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NEH's Application Review Process

Ever wanted to know what happens to your application once you submit it to NEH? The flowchart below breaks down the steps in the journey that your application takes.

We’re always looking for scholars and experts in their field to serve as peer reviewers. If you’re interested in serving on an application review panel, please add your name to the PRISM database.

Who serves on the National Council on the Humanities? Read short biographies of the twenty-six members.

A biography of NEH Deputy Chairman, Carole M. Watson, is also available.

THE NEH REVIEW PROCESS

Applicants use guidelines and Grants.gov package to prepare
materials for submission.

Applicant submits application package to Grants.gov by deadline.

NEH assembles peer review panel. Knowledgeable persons outside NEH
read each application and advise the agency about its merits. Read More »

Using peer review evaluations, NEH staff recommends applications
for funding based on available funds. Read More »

National Council on the Humanities, which meets three times a year,
reviews the recommended applications. Read More »

NEH chairman takes into account the advice provided by the review process
and, by law, makes all funding decisions. Read More »

Applicants are notified whether their projects will be funded.

Introduction

The review process stands at the center of NEH’s work. Annually, the Endowment conducts more than 200 review panels, involving nearly 1,000 outside experts, in its evaluation of approximately 5,700 applications across 40 grant programs. The Endowment recruits panelists from every state, drawing on a wide and diverse pool of scholars and other humanities experts. In a fiscal year, NEH will make about 900 grants in amounts ranging from $1,000 to approximately $750,000. In most programs, the applicant success rate varies from about 6 percent to 40 percent; the funding ratio across all grant programs is approximately 16 percent. About 35 program officers, most of whom hold an advanced degree in a humanities or related field, manage the process.

NEH’s review process has four distinct but fully integrated levels. First, knowledgeable persons independent of the agency read each application and advise the agency about its merits; second, NEH’s staff synthesizes the results of the outside review and prepares a slate of recommendations for the National Council on the Humanities; third, the National Council meets in Washington, DC, to advise the Endowment’s chairman on applications and matters of policy; and fourth, the chairman considers the advice he or she has received and makes the final funding decisions. All levels of the review process prior to the chairman’s decision are advisory.

Level I: Panel Review

The first level in the process—which informs every subsequent level—involves consideration by a panel of outside experts in the relevant areas.

NEH program officers check applications for eligibility and assign them to panels based on academic discipline, institutional type, project area, or project type. They typically assign 15 to 40 applications to a panel and select three to six evaluators per panel. In assembling a panel, program officers select evaluators for their expertise in the relevant disciplines, topics, and areas, as well as their overall breadth of knowledge in the humanities. Other considerations may include the type of institution the prospective evaluator represents, their past panel experience, or other demographic characteristics. It is important to note that no evaluator may serve in consecutive years for the same grant program or on more than two convening panels in any calendar year. NEH doesn’t have standing panels; all NEH panels are formed anew at the start of a grant competition.

The Endowment provides evaluators with online access to the applications several weeks in advance of the panel meeting. At this stage the evaluators read the applications, enter their preliminary comments, and assign initial ratings. They may choose among the following ratings: E for Excellent, VG for Very Good, G for Good, SM for Some Merit, and NC for Not Competitive. In cases of a conflict of interest, evaluators will recuse themselves. All reviews and ratings must be based on NEH's published review criteria and program guidelines. NEH’s review criteria emphasize humanities significance, the applicant’s abilities and qualifications, the proposal’s clarity of expression, and the project’s feasibility, design, cost, and work plan. (Since the review criteria may vary from program to program, applicants should consult the criteria of the grant program to which they are applying.)

In most grant programs the evaluators later meet as a group in Washington, DC, in order to discuss the applications, enter additional written comments, and assign their final ratings. Informed by the panel discussion, they may raise or lower their initial ratings. Program officers organize the panel proceedings according to the evaluators’ initial ratings, moving from the highest- to the lowest-rated applications. The evaluators are not expected to reach a consensus and are not asked to rank the applications as a panel. Instead, NEH’s evaluators provide individual ratings for each application.

In a few grant programs the evaluators may not convene in person. Instead, each evaluator submits his or her ratings electronically.

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Level II: NEH Staff Review

NEH’s grant competitions are administered by its seven divisions and offices. After the panels have completed their work, NEH staff organizes the panel results, and for each of the highest-rated applications summarizes the reviews of the evaluators and comments on matters of fact or other significant issues. Based on the evaluators’ ratings and comments, NEH staff recommends the most meritorious applications—striving to maintain an even level of quality among the recommended proposals across all panels in a grant program. The recommended slate and all supporting materials are made available to NEH’s National Council on the Humanities.

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Level III: The National Council on the Humanities

The National Council on the Humanities is an advisory body of twenty-six members who have distinguished themselves in the humanities. They are nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate; they serve six-year, staggered terms. The National Council meets three times a year in Washington, DC, for the purpose of advising the NEH chairman regarding agency policy, grant programs, and applications for financial support.

The Council’s meetings, which take place over two days, occur in March, July, and November. Each council member serves on a committee that reviews the recommendations of one or more of NEH’s divisions and offices. On the first day of the meeting Council members discuss individual applications and vote on the staff’s recommendations; in the plenary session of the Council, which takes place on the second day, Council members finalize their recommendations to the chairman. By law, the Council is required to review applications for financial support, and the chairman may not approve/disapprove of applications (with some narrow statutory exceptions) until he or she has received the Council’s recommendations.

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Level IV: The NEH Chairman

After the National Council on the Humanities has completed its deliberations, the NEH chairman decides which applications will receive public support. The chairman takes into account the totality of advice provided by NEH’s review process—including the advice of reviewers, Endowment staff, and the National Council. By law, the chairman makes all final funding decisions.

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Transparency and Confidentiality at NEH

The Endowment seeks to make its review process as transparent as possible, while protecting the confidentiality of applicants, evaluators, staff, and Council members. It is a matter of public information that an evaluator served on an NEH panel: The agency announces its review panels in the Federal Register and lists panelists’ names in its annual reports. The public may not, however, attend panel meetings or Council sessions in which applications are evaluated. The names of applicants are kept confidential except for those who receive an award. NEH announces the names of award winners in each competition on its website. Importantly, all applicants can receive upon request the evaluators’ ratings and written comments, though NEH does not provide the names of the evaluators with their comments.

The Endowment welcomes your questions, suggestions, and comments about its review process. Please send your comments to info@neh.gov. We also invite practitioners in the humanities—scholars, teachers, administrative staff, and members of the public with a background in the humanities—to enter their names and credentials in NEH’s Panelists and Reviewers Information System (PRISM) in order to be considered for panel service.

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Updated 6/25/2012