Alternatives to Peer Review in Research Project Funding

2013 Update

by Susan Guthrie, Benoit Guerin, Helen Wu, Sharif Ismail, Steven Wooding

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Abstract

Peer review is often considered the gold standard for reviewing research proposals. However, it is not always the best methodology for every research funding process. Public and private funders that support research as wide-ranging as basic science, defence technology and social science use a diverse set of strategies to advance knowledge in their respective fields. This report highlights a range of approaches that offer alternatives to, or modifications of, traditional peer review — alternatives that address many of the shortcomings in peer review effectiveness and efficiency. The appropriateness of these different approaches will depend on the funder's organisational structure and mission, the type of research they wish to fund, as well as short- and long-term financial constraints.

We hope that the information presented in this pack of cards will inspire experimentation amongst research funders by showing how the research funding process can be changed, and give funders the confidence to try novel methods by explaining where and how similar approaches have been used previously. We encourage funders to be as inquisitive about their funding systems as they are about the research they support and make changes in ways that can be subsequently evaluated, for instance using randomised controlled trials. Such an approach would allow researchers to learn more about the effects of different methods of funding and, over time, to improve their knowledge of the most effective ways to support research.

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