NHMRC Principles of Peer Review

The Council of NHMRC endorsed the Principles of Peer Review (the Principles) at its 14 March 2013 meeting. The Principles are high-level, guiding statements that underpin NHMRC’s peer review processes and will apply to all NHMRC funding schemes.

The Principles are a living document and will be subject to ongoing review by NHMRC’s Research Committee and Council as part of NHMRC’s overall consideration of how it supports peer review.

The Principles are outlined below.

NHMRC’s Principles of Peer Review

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is responsible for managing the Australian Government’s main investment in health and medical research in a manner consistent with Commonwealth legislation and guidelines.1 We have a responsibility for ensuring that tax-payer’s funds are invested wisely and fairly to support the best health and medical research.

The Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research2 describes peer review as the impartial and independent assessment of research by others working in the same or a related field. In the context of funding research grant applications, peer review involves the assessment of scientific or technical merit of applications by individuals (peers) with knowledge and expertise equivalent to that of the individuals whose applications for support they are reviewing.

While not without controversy, peer review is the best approach to assessing the quality of health and medical research and is the basis of NHMRC’s decision-making when recommending applications for funding. The Principles of Peer Review outlined below apply to each of NHMRC’s funding schemes.

  1. Fairness. Peer review processes are fair and seen to be fair by all involved.
  2. Transparency. All stages of peer review are transparent.
  3. Independence. Peer reviewers provide independent advice. There is also independent oversight of peer review processes by independent Chairs and Observers.
  4. Appropriateness and balance. The experience, expertise and operation of peer reviewers is appropriate to the goals and scale of the funding vehicle.
  5. Research community participation. Persons holding tax-payer funded grants should willingly make themselves available to participate in peer review processes, including mentoring of junior researchers, whenever possible.3
  6. Confidentiality. Participants respect that confidentiality is important to the fairness and robustness of peer review.
  7. Impartiality. Peer review is objective and impartial, with appropriate processes in place to manage real and perceived conflicts of interest.
  8. Quality and excellence. NHMRC will continue to introduce evidence-based improvements into its processes to achieve the highest quality decision-making through peer review.

The Principles above were agreed by NHMRC Council at its 195th Council session, 14 March 2013.

1Including the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992, the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and the Commonwealth Grants Rules and Guidelines.
2All participants should be familiar with the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2007), in particular Chapter 6.
3Section 6.4 of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2007) states that all researchers in receipt of public funding have a responsibility to participate in peer review.