Researchers assess researchers – peer review
The Swedish Research Council uses peer review to assess the scientific quality of the applications and the potential of the research. Peer review involves well-qualified researchers within the same or nearby subject areas scrutinising the applications. Peer review is used all around the world, is greatly trusted by researchers, and is considered to be the best way of ensuring applications receive a balanced and fair assessment.
Together with Swedish Research Council personnel, scientific councils, councils and committees put a lot of work into recruiting suitable experts to assess applications. Having a documented high level of scientific expertise is a requirement, and a prerequisite for well-functioning peer review.
How we safeguard the quality of assessment
The Swedish Research Council shall support research of the highest scientific quality within all scientific fields, and ensure that Swedish research is renewed. To ensure this is successful, it is important that the process for assessing applications is systematic and of high quality.
We have eight fundamental principles for ensuring the assessment is conducted within the framework for a sound assessment culture and good research practice.
It is important that the handling of applications is objective and impartial, so that the best research ideas receive funding. All who take part in the assessment process must therefore follow the Swedish Research Council’s gender equality strategy and conflict of interest policy.
Work is carried out in review panels
The experts are members of review panels with various subject specialisations. We compose the review panels in such a way that the subject expertise of the members complement each other. This ensures each panel has a collective competence that covers all research fields in the applications. If the members of a review panel still do not consider themselves to have sufficient expertise to assess a particular application, they can get help from experts outside the panel, known as ‘external reviewers’.
Each review panel consists of five to fifteen persons from different higher education institutions (HEIs), and is led by a chair. The gender balance of the panel shall be even. Members are appointed for one year at a time, which can be extended for up to six years. The chair usually has a mandate period of three years maximum.
Researchers from several countries take part
Researchers from HEIs outside Sweden are included in nearly all review panels. They bring competence and an international perspective to the assessment of Swedish research. At the same time, recruiting panel members from other countries is a way of reducing the risk of conflicts of interest. For some calls, all the review panel members are international, for example within certain international collaborations.
All assessments shall be made in an equivalent manner. They shall be based on the scientific quality of the planned research, and on the competence of the applicant.
The applications are assessed according to the Swedish Research Council’s four basic criteria:
- Novelty and originality,
- The scientific quality of the project,
- The merits of the applicant, and
When assessing some calls, these criteria are supplemented with specific additional criteria that are relevant for that particular call, such as interdisciplinarity.
We train and inform members and chairs of the review panels on how the assessment shall be conducted, and on the guidelines that apply. To help them in their work, they also have a review panel handbook, which is specific for each call. The handbook clarifies the assessment criteria by means of a number of guiding questions.
The peer review handbook is available on this website.
The review panel makes a joint assessment
To ensure each application receives a balanced and fair assessment, a minimum of three members will always read and grade it ahead of the review panel meeting. The review panel makes a joint assessment of each application at the review panel meeting. For some calls, the applications with the lowest grades from the members’ individual assessments are not discussed. The reason for this is to give sufficient time to discuss the applications of the highest quality, that have a realistic chance of being funded.
How the review panel meeting is conducted:
- One of the panel members who has read the application presents it to the other members of the review panel.
- The whole review panel discusses the application and agrees on a joint, final assessment.
- The review panel sets the grades based on all the assessment criteria.
- A written statement is drawn up for each individual application (those that were not discussed at the meeting only receive a grade).
The chair of the review panel leads the meeting, with the help of personnel from the Swedish Research Council. Together they ensure that the guidelines are followed and that the outcome of the meeting is documented. As part of the quality assurance process, in many cases observers from the Swedish Research Council’s scientific councils and committees are present at the meeting.
Scientific councils and committees make the decision
The decision whether to award a grant or not is based on the review panel’s joint assessment and how the application compares in competition with other applications. The scientific council or committee responsible for the call makes the decision. Certain calls are decided on by the Swedish Research Council’s Director General.
All who have applied for a grant from us will receive the decision on their application via our application system Prisma. We also publish lists of the persons who have been awarded grants under each call on this website.
The assessment is followed up
We follow up the assessment process every year. For example, the review panel meetings always end with a discussion where the members have the opportunity to reflect and give feedback on various parts of the process. This feedback becomes part of the documentation used by the Swedish Research Council to optimise and develop our process for assessment of applications.
Eight principles to safeguard quality
The Swedish Research Council have produced eight fundamental principles for ensuring the scientific assessment is made within the framework for a sound assessment culture and good research practice.
1. Expertise in the review
The assessment of applications shall be carried out by experts with a documented high
level of scientific competence within the research field/s or discipline/s the application
relates to, and the scientific peer review shall be based on clear quality criteria.
Reviewers shall be appointed according to clear criteria in a systematically documented process.
2. Objectivity and equal treatment
All assessments shall be carried out in an equivalent manner and be based on the quality of the research planned and executed and on the applicant’s merits, irrespective of the origins or identity of the applicant. To avoid any conflict of interest or partiality, assessments shall be based on clear quality criteria and formalised processes.
3. Promoting good research practice
The assessment assumes an ethical approach and high level of integrity. The subject experts shall not carry out any preliminary ethical review, but should take into account how the applicant discusses the research and formulates the research question with regard to good research practice. If an application includes research that clearly breaches ethical rules and/or clearly contravenes Swedish or international law, this should be reflected in the assessment of the quality and/or feasibility of the research.
4. Openness and transparency
The assessment shall be based on and justified by the documentation requested by the Swedish Research Council, which in a typical case is an application for grant funding. The assessment of the documentation shall be made based on rules and guidelines set in advance and publicly known.
5. Appropriateness for purpose
The peer review process shall be adapted to the call and the research area, and shall be proportional to the size and complexity of the call without neglecting the rule of law.
The total resources used in the application and assessment, in terms of both time used and cost, shall be minimised for all involved, i.e. applicants, subject experts and Swedish Research Council personnel, with consideration for maintaining quality, objectivity, transparency and appropriateness for purpose.
All participants in the assessment process shall respect the integrity of the process and shall not disclose to any third party what has been discussed at the meeting or the opinion of other reviewers in the ongoing processing of applications. The final assessment shall always be documented and published once a decision has been made.
8. The peer review shall be prepared and followed up in a structured manner
Review processes shall be prepared and followed up according to clear criteria. All reviewers shall have access to the same type of background documentation for the review.
Guidelines describe how the principles shall be complied with
Each principle has a number of associated guidelines that provide support in the practical work of assessing the applications.
The principles and associated guidelines must be interpreted in relation to each individual call. All those who work with applications – administrators, subject experts in the review panels and decision-makers – discuss how the principles shall be applied in practice, for example if one principle conflicts with another.