Peer Review at the DFG: the Review Board
In all decision-making processes based on peer review, professionally competent, neutral reviewing capable of rendering critical assessment is the essence of sound, forward-looking decisions. Since the 1960s, however, there have been recurring doubts as to whether organized review processes meet these criteria. Not only well-known scandals in the scientific community, leading to increased public awareness but also decreased application approval rates, have raised the question of how to adjust the system in order to cope with current and future requirements.
The iFQ is therefore studying the quality of peer review in science and research from different perspectives. The focus is on the review system of the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft – DFG). In order to improve its own peer review processes and ensure fairness, the DFG established a new element in the peer review process in 2004: the review board (Fachkollegium). The members of the DFG’s review boards, elected by the scientific community, are responsible for ensuring the overall quality of the review process. They are in charge of judging the quality and fairness of the reviews and evaluate the appropriate selection of reviewers. The key objective of the DFG´s reform of the peer review system was to ensure the efficiency and the practicability of the system in a rapidly changing research landscape. The review of proposals, the comparative assessment for funding recommendations, and the final funding decision are now functionally separated.
This reform touched upon highly sensitive issues. Questions such as who selects the reviewers or how to weight the reviewer assessment in the decision process as a whole are no mere technical and organizational matters. Rather, they concern the balance of power, the influence inside the scientific community, fairness and the reputation of the peers and the funding agency.
In the project “Peer Review at the DFG: the review board” we carried out an online survey among all members of the review boards (DFG-Fachkollegiaten) to obtain information on first experiences with the reformed DFG review system. In addition, the project also aimed to identify the strengths and weaknesses of peer review from an expert perspective, taking disciplinary differences into account.
The results are published in an iFQ Working Paper (available only in German). Download