The exploration of exceptionally daring new ideas is not yet really a focal point of the research agenda in Germany, as far as facing challenges and radically transforming common wisdom are concerned. This often requires to establish counterintuitive hypotheses as well as unconventional methodologies or technologies, and to focus on entirely new research approaches. The Volkswagen Foundation’s funding initiative 'Experiment!' tries to pave the way for fundamentally new research topics even though the outcome may be contingent. A concept failure as well as unexpected findings are an acceptable result.
Scope of Funding
The initiative addresses researchers in science and engineering as well as in the life sciences (including immediately neighboring disciplines in the behavioral sciences), who want to put a potentially transformative and risky research idea to the test. They are given the opportunity to demonstrate preliminary evidence for a concept’s potential during an exploratory phase which is limited to 18 months and up to 120,000 Euro. Towards the end of a grant the projects’ progress will be presented at the Foundation’s 'Forum Experiment!'.
A short sketch is sufficient as an application. The foundation is taking a completely new path in the review process. First, the best matching approx. 120-140 proposals are pre-selected internally. An interdisciplinary jury of scientists evaluates only these anonymous ideas (double blind) and rejects qualitatively insufficient proposals. From the pool of proposals which meet the program requirements and the quality criteria the jury selects the most convincing applications (approx. 15-20 grants). Additionally, the same number of projects is drawn in a lottery (15-20 grants). In this way, ideas which are easily overlooked will get a chance, too. The lottery as a new selection element and the entire selection process will be evaluated.
Further details on the conditions and the application procedure can be found under Information for Applicants (pdf). Please also read the answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). Applications must be filed electronically via the electronic application system.
The funding initiative 'Experiment!' was started in November 2012. The initiative is exceptionally well received with approx. 600 applications per call. By way of a partially randomized scheme 99 grants have been selected: 29 out of 594 in 2017, 37 out of 645 in 2018, and 33 out of 685 applications in 2019. Before the introduction of the lottery 67 projects have been funded: 13 out of 704 in 2013, 19 out of 630 in 2014, 17 out of 425 in 2015, and 18 out of 544 applications in 2016.