Transparency of peer review process

We have made a number of changes to our reviewing procedures, which will enhance the transparency of the peer review process for applicants.

Feedback of reviewers’ scores

We provide feedback to applicants not only on the text of reviewers’ comments, but also on the scores assigned to the individual elements of the proposal, and the overall grading of the application.

Editing of reviewers’ comments

In the past,we have edited reviewers’ comments to remove remarks that might cause unnecessary offence, are not deemed to be constructive, or disclose the identity of the reviewer. This process has now stopped; instead we pass to the applicant precisely the comments received. This provides greater transparency and is also in accord with data handling standards. However, if a comment received is considered unusable in its current form it will be referred back to the reviewer for revision. Reasons why a comment might be felt to be unusable include:

  • reviewer’s identity is disclosed
  • discriminatory or gratuitously offensive remarks
  • inadequate justification of the scores assigned to the proposal
  • text does not match the scores
  • text suggests a misunderstanding of ESRC policy, such as remit of a call.

If the reviewer chooses not to amend their comments their review will not be used, and will not form part of the peer review process.

Number of reviewers’ comments

We now seek a standard number of three reviews on all grant proposals irrespective of value of award (except for some call-specific variations).

Previously the number of reviews required for a proposal to be fully reviewed in our peer-review process depended on the monetary value of the proposal. Three reviews were required for proposals up to £500,000, four for proposals of £500,000-£1 million, and five for those in the range £1-£2 million. These varying requirements added a layer of complexity to the review process, and tended to cause potentially unfair variability in the final number of reviews received, particularly for larger proposals.

We still have the freedom to decide that more reviews are needed for a particular proposal that is, for example, highly interdisciplinary (but of any size), particularly complex, or where the quality of the comments received will not effectively contribute to the decision-making process. In addition, there may be some calls which require exceptional rules to be applied, eg fast-track/small-scale investments where only two reviews are sought, or more reviews for the commissioning of large-scale investments, for example the centres and large grants competition.