and other publications should include reference to the Minerva program and/or Minerva program logo.

During the course of research, Minerva researchers are encouraged to produce 800-word policy briefs -- analytical summaries articulating the broader relevance of the findings presented in these academic papers – sharable within the government and/or others interested.

Who should serve as Principal Investigator?

The principal investigator should be the person who will be responsible for the execution and administration of the project. It doesn't matter whether that person is the lead of the unit in the performing institution. The important issue is the person's expertise and ability to oversee the project. This can be articulated in both the management plan and evident in the person's CV.

Past Minerva awards have gone to nationally-renowned long-time faculty and assistant professors alike. Proposals led by big-name PIs with little planned direct involvement in the proposed work will have no advantage over projects led by younger faculty with a solid publication record with experience working with and/or leading research teams.

Is the Minerva Research Initiative open to all researchers regardless of nationality?

As outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates indicated in his April 14, 2008 speech to the Association of American Universities, one of the key components of the Minerva Research Initiative is its commitment to complete openness and rigid adherence to academic freedom and integrity. As such, there are no restrictions on the nationality of faculty or students who are eligible to participate in any of the components of the Minerva Research Initiative.

Are non-US institutions eligible to receive Minerva funds?

Yes. Funds can be awarded to institutions outside the US. However, normal restrictions on U.S. Government funding in certain countries still apply.

Are non-profit institutions and commercial entities eligible to submit proposals to the Minerva FOA?

The Minerva Research Initiative was initiated by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as a university-based social science research program, and university research remains the program's emphasis. However, non-profit institutions and commercial entities are eligible to compete and receive Minerva basic research funding as collaborators in university-led team proposals.

Can a single higher education institution submit more than white paper if they are interested in more than one topic area? Can a commercial subcontractor be on more than one higher education team -- e.g., different teams dealing with different topic areas?

Investigators may submit multiple proposals to the Minerva FOA, though the concepts presented must be distinct and the differences clear.

Are current Minerva researchers eligible to submit white papers/full proposals in this solicitation?

Current Minerva researchers are eligible to submit new proposals both as lead PIs and as collaborators for both small team and large consortium proposals. These proposals are NOT intended to be renewal proposals to augment existing work and will be competed on equal footing with other research proposals. It is expected that the proposals will be clearly distinct from ongoing work.

Minerva grantees whose period of performance is set to expire prior to January 2018 should re-compete in the FY17 Minerva competition. In this case it is expected that budget estimates for Year 1 will take the existing funding into account unless clearly distinct new efforts are demonstrated.

What if a Minerva grant has already been funded at my organization?

Groups otherwise eligible to propose to Minerva remain eligible even if they or their peers already receive Minerva funding. Again, proposed concepts should be clearly distinct from other Minerva efforts.

Can graduate students submit research proposals?

Policies on who can be a principal investigator on a grant vary by the military service executing the Minerva grant, but in general the university PI must be a professor or research staff at minimum. We encourage students with Minerva research ideas to work with their advisors or other faculty to submit a proposal.

Will awards only be made to teams, or also to single investigators?

While the intent of the initiative is to build consortia and increase the capacity to conduct social science research, outstanding ideas proposed by single investigators affiliated with universities will be considered.

Are independent researchers eligible to apply for Minerva awards?

No. DoD awards grants to institutions, not individuals, and thus a researcher must have a university affiliation to apply for a Minerva grant. To determine if your affiliation qualifies, contact your university’s research office.

Are DoD educational institutions eligible to participate and receive funds?

DoD educational institutions that grant degrees in social sciences are eligible to participate and receive funds from the Minerva program. Teaching faculty at defense education institutions such as service academies and war colleges are also encouraged to consider proposing to the Minerva R-DEF program.

Are DoD regional centers (such as the Marshall Center) eligible to participate and receive funds?

DoD Regional Centers for Security Studies are eligible to participate and receive funds as a prime awardee if they are affiliated with a degree-granting institution such as National Defense University (NDU). Otherwise, they may partner with a university on proposals. They are also eligible for funds through Minerva's R-DEF program.

How does the Minerva program determine its priority research topics?

The Minerva Research Initiative aims to target its funded research at the most important fundamental knowledge gaps impacting national security. Before each solicitation is released, Minerva program staff invite government communities of interest to send proposals for which topics the Minerva program should prioritize for future university research solicitations. These suggested topics (or the research questions that could be distilled) make up the bulk of the priority research topics currently listed. 

New ideas from government communities of interest as well as those in the academic research community are always welcome and, when possible, will be integrated into future FOAs. Please submit your ideas, or your questions, to osd.minerva@mail.mil 

What if a project could fit under more than one topic heading -- how should I apply?

In addition to providing early feedback, the white paper stage is also a good opportunity for Minerva program managers to suggest that a proposal would fit better into a different topic category, if applicable. 

