For each major area of knowledge, the FAPESP Board of Scientific Directors maintains a committee of recognized experts who are responsible for coordinating the process of analyzing the merits of the grant proposals submitted to FAPESP. These experts are known as members of the Area Panels, and each Area Panels Committee is responsible for coordinating one of the following areas of knowledge: Health Sciences; Biology; Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences; Engineering; Physics; Astronomy; Chemistry; Geosciences; Mathematics and Computer Science; Architecture and Urbanism; Humanities and Social Sciences; and Technological Innovation.
A number of criteria, including institutional diversity and the area-specific demand, are used in order to select the Area Panels members and to determine how many will be required for each area of knowledge. Head Coordinators occupy a position of trust with the Scientific Director and are therefore chosen only after extensive consultation with the academic leaders in the area of interest. Area Panels members typically meet once a week.
Funding requests are forwarded to the respective Area Panels members, who are responsible for selecting appropriate ad hoc consultants to issue detailed opinions on the merits of a given proposal. The choice of which Area Panels Committee will be responsible for each proposal is made on the basis of the theme of the research project, and neither the institutional affiliation of the applicant nor the generic classification of the area of knowledge is relevant. In the case of multidisciplinary projects, more than one committee can be heard.
The choice of ad hoc consultants is made after an analysis of the study project and institutional affiliations of the participants. A list of FAPESP consultants (in the state of São Paulo, in Brazil as a whole, and abroad) is available to all Area Panel members. When choosing ad hoc consultants for a given project, Area Panels members seek to identify specialists with proven competence who are experts on the theme. Area Panels members also attempt to avoid choices that create potential conflicts of interest of any nature related to the analysis of the project.
The number of ad hoc consultants who analyze a given project depends on the category into which the project falls (under which grant mechanism it will be funded), being at least three for Thematic Projects and at least two for Young Researchers at Emerging Centers Program projects, as well as on the amount of funding being requested, projects requiring major funding being sent to at least two consultants regardless of the category into which they fall.
After having analyzed the projects and issued their opinions, the ad hoc consultants return the proposals to the Area Panels members, who then analyze the opinions of the consultants. Each ad hoc consultant provides a complex evaluation, in which various questions must be answered. The answers provided will inform the decision made by the FAPESP Board. For each grant mechanism, there is a set of specific questions to be answered by the ad hoc consultants. These questions can be found in forms that are specifically designed for ad hoc advisory opinions and are available on the FAPESP website.
On the basis of the evaluations provided by the consultants, Area Panels members submit a recommendation to the Board of Scientific Directors. The Board of Scientific Directors then decides to approve the proposal, deny the proposal, deny the proposal in its current form, or request additional information. In the case of research grant proposals of any nature, the budget can be approved with or without cuts. The decision to deny a proposal in its current form implies that the ad hoc consultants recognize the merits of the proposal and believe that a modified version, one that takes into account the criticisms and recommendations of the consultants, can eventually be approved.
The decision to request additional information is made only when the Board of Scientific Directors recognizes, in principle, that satisfactory clarification of the questions raised by the consultants can lead to the approval of the proposal. In the case of fellowship applications, given the fierce competition for such resources, Area Panels members are responsible for prioritizing the applications on the basis of ad hoc advisory opinions and specific prioritization criteria for each type of fellowship. All proposals are then forwarded to the Supervising Panels of the Board of Scientific Directors.