I've only been back in Ireland a few years and I've been through a few of these CSET visits and reviews. They are always an interesting experience. Last year I was on Computer Engineering grant review panel myself for the Foundation for Science and the Technology Portugal (Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia) so it's always a challenging prospect for everyone involved to ensure the best quality research gets funded be it locally, nationally or internationally. By remote review to Canada and the UK and personally in Australia I got to see the full force of their NSERC/EPSRC/CRC processes which are all entirely different dynamics.
From my experience a few key aspects of successful grant review include:
- Quality research should be the first and last metric for evaluation
- An international panel for small countries or for larger grants
- Zero interference from the funding body to the reviewers/panel
- A clear understanding of the national/international funding context by the panellists
- Both breath and depth in the review panels in terms of topics and governance.
From what I've seen, the SFI is one of the leaders in getting grant reviews right. They are improving the local ecosystem for research not just because they follow good practice but because they help define it.