The objective of the FIRST Program is to advance world-leading research carried out in various fields across of spectrum of tiers from basic research aimed at generating new knowledge to R&D on topics of near-future application. In so doing, the program’s ultimate objective is to cultivate the nation’s latent strengths and capabilities, while feeding the R&D results back into society to enrich people’s lives.
The general operational flow of the FIRST Program is as follows:
1. Selecting the core researchers and operational support institutions for projects
In initiating the FIRST Program, the Council for Science and Technology Policy chose cutting-edge 30 research projects considered to be of a top world level and selected the core researchers to implement them. These selections were made on 4 September 2009.
< The Council for Science and Technology Policy took the following steps in the selection process: >
(1) Open recruitment carried out for core-researcher and research-project candidates
(2) FIRST Working Group narrowed down the candidates
(3) FIRST Steering Committee selected about half of them for referral to Council for Science and Technology Policy
(4) Council for Science and Technology Policy made final selections of the core researchers and research projects.
After their selection, the core researchers chose the institution they want to support their projects (called “operational support institutions”). Based on their requests, the Council for Science and Technology Policy decided upon the operational support institutions for each project. This was done on 9 March 2010.
Through this process, R&D projects with the selected core researchers and operational support institutions at their nucleus are being implemented to advance cutting-edge research of the world’s highest level.
2. Implementing the R&D projects
Under the FIRST Program, JSPS disburses funding to each project’s operational support institution and collateral institutions, which is used by core researchers and their collaborators to implement the R&D project. The fruits yielded by the projects are fed in various forms back to the Japanese people and society. Concurrently, they are also disseminated to other countries by way of research papers, conference presentations, and other vehicles.
JSPS manages and operates the Fund that finances projects under the FIRST Program. It also works to ensure the smooth and effective implementation of the program by responding the inquiries and requests from subsidized institutions, handling their procedural requirements and monitoring their reporting, and auditing their disbursed funds to ensure they are being expended properly.
* “Subsidized institutions” include the operational support institution and collateral institutions that support a R&D project.
* “Implementers” include the core researchers and collaborators who carry out a project’s R&D activities with a share of the funding.
3. Follow-up, mid-term, and post-project evaluations
The Council for Science and Technology Policy monitors the projects annually to assess their progress. It also evaluates their achievements by conducting a mid-term evaluation in the third year and a post-project evaluation.
Unique Characteristics of the FIRST Program
♦High degree of freedom allowed by multi-year usage of research funding
Program duration :
When establishing this program, there was a strong desire to overcome a major problem inherent in Japan’s existing research-funding systems. Namely, restrictions within Japan’s single-year budgetary system made it difficult for researchers to freely use their funding by carrying it over into the next fiscal year. Under this program, funding resources take the form of a Fund, which allows their multi-year usage and gives researchers a high degree of freedom in the utilization of their research funding.
♦Core researchers allowed to choose the operational support institution for their projects
Up till now, Japan’s funding systems have not allowed researchers to choose the institution they want to support their research; therefore, most of them have received support from their affiliated institution. Though there may have been other institutions capable of providing more effective and efficient support than their own institution, they were unable to request the support of such institutions. To remedy this problem, the FIRST Program allows each R&D project’s operational support institution to be chosen based on the core researcher’s request. This system is expected to enable researchers to concentrate more fully on their work within an environment that allows them to make optimal use of their abilities in advancing their R&D projects. (Under this system, there are actual cases of institutions other than the core researcher’s affiliated institution being selected to support a project.See List of Selected Projects for details.)
♦Flexible budget expenditure and appropriate program execution
Under this program, rules governing research-budget expenditure are kept to a necessary minimum so as to allow subsidized institutions to exercise autonomy in using the funding to advance the R&D projects in a manner flexible to relevant conditions. To the degree possible, the flexible funding-expenditure rules and provisions, such as allowing the use of mixed funds from various sources, in existing competitive funding systems are reflected in the FIRST Program.
On the other hand, JSPS conducts an annual on-site inspection of each project’s operational support institution, through which it examines the execution of the disbursed research funds. JSPS also obligates other subsidized institutions to establish fund-management and auditing systems and to cooperate in carry out its annual accounting audits.
From FY 2009 through FY 2013 Program budget :
Total of ¥100 billion (allocated under FY2009 supplemental budget) Number of projects :