The below is copied from CIHR Funding News: Issue 113 (but applies to most funding applications):
As part of the application process, you are required to summarize your project in various ways (i.e., a “Lay Abstract” and a “Summary of Research Proposal”). While it may be tempting to give these summaries short shrift, given all of the other tasks you must complete, they are among the most important parts of your application.
Peer review committee members use the “Summary of Research Proposal” submitted at Registration to determine whether or not they have the appropriate level of expertise to review an application. The Open Operating Grants Program uses the summary to assign an application to the most appropriate peer review committee by comparing its content to the mandates of the individual peer review committees.
For strategic competitions, the “Summary of the Research Proposal” may be used to determine whether or not your proposal is relevant to the funding opportunity’s strategic research areas.
Make sure that the “Summary of the Research Proposal” provides: a concise account of the subject matter; an overview of each part of the research plan; specific project aims and the methodology. The summary should reflect the significance of your project as well as its alignment with the relevant research areas of a strategic initiative.
If your research project is determined to be of interest to the general public, the “Lay Abstract” is published on CIHR’s website and it may also be shared with the media. The “Lay Abstract” should be written in plain language so that the general public will understand the nature of your research project.