The defined topics are not mutually exclusive and proposals may consider issues relating to questions, scope, or regions beyond those listed. One dominant topic per proposal is preferable but not necessary. If you submit a single white paper or proposal to more than one topic/topic chief, please make clear in each submission that you have done so. 

Is it better to frame the project scope in terms of broad regions, or to indicate that my expertise and previous data collection have been focused on a particular set of countries? 

Given the often extended timeline required for basic research, along with rapidly evolving global security concerns, it is generally best not to scope work as to give insights only for one particular country. Even when research concentrates on a single region, it is expected that resulting conclusions will be at least partially generalizable to similar groups or regions to inform security decisions of the future. That said, when looking at a broad region or topic (e.g. the "Middle East", "Islam") it is important for the research to clearly articulate questions and hypotheses. Proposals should address why specific populations were chosen to inform the answer to these questions. 

What is the Heilmeier Catechism and how can it help me? 

Every proposal should clearly satisfy the "Heilmeier Catechism", a standard set of research proposal questions credited to former ARPA director George Heilmeier. 

  •  What are you trying to do? Why is it hard? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon. 
  • How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice? 
  • What's new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful? 
  • Who cares? 
  • If you're successful, what difference will it make? (What impact will success have?) 
  • What are the risks and the payoffs? 
  • How much will it cost? 
  • How long will it take? 
  • What are the midterm and final "exams" to check for success? (i.e. how will progress be measured?)

What is a White Paper, and do I have to submit one? 

Minerva uses a two-stage proposal process. A white paper is roughly an abbreviated version of a full proposal. In four pages or less the white paper should provide sufficient information on the research being proposed (e.g., hypothesis, theories, concepts, methods, approaches, data collection, measurement, and analyses) to allow for an assessment by a subject matter expert. Roughly four weeks later, topic chiefs will respond to white paper submissions. Responses are of two types: invitation for submission of a full proposal for those white papers deemed most competitive in terms of scientific merit and program fit; and notifications to those white papers not in this category. Due to the volume of white papers received, unfortunately it is unlikely that topic chiefs can provide detailed feedback to those white papers not selected for invitation. 

White papers are not an absolute requirement for full proposal submission, but are very strongly recommended. Even prior to submitting a white paper we suggest you consider contacting the appropriate topic chief. There is no guarantee with all of the white papers to be reviewed that he or she will be able to give feedback, but if so it could potentially be a time saver for all involved to verify that the proposal is within the scope of Minerva and would be competitive for award. 

Should I contact the research topic chief before submitting the white paper, or only after he/she has received the evaluation? 

To ensure that no researchers are given a competitive advantage over others, topic chiefs cannot give detailed feedback (e.g. funding level appropriateness or how to shape the proposal to improve chances of success) until after the formal evaluation. All questions ahead of the white paper submission should be limited to clarifying whether or not ideas fit within the framework of the solicitation. This is best done not by sending a multi-page description but rather a few sentences laying out the motivation and scope of the idea. Topic chiefs receive a large volume of queries, and clear questions are likely to get more prompt answers. 

Please note that questions on white papers should be submitted at least two weeks before the white paper deadline. 

What is included in the four page limit? 

White papers must be four pages or less, but certain items are auxiliary. A cover sheet, CVs, bibliographies, etc. can optionally be included but do not contribute to the four page count. 

For the white paper submission, what is meant by a "described management plan"?  

The "management plan" can be fairly high level but might generally look something like: 

Dr. ** (PI) will be responsible for the overall technical and financial direction and management of the project. ** will identify, track and manage project progress, and disseminate project information to all personnel. ** will also generate detailed analyses of ___. Dr. *** (Co-PI) will __[research effort]. Finally, Dr. **** will examine ___. 

The plan should articulate who's involved, who's in charge, and each participant's high level contribution. 

Should the budget detailed in the white paper include any indirect costs imposed by my university? 

Yes – the budget listed, though estimated, should realistically estimate the funds to be requested. It is standard practice for universities to charge an “indirect cost” percentage above and beyond funds requested for research activities; reviewers recognize this and do not penalize proposals for these fees.

I did not submit a White Paper before the deadline but still hope to submit a full proposal. Is this allowed?

If you missed the deadline for the white paper competition or were not sent an invitation for proposal, it is possible--but discouraged--to submit a full proposal for consideration. Please reach out to the relevant topic chief to explain why the deadline was missed and to succinctly describe the research concept (a few sentences at most), and the topic chief will let you know if there is adequate program interest for you to submit. 

Is it a problem if my full proposal budget is dramatically different from the budget given in my submitted white paper? 

A budget estimate different than that given in the white paper will not be an issue, as the full proposal review will really be a clean slate judgment by an expanded set of reviewers.The more effectively you justify your budget, of course, the better.

