Peer Review: Can we do it better?
Peer review is an important part of the research funding process to ensure the most important questions are being addressed and the research is of high quality. Without peer review, we have little way of knowing whether the research will benefit the public and whether it will help to improve the health of the nation. From the NIHR’s perspective it is crucial to know whether the research is a wise use of public money, and is of high quality and fit for purpose. Peer review involves a range of individuals, from health care professionals and academics through to public contributors. These groups of individuals provide a valuable service to funders like the NIHR, giving us the reassurance that the research meets a need and can improve practice.
The dependency on peer reviewers by funders is high and the burden on peer reviewers themselves is ever increasing. This is not unique to NIHR, all funders are highlighting the importance of peer review along with increasing concerns around potential bias, the number of reviewers and time commitments. Whether this is due to the increased competition to gain research funding or not, there is little research or evidence to suggest how we can help to improve the process for peer reviewers. Although there are ways to improve the current peer review process by offering and providing guidance notes and online training modules (see Public Reviewing with the NIHR course), the question remains: could it be that we actually need to review the current process and find alternatives to the way we fund research in the first place?
How is NIHR tackling this?
Given the lack of credible research in peer review - especially from a funder’s perspective - to tell us what could work and in what context, the NIHR Research on Research (RoR) Programme has developed a series of innovative research projects to investigate peer review and its role in our decision-making process. Over the next 18 months, these research projects will be investigating, reviewing, analysing and evaluating different aspects of the research funding process to see if there are alternatives that can enhance the role of peer review across the research cycle. To build the evidence we need to enable NIHR and other funders to identify promising alternatives to the current practice, we are reviewing the literature using realist synthesis, carrying out surveys, conducting interviews and observing NIHR funding committee meetings. Through this research, we will be able to have greater certainty about where and how we can make enhancements to reduce the burden for all stakeholders (public, health care professionals, funders, and researchers).
For peer review to maintain its purpose it is crucial that this work sheds light on this area as the future of research depends on it.
We’ll be sharing news on each of our themes, updates on progress through our work plan and dissemination of our research findings. If you would like to find out more about us and the research we are conducting we would be happy to hear from you (firstname.lastname@example.org).
More information on RoR is available online.
Amanda was at the HTAi 2019 Annual meeting in Cologne, Germany (17-19 June 2019).
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.