Annual Call for Proposals is one of the primary ways the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) implements its mission. The progrmme has been conducted annually since 2012. For this years call for proposals, the OAD invites proposals for projects that use astronomy as a tool to address one or more challenges related to sustainable development.
About the IAU and OAD
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is the international astronomical organisation that brings together more than 13,500 professional astronomers from more than 100 countries worldwide. Its mission is to promote and safeguard astronomy in all its aspects, including research, communication, education and development, through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world’s largest professional body for astronomers.
The IAU established the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) in partnership with the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa. The OAD was officially opened on 16 April 2011 at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Cape Town, South Africa. Since its establishment the OAD has negotiated the establishment of ten regional offices around the world (based in Armenia, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Jordan, Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Thailand and Zambia) with two of these offices serving as a joint language centre (Chinese and Arabic), and one serving as a dedicated language centre (Portuguese).
The IAU has pledged a total of 120,000 Euros for the 2021 call for proposals. In the past, individual project grants (for a year) have ranged from 1000 Euros to 15,000 Euros with an average funding of around 5,000 Euros.
The Call for Proposals is divided into two stages of application. The first stage is open to everyone, while only selected proposals from Stage 1 will be invited to Stage 2. Detailed information is provided below for the Stage 1 process; more information for Stage 2 will be provided after Stage 1 in August 2021.
Stage 1 is open to proposers from anywhere in the world. Projects can be proposed by a single person or by a team of people (teams are encouraged). Proposers then submit a brief online application with the critical aspects of their project and idea. The OAD review panel will score the proposals on a set of defined criteria.
Around 30 proposals will be selected from the Stage 1 applications, and the proposers invited to submit a Stage 2 proposal. In addition, each of the eleven IAU Regional and Language Offices will nominate one proposal from their region to be invited to Stage 2. All proposals will receive brief feedback from the reviewers.
Selected proposals will be invited to Stage 2, and the proposers will work with the OAD on their application. As a first step, the proposers will be asked to submit a draft Stage 2 application, accessible to the OAD team, the Regional Offices, and invited external experts, all of whom will help refine the proposal. The draft application will not be available to the review panel, who will eventually evaluate the applications.
The Regional Offices will suggest ways of improving a proposal to be locally relevant, thus ensuring support from possible local collaborators who could strengthen the project. The OAD, alongside the Regional Offices, will check whether the projects are truly innovative (checking previously funded OAD projects and other initiatives addressing similar concerns) and whether the project idea is supported by current evidence. The OAD and Regional Offices may suggest potential collaborators if applicable. External experts, consulted by the OAD where necessary, would provide helpful additional guidance on the assessment of projects, including a perspective on which projects are most likely to impact development.
Based on OAD and the Regional Offices discussions, proposers modify their Stage 2 applications and submit them online by the final deadline. An independent review panel then scores these modified Stage 2 proposals and makes recommendations on the projects to be funded and the funding amounts for each project. Upon approval by the OAD Steering Committee, all applicants are notified of the results.
Support to proposers
Although our calls for proposals are open to anyone, we understand that not everyone has experience writing proposals. A potential applicant can request;
- Proposal writing support: Applicants will be matched up with an astronomer or other expert with experience in writing proposals. The expert will guide and advise the applicant on the proposal structure and language. This form of support is NOT meant to help the applicant improve their proposal concept but only to communicate it better.
- Translation support: We welcome proposals from people in different countries, but we only accept applications in English due to practical constraints. If you do not feel comfortable writing a proposal in English, you can contact us to request translation support. In this case, your proposal will be translated to English precisely as you have written it in your language.
We depend on volunteers to provide the above forms of support. Hence, these services will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis, nor can we assure selection if we offer you this support.
Typically, OAD projects run for one year – beginning in January or February of the year following the call for proposals. For this call, selected projects are expected to start in January or February 2022 (the grant will be paid by that time) and complete by January or February 2023. Projects can request a no-cost extension if there are unavoidable circumstances that cause delays.
This year, the OAD is also soliciting proposals for multi-year projects (up to 3 years). These are projects which, by design, need longer than a year for implementation. This does not apply to multiple implementations or replication of the same project idea in different years. For example, a project that plans to organise astronomy events or workshops cannot apply for a multi-year grant to host the same events in multiple years.
Multi-year proposals should address the entire duration of the project with a yearly breakdown of budget, timeline, and deliverables. Funds for these projects will be released annually, subject to a performance review by the OAD. Annual reports will be requested for this purpose.
From the experience of funding 160 projects (and reviewing more than 1000 proposals) since 2013, and with input from the regional offices worldwide, the OAD has identified Flagship projects that encapsulate the idea of astronomy for development and which have the potential for global roll-out. Therefore, these Flagships are included as Themes in the call for proposals. Other themes cover gaps or issues relating to current global challenges, such as the current COVID pandemic.
The themes for this call are:
- Sustainable, local socio-economic development through Astronomy
- Science diplomacy through Astronomy: Celebrating our Common Humanity
- Knowledge and Skills for Development
- COVID-19 and astronomy for development
- Technical astronomy-for-development projects
Proposals may also overlap with more than one theme, but we request you to choose the primary or most significant theme. However, it is not a requirement that your project aligns with any of the above themes. However, should you choose to submit a project related to one of the above themes, the project concept and design should have the potential to be scaled up and deployed globally. The OAD will be available to provide additional assistance or guidance in developing such a project further.