Last year, NSF made a change to it's Grant Proposal Guide and replaced the Small Grants for Exploratory Research (SGER) program with a new initiative, the EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) grants. These grants were specifically put into place in response t the criticism that NSF had gotten "too safe" and wasn't funding science that might be considered risky. My understanding is that the R21 is supposed to be NIH's equivalent, but Ive heard that the "preliminary" data hurdle there is just as bad as anyw other NIH grant, so the NSF initiative seems more progressive on the surface.
I have included the relevant section of the NSF GPG below, for those unfamiliar with it.
The EAGER funding mechanism may be used to support exploratory work in its early stages on untested, but potentially transformative, research ideas or approaches. This work may be considered especially "high risk-high payoff" in the sense that it, for example, involves radically different approaches, applies new expertise, or engages novel disciplinary or interdisciplinary perspectives. These exploratory proposals may also be submitted directly to an NSF program, but the EAGER mechanism should not be used for projects that are appropriate for submission as “regular” (i.e., non-EAGER) NSF proposals. PI(s) must contact the NSF program officer(s) whose expertise is most germane to the proposal topic prior to submission of an EAGER proposal. This will aid in determining the appropriateness of the work for consideration under the EAGER mechanism; this suitability must be assessed early in the process.
The Project Description is expected to be brief (five to eight pages) and include clear statements as to why this project is appropriate for EAGER funding, including why it does not “fit” into existing programs and why it is a “good fit” for EAGER. Note this proposal preparation instruction deviates from the standard proposal preparation instructions contained in this Guide; EAGER proposals must otherwise be compliant with the GPG.
Only internal merit review is required for EAGER proposals. Under rare circumstances, program officers may elect to obtain external reviews to inform their decision. If external review is to be obtained, then the PI will be so informed in the interest of maintaining the transparency of the review and recommendation process. The two standard NSB-approved merit review criteria will apply.
Requests may be for up to $300K and of up to two years duration. The award size, however, will be consistent with the project scope and of a size comparable to grants in similar areas.
No-cost extensions, and requests for supplemental funding, will be processed in accordance with standard NSF policies and procedures.
Renewed funding of EAGER awards may be requested only through submission of a proposal that will be subject to full external merit review. Such proposals would be designated as “EAGER renewals.”
I knew these grants existed, but hadn't heard much about them until I got talking to a PO at a meeting a little while back. We were discussing one of the projects we have ongoing in the lab and he suggested that I talk to the relevant PO to inquire about EAGER funding. So, I did.
After a bit of back and forth about the project, the PO asked for a one page summary so that she could present it to the other POs from the program. She highlighted to me that the criteria that they use to decide on these projects are "is it novel, timely, transformative and risky?" We are working on a project that falls into all of those categories, so I wrapped that up in a pretty little one page package and sent it along. Maybe it'll fly and maybe it won't, but I'll post about the process in case anyone else is considering this. It might be a good way to find seed money for that project that you've been thinking of for a while.