By Jing Li, MA, University of California at Berkeley

In 2011, the China Medical Board (CMB) initiated the Open Competition (OC) Program as an integral part of its continuing effort to support China’s junior researchers in conducting high quality research in health policy and systems sciences (HPS). Over the course of three years, numerous young scholars have benefited from participating in the grant application process of OC.

In this special interview series, we invite CMB staff, reviewers and finalists of the CMB 2012 OC to share their experience and insight about the program. The purpose of the series is threefold. First, the series aims to provide a more comprehensive overview of the OC program and enhance readers’ familiarity about its purpose, process and significance. Second, the detailed experience shared by the reviewers and participants will inform potentially interested researchers and hopefully better prepare them for future participation in the OC program or any other grant application. Third, the series presents a snapshot of some of the most up-to-date and promising research projects conducted by China’s young scholars in HPS, thereby offering a microcosm of the current landscape of China’s HPSS research.

This issue’s CMB-OC interview series includes the following:

  • An introduction of CMB-OC’s background, content and significance by Linda (Na) Zhou, Grants Manager at CMB;
  • An overview of the CMB-OC review process by Dr. Shufang Zhang, coordinator of the CMB-OC review process;
  • Five interviews with CMB-OC participants: Drs. Xinglin Feng and Weiyan Jian (interviewed by Jing Li), Drs. Guoqing Hu and Li Zhao (interviewed by Shuli Qu) and Ms. Qian Li (interviewed by Dr. Zhehui Luo).


 By Linda Zhou, MA, the China Medical Board

Over the course of the 20th century, health in China has advanced significantly. Nevertheless, China still faces many challenges in providing universal, high quality, affordable healthcare to its people. The China Medical Board (美国中华医学基金会, CMB) is dedicated to supporting solutions to these challenges as part of its broader mission of promoting health in China and other Asian countries. In strengthening Chinese capacities in health policy and systems sciences (HPS) research and health professional education (HPE), the CMB supports China’s ongoing health reforms by encouraging the expansion of China’s evidence-base for health policymaking.

Under the HPS umbrella strategy, CMB Open Competition (CMB-OC) research is designed to nurture individual capacity especially for junior researchers from eligible institutions and encourages multidisciplinary approaches. The program’s strenuous merit-based peer review process seeks to identify excellent researchers or researchers with high potential, regardless of seniority. CMB-OC awards research funding of 25,000 USD - 150,000 USD per project for 2-5 years and, and entitles awardees opportunities for future collaborative learning, training, and mentorship. The CMB-OC program has run for three consecutive years since 2011 and has awarded 20 grants with funding ranging from 57,000 USD to 150,000 USD. The program is highly competitive. For instance, in the 2012 cycle, CMB received 123 project applications, of which 29 abstracts were invited for full proposal development. Ultimately, 8 projects were approved for funding.

The CMB-OC supports projects in the following broad areas of HPS. As a central theme, in 2013 CMB-OC will prioritize equity in health and give special attention to the research that illuminates the measurement, causes, conditions, strategies and interventions to inequity in health. 

l  Emerging health challenges in China, especially research involving diseases with a high burden of disease in China (but excluding wet-lab based research); and

l  Health policies and health systems responses to address emerging health challenges, such as those related to health governance, ethics, financing, human resources, care delivery systems, health technology assessment, pharmaceutical policies, and health informatics.


By Shufang Zhang, PhD,

United Nations Research Institute for Social Development

The key principle of the review process of CMB’s Open Competition (OC) proposals is to ensure transparency and fairness. Reviewers of the OC proposals are chosen to ensure the balance of discipline representation as well as the academic rigor and credential in Health Policy and System Sciences (HPS) research.

The proposals are reviewed and assessed based on five main criteria: the likely value of the project, the appropriateness of the methods, feasibility, cross-disciplinary content and the research experience of the PI and Co-PIs. Among those five criteria, appropriateness of the methods carries the highest weight, followed by feasibility. These criteria are applied throughout the entire review process.  

The review process of the CMB’s Open Competition (OC) grants includes two major stages: the review of the proposal abstracts and the review of the invited full proposals.

At the review stage of proposal abstracts, each reviewer is asked to assess and score a proposal abstract based on the above mentioned 5 criteria, and make suggestion regarding whether the full proposal of the abstract shall be invited or not.  The final decision on the full proposal invitation is made based on the combined results of recommendation made by each independent reviewer, whose views are weighted equally.

The review stage of the full proposal includes two steps. In step one, all submitted full proposals are reviewed and scored based on the same criteria mentioned above. Reviewers are asked to recommend based on his or her scoring whether a proposal definitely shall be funded, maybe funded conditional on revision, or not to be funded. Reviewers are also asked to provide brief comments of each proposal. The decision regarding whether a full proposal is invited for further revision is made based on the combined results of recommendations made by each independent reviewer, whose views are weighted equally. Applicants whose proposals are suggested to be funded or funded conditional on revision based on reviewer’s recommendation are provided with reviewer comments of their full proposal and invited to submit a revised full proposals for final review in step two. In step two, reviewers are asked to assess and score the proposals based on the same criteria mentioned above and make final recommendations whether a proposal shall be funded or not, with brief comments of each proposal. The final funding decision is then made based on the consolidated review results and recommendations by the reviewers.

The review process follows the common standard and the decision is made purely based on the merits. In rare cases when a reviewer might have a conflict of interest, the proposals under concern are reviewed by other reviewers without conflict of interest for the proposals under concern.                                                                                            

In case an applicant has questions regarding the review results, CMB provides open channels for communication and clarification.