The Grant Review Process: Who Makes the Final Decision?

March 29, 2024

The inner workings of grant decision-making are critical to both the effectiveness and integrity of funding organisations. Refining the decision-making process is therefore crucial – not only does it determine the distribution of resources, but it also shapes the impact that funding can have.

The mechanisms in place for determining who gets awarded a grant can vary widely, from expert review panels to internal organisational decisions, each with its own sets of strengths and challenges. This article reviews the benefits of several widely used approaches.

Types of Grant Review Process

The Value of Review Panels

Implementing a review panel is a favoured approach among many funders, particularly for its emphasis on expertise and objectivity. This approach provides a level of scrutiny and insight that goes beyond surface-level evaluations.

Panel members are often chosen for their expertise related to the applications they are reviewing, yet their role is advisory – they do not make the final decision. Instead, they report their findings or recommendations back to other decision-making bodies.

Panel members each score applications against a set of rigorous criteria that mirror the funder’s goals and expectations – criteria relating to aspects of the application, such as feasibility, relevance, budget, and potential outcomes. 

After individual assessments, the panel may convene to discuss the applications, considering each member’s feedback and scores. The goal of these discussions is to reach a consensus or a majority agreement on which applications stand out as the strongest and the outcome is a set of recommendations or a ranked list of applicants, which is then forwarded to the final decision maker/s.

To summarise, the recommendations from a review panel ensure that the selection is grounded in thorough analysis. However, some organisations combine expert analysis with decision making – and this comes in the form of committees.

Committees: Experts with Authority

For funders who prefer a more authoritative role for their expert advisors, committees can be the tool of choice, as they not only review applications but also make final decisions about grant awards. For example, the Research Committee of Diabetes UK consists of clinical experts of different specialisations who meet throughout the year to make funding decisions. 

In many cases, committees include stakeholders chosen for their deep understanding of the funder’s objectives and the broader impact of the funding within the field. As such, they offer a direct way to ensure that funding aligns with the organisation’s strategic vision.  

Should Your Organisation Use a Review Panel or Committee?  

The Benefits of Committees

Members of a review panel versus a those on a committee may be just as qualified in their expertise. The differences in authority between the two often stem from the organisation’s structure and the mandate given to each group, rather than the individual qualifications of the members.

While panels may be convened for a specific purpose or period and may not have ongoing responsibilities beyond the task of review and evaluation, committees are made up of individuals with long-term roles. This helps to ensure consistent strategic alignment across the portfolio of grant schemes an organisation has.

In addition, because committees are part of the formal governance structure, they bring greater accountability to the review process.

The Benefits of Review Panels

Panels may be favourable for organisations that prioritise adaptability. Generally, they can be assembled, reconfigured, or disbanded as needed, streamlining resource allocation. They may also consist of members external to the organisation; this not only reduces the risk of bias – it can also bring in new ways of thinking and potentially spark innovation.

While committees also consist of experts, they may not always contain members with knowledge in all the required areas for a specific scheme. As such, when a call for proposals is very specialised, panels can be tailored with experts in that niche, ensuring that even the most technical aspects are thoroughly vetted. (With that said, some committees bring in additional experts as needed.)

Panels, being focused solely on review, can often work more quickly than committees, which may have a broader range of responsibilities and bureaucracy. This makes them advantageous for addressing urgent funding opportunities or emerging research areas, providing a timely response where a committee may be slower to assemble and deliberate.

All in all, the structure of panels is ideally suited to dynamic and highly specialised fields where up-to-date expertise and swift decision-making are crucial.

The Role of the Board

Larger organisations may involve their board of directors in the final grant decision-making process. The board may not be involved in the day-to-day or detailed assessment of each application; instead, their involvement ensures that awards are not only recommended by experts but also ratified by those responsible for upholding the organisation’s strategic and financial governance. 

Review panels present their recommendations to the board, which then reviews these suggestions. As such, their oversight can provide a high-level check that aligns granular funding decisions with broader strategic goals.

Internal Processes for Smaller Organisations

Small organisations or those with the need for a quick turnaround may handle the decision-making process internally. In such cases, the organisation may not use a formal review panel or committee due to constraints in resources or time.

Instead, decisions are made by a small group of individuals within the organisation, often including senior staff members or department heads. This group will review applications, perhaps discuss them in a series of meetings, and arrive at a decision.

The advantage of this approach is efficiency and speed, but it may lack the breadth of expertise that larger panels or committees provide. Also note that internal processes must be structured to avoid potential biases and ensure a diverse representation of perspectives. Funders using this method should therefore consider mechanisms to incorporate broader viewpoints and uphold the principles of fairness and transparency.

How Flexigrant Supports Your Grant Management Process

Having award data consolidated in one place streamlines the whole grant management lifecycle. In terms of the review process itself, our solution provides a range of tools that improve efficiency, such as our intuitive shortlisting tool – this helps automate the early screening of applications, so that those that qualify can be swiftly passed on to reviewers. It also offers a review assignment tool, and our premium features include a committee meeting and workspace tool.


The question of who makes the final decision on grant awards depends on the structure, size, and preferences of the awarding organisation. Each method, from expert review panels to board approvals and internal processes, has its unique advantages and is chosen to best suit the organisation’s goals and capabilities.

It’s essential for funders to critically assess their decision-making frameworks, looking for ways to improve efficiency, transparency, and alignment with their mission, and the cultivation of trust within the communities they serve.

Flexigrant is the grant management solution of choice for many prominent funders in the UK and beyond. To discover how it can streamline your entire operation, book a demo today.

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