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Open scientific grant proposals to advance innovation, collaboration, and evidence-based policy

02.06.24 | 5 min read | Text by Jordan Dworkin

Grant writing is a significant part of a scientist’s work. While time-consuming, this process generates a wealth of innovative ideas and in-depth knowledge. However, much of this valuable intellectual output — particularly from the roughly 70% of unfunded proposals — remains unseen and underutilized. The default secrecy of scientific proposals is based on many valid concerns, yet it represents a significant loss of potential progress and a deviation from government priorities around openness and transparency in science policy. Facilitating public accessibility of grant proposals could transform them into a rich resource for collaboration, learning, and scientific discovery, thereby significantly enhancing the overall impact and efficiency of scientific research efforts.

We recommend that funding agencies implement a process by which researchers can opt to make their grant proposals publicly available. This would enhance transparency in research, encourage collaboration, and optimize the public-good impacts of the federal funding process.


Scientists spend a great deal of time, energy, and effort writing applications for grant funding. Writing grants has been estimated to take roughly 15% of a researcher’s working hours and involves putting together an extensive assessment of the state of knowledge, identifying key gaps in understanding that the researcher is well-positioned to fill, and producing a detailed roadmap for how they plan to fill that knowledge gap over a span of (typically) two to five years. At major federal funding agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF), the success rate for research grant applications tends to fall in the range of 20%30%.

The upfront labor required of scientists to pursue funding, and the low success rates of applications, has led some to estimate that ~10% of scientists’ working hours are “wasted.” Other scholars argue that the act of grant writing is itself a valuable and generative process that produces spillover benefits by incentivizing research effort and informing future scholarship. Under either viewpoint, one approach to reducing the “waste” and dramatically increasing the benefits of grant writing is to encourage proposals — both funded and unfunded — to be released as public goods, thus unlocking the knowledge, frontier ideas, and roadmaps for future research that are currently hidden from view.

The idea of grant proposals being made public is a sensitive one. Indeed, there are valid reasons for keeping proposals confidential, particularly when they contain intellectual property or proprietary information, or when they are in the early stages of development. However, these reasons do not apply to all proposals, and many potential concerns only apply for a short time frame. Therefore, neither full disclosure nor full secrecy are optimal; a more flexible approach that encourages researchers to choose when and how to share their proposals could yield significant benefits with minimal risks.

The potential benefits to the scientific community, and science funders include:


Federal funding agencies should develop a process to allow and encourage researchers to share their grant proposals publicly, within existing infrastructures for grant reporting (e.g., NIH RePORTER). Sharing should be minimally burdensome and incorporated into existing application frameworks. The process should be flexible, allowing researchers to opt in or out — and to specify other characteristics like embargoes — to ensure applicants’ privacy and intellectual property concerns are mitigated. 

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should develop a framework for publicly sharing grant proposals.

The NSF should run a focused pilot program to assess opportunities and obstacles for proposal sharing across disciplines.

Based on the NSB’s report, OSTP and OMB should work with federal funding agencies to refine and implement a proposal-sharing process across agencies.

To learn more about the importance of opening science and to read the rest of the published memos, visit the Open Science Policy sprint landing page.