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Guidance for completing a review task (public contributors) NEW


Published: 07 November 2019

Version: v1

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This guidance accompanies the reviewer task. It provides the questions and issues for you to consider so that you can complete the reviewer assessment task/form. There is a glossary of public involvement and research terminology.


First of all thank you for agreeing to act as an external peer reviewer for the NIHR. Public contributors play an important role in the funding of all aspects of research. In undertaking this role you are supporting public involvement within the programme.

There are three aspects to this review work. By completing a review you will be:

  1. providing comment on a proposal that will inform the funding committee's decision-making process
  2. providing guidance to the research teams about their proposed work
  3. helping us to ensure that the proposed research is what is needed.

To support our decision-making we seek a variety of individuals to provide a range of opinions about the proposed research. The range includes a variety of professional backgrounds (including Clinicians, Methodologists and Academics, as well as NHS managers and others as appropriate) as well as a public perspective, which we have asked you to provide.

Please provide comments based on your own personal understanding, experience or interest. We appreciate that reviewers have a range of different knowledge and experience. Each reviewer offers a different perspective on the research proposal. We acknowledge and value this diversity.

This guidance should be read alongside the reviewer assessment task as you complete it.  If you require this assessment form in a Word format or would like paper copies in a font size of your choice, please ask for this directly by contacting the person who invited you to complete the review.


Once you agree to undertake a review, you will need to confirm that you will not disclose to any other person the fact that the applicant has applied for a research award, nor will you disclose the content of the application to any other person or use the information for any purpose other than providing a review of it. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your review with anyone else you must contact us first, to ensure that it will not present particular problems. For instance, sharing the task with organisations such as charities. When completing your review, you should not mention other applications where a decision on the funding of a study has not been made publicly available. Please do not make any comparisons with other applications you may be reviewing as all your comments (anonymised) will be seen by the applicants.

Your completed responses are considered confidential by the NIHR. Your anonymised comments will be passed to applicants to consider and respond to before the funding committee meeting. A copy of the anonymised reviewer comments will also be shared with other reviewers after the committee meeting has taken place. Please bear in mind that your comments could be released more widely if an Freedom of Information (FOI) request were successful.

Potential competing interests

Please check the names of the lead applicant and co-applicants before completing your review. If you are aware of any potential competing interests that you may have then please include them in this section. If you are at all unsure or have any queries regarding competing interests, then please contact us.

We believe that in order to make the best decisions, we should know about any competing interests that reviewers may have. We will not reject your opinion simply because you declare a competing interest, but we do need to know about it. An example of a competing interest could be that you know someone in the research team personally, or if you could gain financially if the research is funded.

Guide to completing your online review 

Where to start?

The Summary (in plain English) is always a good place to start followed by the detailed project description (upload document) which contains most of the information you will need. This should give you a good background to help you understand the proposal. There may also be other sections of the application form that may be helpful and viewed if necessary as well as additional upload documents, such as study flow diagrams and reference material which may help explain the study.

Most proposals will be in two parts:

1. The application form that includes detailed information about the team, the plain English summary and  Public and Patient Involvement section.

2.  The detailed project description that follows a standard format and forms part of the proposal. You will also find a fuller account of the proposed project as well as more detail about the way the project will be done and its timelines.

Please be aware that you may need to read through the documents several times before completing the reviewer assessment form. You need only review aspects of the proposal that you feel comfortable commenting on.

If you need guidance or assistance, please contact the person who has approached you to undertake the review. Alternatively, you can contact a member of our Public and Patient Involvement (PPI) team: call 023 8059 9302 or email

Completing the reviewer assessment form 

When reading the proposal please keep the following questions in mind. Throughout your review please try and identify issues that are major concerns and those that are fixable faults. Any additional comments are also welcome. Our external peer reviewers are NOT asked to comment on any detailed budget information.

1. How will the research make a difference? In your experience, will the research, as described, produce or have the potential to lead to, findings that will enable change and benefit patients and the public? This change could impact on the public, patients, carers, health and social care practitioners, decision makers and providers of health and social care services.

2. Is the proposed research feasible from your perspective? Can it be successfully delivered as described in the application? If not, please explain which areas would need to be addressed and why. You may want to consider the proposed study approach, the acceptability to all participants or any potential barriers to the research being successful.

3. What else could the applicants do to improve the research proposed?

Considering the questions above please provide comments to support your score and explain your decision. The box will expand as you type into it. Please note the comments box has a limit of 10000 characters, which equates to around 2-3 pages once pulled through into the PDF document.

Summary score 

In this section we ask you to provide a summary score. Please provide a summary score that reflects your overall assessment of the proposed research.

Scoring can often be challenging, particularly as you may be keen to see research into an important area go forward. It may be worth considering the following table when deciding on the score to give the proposal. Your score should reflect your overall assessment of the proposal. For more information about the funding process please see Appendix A. 

ScoreSuggested outcomeWhat this means from your perspective, including considerations around the delivery, PPI, conduct and dissemination of the proposed research.
6 Excellent- The proposed research can be funded as it stands I have no concerns about this proposal.
5 Good- The proposed research can be funded with minor changes The concerns that I have about this proposal could be easily corrected.
4 Good Potential- There is much merit in this proposal, but it could be funded, perhaps after resubmission, with additional external support The concerns that I have about this proposal could be corrected.
3 Some Merits- There are significant weaknesses in this proposal, but these could in principle be addressed. I have significant concerns but it may be possible for these to be addressed, although it would not be straightforward to do so.
2 Poor- Weak proposal I have very strong concerns, which would be difficult to address, but the proposal does have some merit.
1 Extremely Poor- Unsupportable proposal I have very strong concerns that would be extremely difficult to address.

Feedback from reviewers 

We are always seeking to improve our processes, including the guidance and support we give to our reviewers. Please let us know if you have any comments or feedback about any aspect of this process.

Appendix A: The funding process 

When considering stage 2 applications, NIHR committee members have the responsibility to take into account the views from all reviewers and other committee members to decide what research to recommend for funding. Funding Committee members are asked to score each proposal based on the view they have formed, and an average score is calculated for the proposal. The highest scoring proposals will be recommended for funding. Those proposals that are deemed ‘important’ but have other issues, which may prevent them achieving a high score, can be designated as a ‘fund with change’. All proposals which are designated as a ‘fund with change’ are required to go through an iterative process to ensure that they have corrected all issues before they are taken further. All funding committees include public members, and all stage 2 applications should also have an assessment by an appropriately experienced member of the public.