When you have finished the proposal do not just to send it to the AERC Secretariat in its first draft form. You should first give it to your colleagues for comments.
You will be surprised by their reactions: What would seem perfectly clear to you they may find confusing. Where you thought you had covered the literature they may point to some important papers you had never heard of, and while you were convinced that you had dealt with all econometric issues they may find a gaping hole in your methodology.
Do not be discouraged by such comments as they will definitely improve your proposal. It is a good idea to give your proposal to some researchers who are experts in the field and ask for their comments. You should also give the draft proposal to some colleagues with AERC experience who can tell you what is likely to be acceptable or not. You should, therefore, revise your proposal more than once before submitting it.
When a proposal arrives at the Secretariat there is a brief internal review first. The Secretariat will check whether the proposal contains the basic information needed and whether it addresses an issue that fits the AERC research programme. For example, a biological research project on plant diseases will get caught in the Secretariat's net at this stage because the AERC supports only economic research. But the vast majority of proposals normally clear this first hurdle.
The next step is to determine whether the proposal can be presented at an AERC workshop. This decision is perhaps the most important one in the AERC process. Presentation of a new proposal at an AERC workshop exposes the researcher to comments, advice and guidance from fellow researchers and resource persons.
While this is sometimes terrifying, it is a tremendously useful experience, and of course the essence of the network's capacity building. Bringing people to a workshop is expensive, however; hence slots must be rationed. Also, inviting a person to a workshop does not always make sense. If the proposal is very far from what is required, the researcher might be hurt by the experience while learning little from it. For this reason proposals are reviewed to establish whether an invitation to the next workshop is warranted.
Secretariat staff sometimes do the review, but more commonly the reviewers are resource persons. The reviewer reads the proposal, writes a short report (one page or so) and advises the Secretariat what changes (if any) need to be made before the proposal is suitable for workshop presentation. The reviewer may also recommend rejection. Note that the reviewers have no power of decision, but they are advisers of the AERC Research Director. You should think of them as referees rather than journal editors.
A large number of proposals are held back at this stage. This is almost entirely avoidable. Typically researchers make one or more of the following common mistakes:
They have never looked at an AERC proposal so they have no clue as to what to include and what not to include.
The proposal is clear on the research question, but very vague on the methodology.
Similar work has already been done (sometimes even work supported by the, AERC itself) and the author is unaware of it or unable to explain the value added of the proposed research.
The Secretariat may then ask you to withdraw the proposal or to revise it before you are invited to a workshop. In the case of revision the proposal may be sent out once more for review, but this is rare.