Minerva Initiative Minerva Initiative

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

 

Applying for a Minerva research award

Eligibility

Is the Minerva Initiative open to all faculty and students 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 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 Initiative.

Are non-US institutions eligible to receive Minerva funds?

The Minerva BAA is open to foreign scholars. Non-US universities are eligible to compete and receive funds in this competition, both with US partners and without.

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

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 BAA, though the concepts presented must be distinct and the differences clear.

Are current Minerva researchers are 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 September 2014 should re-compete in the FY13 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.

The proposal process

When is the next opportunity to apply for a grant?

The Broad Agency Announcement for new Minerva research to begin in 2014 will be posted on this site and through the Office of Naval Research in September 2013.

How many Minerva proposals are expected to be funded from the current BAA?

Until Congress passes a final budget it is hard to say. Assuming that Congress appropriates the full $5M for new projects requested in the President's budget, the expectation is that we'll aim to fund roughly 2-3 large consortium projects and another 4-6 smaller projects.

As many know, the funding landscape is currently highly uncertain. We are working hard to anticipate the budget climate but likely will not know the final numbers 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 get some new high quality work in the pipeline.

On the basis of what criteria does the Minerva program evaluate applications for funding?

Solicitations for new Minerva research are conducted through the Department of Defense Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) mechanism. Five criteria for Minerva, specified in the BAA, 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

Who is the audience reviewing the proposals?

White paper submissions are reviewed by the topic chief designated in the Broad Agency Announcement, along with a second complementary evaluation by a second social science Ph.D. in the government.

Full proposals are reviewed by a panel of evaluators, led by the designated topic chief and composed of government subject matter experts and members of the academic community. Findings of the evaluation panels will then be forwarded to the Minerva Steering Committee who will make funding recommendations to the awarding officials according to the standard criteria plus program balance and the availability of funds.

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 (2 or more) and at least 3 key investigators. The research questions addressed should extend across a fairly broad range of (linked) issues, where there is clear potential synergy among the contributions of the disciplines represented on the team. If the proposal does not meet most of these criteria, it should be assigned to the other category.

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

Minerva does fund single investigator awards, also funded by individual military service research organizations, but most of its awards go to support multidisciplinary efforts, either through small teams or via larger research consortia.

Choosing a proposal topic

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. In March 2013 the Minerva program staff invited 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.

In Winter 2014 the Minerva staff will again solicit new ideas from government communities of interest as well as those in the academic research community. Please submit your ideas, or your questions, to osd.pentagon.ousd-policy.list.minerva-admin@mail.mil by March 31, 2014 for possible inclusion in the FY15 research BAA.

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 has 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 (e.g. the "Middle East", "Islam") it is important to scope the research to clearly articulable questions and hypotheses. Proposals should motivate 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?)

About white papers

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 three 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 they've received the evaluation?

Interactions with research topic chiefs generally take place only after receiving white paper evaluation. If investigators wish to clarify whether or not their ideas fit within the framework of the solicitation then contacting the topic chief is valid, but the topic chiefs will not be able to give further feedback (e.g. funding level appropriateness or how to shape the proposal to improve chances of success) until the formal evaluation.

Please note that questions on white papers should be submitted at least two weeks before the November 18, 2013 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 ___.

Just who's involved, who's in charge, and what is everyone's high level contribution.

Are there any sample white papers from previous competitions that we can refer to?

Two white papers submitted in a previous year's competition and have been made available with permission of the principal investigators -- here and here. These samples are not provided as templates or perfect examples but rather to demonstrate to prospective proposers the expected depth of detail, the balance of narrative for describing challenges vs. narrative for describing research ideas to address them, etc.

About full proposals

I didn't submit a white paper but still hope to submit a full proposal in 2014. Is this allowed?

If you missed the deadline for the 2014 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!

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.

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".

Does being a "past or current DoD Contractor or Grantee" include being a subcontractor?

As a subcontractor you still had to be evaluated and approved just like the prime, and should answer yes. If there is a place to annotate on the form you should say you performed work as a subcontractor, but still check yes.

I see letters of support mentioned in the BAA -- should we include some in our full proposal?

"Letters of support" are certainly not required and generally make little difference. 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.

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, the Army Research Office, or the Office of Naval Research. Each Military Service has slightly different processes/requirements (so not everything true at the Army Research Office will apply for AFOSR or ONR executed research) so the best first step is to reach out to the topic chief for your topic of interest to learn what process applies to you.

With that caveat in mind, here is a summary of a Fall 2012 discussion AFOSR staff held with potential proposers on its IRB process. These notes are meant as guidance only; only the official human subjects POCs for the Service relevant to your proposal can give definitive answers.

Are there any sample full proposals from previous competitions that we can refer to?

Due to privacy issues and concerns over posting specific details for funded work not yet competed, the Minerva program does not make any full proposal examples available to proposers. If you have specific questions, please contact Minerva program staff.

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

We're expecting to have around $6 M to allocate to new proposals (compared to ~$8 M in 2013 and ~$3 M in 2012). Project sizes vary widely so it is hard to predict the distribution of awards. It will depend on many factors but a reasonable guess might be around four larger projects (~$800k/yr), four medium-size, and four smaller projects.

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 OSD Minerva Steering Committee considers a number of factors in determining the final slate of awards.

Should I wait until award decisions are made to begin 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. You may want to reach out to the expert in IRB and host country permissions from the organization corresponding to your subtopic:

- Air Force Office of Scientific Research (Subtopics 2A, 2B, 4B): Ms. Stephanie Bruce at stephanie.bruce@afosr.af.mil

- Army Research Office (Subtopics 1D, 2C, 2D, 4A): see http://mrmc.amedd.army.mil/index.cfm?pageid=Research_Protections.hrpo (you will get a certificate error but click continue) or contact Mr. Bill Bratton at bill.e.bratton.ctr@mail.mil

- Office of Naval Research (Subtopics 1A, 1B, 1C, 3A, 3B): Ms. Patti Yasenchak at patricia.yasenchak@navy.mil

General advice and guidance for proposal preparation

  • 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, they 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 OSD policy 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 the 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.


General Questions about Minerva

How can I get more information on the specific projects funded under Minerva?

Follow the links under the Funded Activities page or send your contact information and request for additional information to osd.pentagon.ousd-policy.list.minerva-admin@mail.mil.

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

Minerva is a basic research effort. It is not expected that basic research will pay any immediate dividends to the Department of Defense (DoD). These specific topics were picked less for their immediate utility than for the likelihood that they would constitute significant areas of interest over the long term for the United States.

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's considered essential to the nature of the research.