Peer review has been widely used to make funding decisions for many science funding agencies. However, peer review is often conservative and may disfavor non-conventional innovative research such as pioneering research. Based on the summarization of several funding agencies' special grant review mechanisms for pioneering research in the USA and UK, this paper aims to propose a new method, named ‘interactive heuristic review mechanism’ (IHRM), which is designed to assess pioneering research projects for the National Natural Science Foundation of China. The IHRM can identify and facilitate pioneering research worthy of funding through a special forum, during which face-to-face discussions between applicants and reviewers are allowed. Compared with the conventional grant peer-review process, the advantages of this new method are also discussed. The IHRM could be a complementary mechanism for conventional grant peer review. Copyright , Beech Tree Publishing.