Complex international research, simple funding application

When researchers from several countries apply for funding for a joint project, things can get complicated. But it doesn't have to be that way. Weave, Lead Agency and the International Co-Investigator Scheme offer simple processes.

Prime time on Slovenian television: cell biologist Kristin Schirmer from the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology Eawag explains how certain animal experiments can be replaced by alternative approaches. Specifically, this is about research she is conducting together with the group led by systems biologist Anze Zupanic from the National Institute of Biology in Slovenia. Together they are devising new methods to predict the influence of chemicals on fish growth, using exclusively cells isolated from fish.

This is a Weave project: in the Weave agreement, funding organisations from several countries have committed to mutually recognising decisions on joint projects submitted by researchers. In the case of Kristin Schirmer and Anze Zupanic, the SNSF evaluated and approved the binational application, and its counterpart in Slovenia took over this decision and is funding the work of the Slovenian scientists. As with Weave, this simplified approach to application and evaluation is also possible with the Lead Agency procedure (see box).

Added value not otherwise available in Switzerland

The fact that both researchers have their say in the Slovenian television programme underlines an important aspect of cooperation in Weave or Lead Agency projects, as Kristin Schirmer explains: "Our project is structured in such a way that we absolutely need the expertise from both groups." This creates specific added value that she would not be able to find in Switzerland.

Franck Forterre also emphasises the benefits of complementary expertise. The veterinary neurosurgeon at the Vetsuisse Faculty of the University of Bern is working with partners in Sweden. Together they have developed a ceramic implant that stimulates bone growth after the surgical removal of intervertebral discs. "In Bern, we are now testing its application in veterinary practice with dogs," says Franck Forterre. "Our colleagues in Uppsala are working experimentally with mini pigs." He feels that this combination of subprojects is central with regard to future use in humans.

Franck Forterre's project is being conducted under the International Co-Investigator Scheme. As with Kristin Schirmer's Weave project, the SNSF made the funding decision on the overall project, but here it is funding both the work in Switzerland and in Sweden. However, the basic idea behind both funding mechanisms is the same: application and reporting processes for transnational projects should be as simple as possible. And it's working, as Franck Forterre can confirm: "We hardly have any extra work compared to a completely standard application."

Also possible with three participants

But often not only researchers from two, but from three countries join forces in joint projects. Weave also enables and simplifies such collaborations, as the example of Christa Dürscheid shows. The linguist at the University of Zurich is studying communication patterns in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. "This includes the way complaints and requests are formulated, but also the use of routine phrases," she explains. "We want to empirically establish how language is used in all three countries and compare our results with public perception."

She is now pursuing this research approach with colleagues from the Free University of Berlin and the University of Salzburg. Their project was assessed and approved by the German Research Foundation; the SNSF and the Austrian Science Fund adopted the decision and are funding the work in their countries. "In this way, we received uncomplicated support for a large international project from three sides at once," says Christa Dürscheid.

Clear and simple processes

The projects by Kristin Schirmer, Franck Forterre and Christa Dürscheid impressively demonstrate that funding for complex transnational research collaborations can be organised with clear and simple processes – whether via Weave, Lead Agency or the International Co-Investigator Scheme. Or as Kristin Schirmer says: "In effect, it works like any other SNSF project. That's why I have nothing special to report with regard to the administrative aspects." In this case, that's definitely good news – especially for all those who likewise want to implement an international project with the help of funding.

Weave, Lead Agency and International Co-Investigator Scheme

Funding a research project with international partners: thanks to agreements between the SNSF and funding organisations in other countries, this is now possible with less effort. Embedded in the SNSF's normal project funding, Weave, Lead Agency and International Co-Investigator Scheme grants are awarded for transnational projects based on one application only.

Lead Agency is geared towards projects with participants from two countries; in Weave it can be up to three countries. With both funding mechanisms, one agency alone decides on the application. The others follow its lead and fund the part of the research carried out in their country. In the International Co-Investigator Scheme, the organisation making the funding decision finances the entire project.