Is there a specific required format or page limit for CVs or biographical sketches? 

There is not a format or page limit required for biographical sketches attached to the "Research and Related - Senior/Key Person Profile Form".  

Are the budget and justification part of the 25-page limit on the project narrative? 

No, these are separate and should be uploaded at field 12 of the grants.gov submission form. 

How much should I budget for travel for meetings and program reviews? 

In additional to an annual two-day Minerva-wide program review held in the Washington, DC area, individual program reviews between the Service sponsor and the performer may be held as necessary. Program status reviews may also be held to provide a forum for reviews of the latest results from experiments and any other incremental progress towards the major demonstrations. These meetings will be held at various sites throughout the country. For costing purposes, offerors should assume that 40% of these meetings will be at or near the appropriate Service Headquarters in the Washington, DC area and 60% at other contractor or government facilities. Interim meetings are likely, but efforts will be made to accomplish these via video telephone conferences, telephone conferences, or via web-based collaboration tools. 

Aside from this, we suggest planning for travel to one additional meeting in the Washington DC area each year beginning with the second project year until the final project year. This would allow the PI to provide briefings, if appropriate, to key policymakers in Washington. This need not necessarily involve all the project personnel, however. The proposer should decide what would be the best balance in developing the project activities and budget. 

Should we include letters of support in our full proposal? 

Letters of support are supplementary: neither required nor will they necessarily impact selection decisions. There is no standard format. 

Circumstances in which they might be particularly useful might include: 

  • If you plan to work with any consultants or other third party organizations (e.g. a survey firm or country consultants), confirming their qualifications and intent to work with you; 
  • If you will need any foreign IRBs or country approvals (i.e. letters demonstrating that you already have connections in a given country or otherwise have made connections, thus reassuring reviewers that you will be able to get all approvals through); 
  • If your publication record/CV is thinner than might be expected for one reason or another (or perhaps your institution's academic reputation is less well known) but a respected academic with a strong reputation is willing to vouch for you.  

How much money will Minerva be allocating this year? Is there a sense of the break-down of the likely sizes of different grants? 

We're expecting to have around $10 M to allocate to new proposals. Project sizes vary widely so it is hard to predict the distribution of awards. 

Does the 25-page limit for the technical summary include or exclude the Project Schedule, Milestones and Deliverables, Management Approach, and Facilities? If these sections are excluded, should any page limitations be followed for these sections? 

The 25 page limit includes schedule/deliverables/management/facilities (if applicable).  

Is there a preferred format for either the CV or biographical sketches? If not, would the use of an NSF or NIH style biosketch be compliant? 

There is no preferred format, and the NSF/NIH biosketch model would be fine. 

How is "engagement" defined in the "8 years of engagement history with the DoD" provided in the CV/biosketches, and what should be included in this section? 

It is adequate to list funding, but including briefings or meetings is also appropriate. 

Should funding from an internal university source (e.g. seed funding from a department or university center) be included in the current and pending funding section, and is there a specified format for this section? 

For the current and pending funding section, we recommend you include prior funding for each award, the title, sponsor, award amount, whether the researcher serves as the PI, period of performance/award period, and person-months per year committed to the project. Including internal institutional support is optional. 

Who reviews Minerva proposals? 

At the topic-level, full proposals submitted to the Minerva program will be reviewed both by technical experts and by individuals more expert in OSD and Governmental policy priorities. The proposal should be pitched to both these groups. In particular, it is important to define ideas and measures in a way that can be appreciated by technical non-experts. Do not assume all reviewers will appreciate the significance or contribution of particular instruments, techniques, analytical tools and the like. 

Once topic-level recommendations are made, the Minerva Steering Committee will consider a number of factors in determining the final slate of awards, including portfolio balance (topical,regional, and methodological) and funds available.

What is the DoD process for human subjects approvals?

Human subjects approvals for DoD-funded social science research can be cumbersome but we want to help you through the process. All Minerva research is executed by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), the Army Research Office (ARO), or the Office of Naval Research (ONR). Each Military Service has slightly different processes/requirements (so not everything true at ARO will apply for AFOSR or ONR executed research) so the best first step is to reach out to the program manager for your topic of interest to learn what process applies to you. 

Should I wait until award decisions are made to being IRB approval processes?

If your work entails survey or ethnographic data gathering in foreign countries, you should begin right away the processes of gaining IRB approval AND formal written host country permission for this data gathering. These processes can be extremely time-consuming, sometimes taking many months, so you should not delay in initiating them even though final funding decisions have not yet been completed. You should document your progress along these lines in the full proposal. Each of the three military service research organizations has a unique process and set of requirements for obtaining these approvals. Contact the designated program manager corresponding to your interest are for further guidelines.