Doreen Tembo, Senior Research Manager (Patient and Public Involvement and External Review)  | NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre (NETSCC)

Why we need to develop and diversify the community of peer reviewers to produce impactful research


Doreen Tembo, Senior Research Manager (Patient and Public Involvement and External Review), NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre (NETSCC)

Date: 12 September 2018

Walk into any GP surgery or hospital waiting room in Britain and you’ll meet patients and staff from a wide range of diverse backgrounds there.

As Britain is one of the most diverse countries in the world it’s important that peer review reflects this. That’s why I’m pleased that the theme of this year’s Peer Review Week is Diversity in Peer Review.

At the NIHR, we are celebrating the wide-ranging community of people that volunteer their valuable time to review research documents for us at all stages in the research cycle from identifying research topics to shaping our open access reports. We challenge ourselves to be a stalwart of reliability by going the extra mile to work with relevant partners in a transparent way. Our reviewers are diverse and experts in their fields. We involve academics, clinicians, the public sector, charities, patients, carers and the public.

Involving diverse people with relevant lived experience, clinical or service expertise and commissioners in reviewing research materials used for priority setting or research funding applications, for example, ensures that research is addressing need in the NHS, public health and social care. This increases the likelihood that the research we fund will lead to positive changes in the NHS and further afield. 

Our approach, which was published through the NIHR INVOLVE Diversity and Inclusion Statement, is to engage and facilitate the involvement of a diverse range of people including seldom-heard groups. Reviewing can be done from the comfort of the reviewer’s home and staff offer them support during the process. We have thus been able to involve those that are less well represented in the reviewing community, including women and those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups. I am always encouraged by the fact that the reviewing activity is often mutually beneficial to the reviewer and to research:

Debbie Lennard, became an NIHR Public Reviewer during cancer treatment as part of a research trial:

 “It really made me realise the value of research and how it made a difference.  I wanted to be able to contribute to making research as good and as effective as possible.  Reviewing applications, and feeding back whether I thought they were useful pieces of research, and whether patients would want to take part, was a good way to do that.  I could do it from home; I had support from the NIHR team; it was really interesting, and I learnt a lot.”


Dr Marie Lewis, NIHR Clinical Reviewer:

“I am very passionate about clinical research and ensuring that research is applicable to front line care.

"By being a reviewer I can share my clinical expertise in helping researchers to develop robust project proposals.

"I am also keen to develop my own proposals and being a reviewer enables me to learn more from other people and how to write.”

Manoj Mistry, NIHR Public Reviewer, who cares for a family member with long term mental health problems and who cared for his late parents:

“I have extensive and varied experience of the NHS and wanted to share this lived experience and the associated rich personal narratives through my work reviewing NIHR research funding applications.

"While I am at ease reading documents containing scientific, medical or clinical language, the ‘Plain English Summary’ within funding applications can be read by the average person on the street. I focus on whether the patient and public involvement plans are genuine, realistic, obtainable and that sufficient funds have been allocated. I help ensure the proposed research is relevant, focused, credible, and offers value for money to taxpayers. In addition I bring a cultural perspective as appropriate.”

However, success can breed complacency; globally there is rising demand on a relatively small community of peer reviewers. Furthermore, the integrity of peer review is increasingly being called into question due to cases of fraudulent review and lack of training in peer review.

As such, we have been exploring open reviewing mechanisms as part of our research management processes. We have also been operating a peer reviewer development scheme, which provides an opportunity for potential future reviewers, who may still be in at the early stages of their career, to review for us as part of a training and development scheme, whether that is reviewing potential research or the final evidence published in the NIHR Journals Library:

Artemis Igoumenou , Clinical academic (Senior Clinical Lecturer at University College London, Division of Psychiatry and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist with Barnet Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust), who completed the NIHR Reviewer Development Scheme and became a full member on an NIHR HTA Prioritisation Committee:

“Being a member of the scheme was a valuable experience. It has helped me get involved in reviewing research projects of diverse subjects and methodologies and gain insight on what constitutes a good research proposal quite early on in my career.

"Research is an integral part of academic and clinical practice. Research informed from patient and service needs that focuses on improving health, service experience and reducing the burden of ill health. It’s important to include both clinicians and academics in peer reviewing, at the peak of their careers and at the beginning. The inclusion of early career researchers can enhance their skills and be the start of breeding the next generation of clinical academics.”

The public are central to the work that we do, and as such we will be launching an interactive course in collaboration with INVOLVE. The course focuses on learning and development around public and peer reviewing in November 2018. The NIHR has embraced the challenge to further diversity its reviewer community and make transparent its reviewing processes, seeing these as the challenge, but also an opportunity for growth and innovation. 

More information on becoming a reviewer is available on the NIHR website.

Further details on Peer Review Week is available online.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.
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    Doreen Tembo celebrates Peer Review Week by highlighting the importance of encouraging diversity in peer review.
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    Doreen Tembo, Senior Research Manager (Patient and Public Involvement and External Review), NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre (NETSCC)

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