The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Science Program seeks to fund breakthrough, high impact science, while continuously improving our work by building on lessons learned and identifying opportunities to increase effectiveness. To this end, we employ a Guiding Framework—an integrated, multi-component process applied to all areas of the Science Program to guide decisions on grant-making and change-making efforts.
The Science Program supports fundamental research across the life, physical, and information sciences. The Science Program’s Guiding Framework describes our programmatic pillars (what we use to identify potential projects with the best fit) and our implementation mechanisms (how we implement grant-making and change-making activities to achieve high impact). These two components are interrelated and approached in an integrated manner.
Science Program Outcomes
Drawing on the Foundation's core values, the Science Program organizes its efforts toward achieving three types of outcomes that have proven to result in high impact science, i.e. transforming a field and changing paradigms. As we investigate potential funding areas and projects, we use focus questions to clarify how investments (of both money and time) might achieve one or more of the outcomes. The example questions listed under each outcome—while not exhaustive—indicate the types of questions asked of potential partners to assess the fit of a potential project.
acquiring new knowledge,
- Are fundamental questions being addressed?
- Is there a critical mass of scientists engaged in this area, such that the discoveries will be rapidly used to expand knowledge further?
enabling new science through technology,
- Will this technology enable new innovative research?
- Is the time right for an enabling technology to be applied?
- Will this technology/method facilitate a breakthrough?
breaking down barriers.
- Does this project cross disciplines or fields?
- Does the project enhance sharing of, or access to, scientific data?
- Is there potential to overcome other barriers hindering progress?
The four filters are used to clarify whether potential opportunities will meet the Foundation’s criteria for impact. They ask if a project:
- Will answering the scientific questions advance the field?
- Will the expected results be relevant to multiple fields?
- Is the new science enabled by technology likely to change how research is done?
- Is the reward-to-risk ratio high, in other words, is the potential for impact large enough to justify the risk?
Makes a difference and has enduring impact
- Is the effort targeting a “tipping point”?
- Can the amount of funding we are considering “move the needle”?
- Is the project focused on seeding, scaling, or securing knowledge or technology?
- If successful, is there a path towards durability?
Has measurable outcomes
- Quality of publications
- Other funders are becoming engaged in the effort/area
- New practitioners are attracted to the effort/area
- The funded methods and technologies are being adopted by others
The Science Program strategically builds grants or portfolios of grants targeted towards specific outcomes.
To source new areas for investment and potential grantees, the Science Program relies on the Foundation’s Board of Trustees, its Science Advisory Board, program staff and their external networks. We also convene workshops and other gatherings to explore with external experts where high impact opportunities may lie within specific fields. Where appropriate, we use other mechanisms such as calls for whitepapers or partnering with other funders for soliciting proposals.
To identify a potential area or project for funding, the Science Program employs a disciplined due diligence process to discover partners, key players, and grantees in a field. We explore who the current and emerging leaders are in the areas of interest and determine whether a project’s potential outcomes are aligned with the Science Program’s framework and priorities.
To accomplish impactful outcomes, the Science Program seeks to identify and employ the best set of approaches and most effective combinations of grantees and projects. Importantly, multiple approaches are often combined, and the flexibility of this practice facilitates our ability to act quickly and strategically.
- Outcome driven research projects
- Top scientists through investigator awards
- Top institutions through commitments
- Critical equipment/instrumentation
- Cross-disciplinary teams
- Novel incentives for changing behavior and breaking barriers
- Planning grants/feasibility studies
- Convening stakeholders