Peer Review Framework

The purpose of this framework is to set out what information the AHRC will and will not release, under the Freedom of Information Act, concerning the peer review process.

Background

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 gives individuals the legal right to request information held by public authorities, including the Research Councils, and aims to embed a culture of openness within the public sector. Information is the foundation of the operations of the AHRC and the AHRC is committed to operating with integrity, openness and accountability. To this end we fully endorse and adhere to the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

Peer review in this context is the process by which decisions are reached about which of the applications submitted to AHRC for funding for research and postgraduate study should be funded. It involves sending the applications to researchers working in the same or related fields and using their comments to assess the quality and relevance of the application as a basis for deciding whether the AHRC should fund it.

The peer review process deals with personal information, confidential information and intellectual property (IP) of the applicant. It is vital that there is scope for the free and frank exchange of ideas in the decision making process. Both the applicant and the participants in the process have an interest in confidentiality. The peer review process may be damaged by:

  • release of confidential and personal information, with subsequent damage to IP rights, or failure to protect personal data as required by the Data Protection Act
  • Reviewers, Assessors, Panel and Committee members being unwilling to provide free and frank comment and a subsequent lack of confidence in the rigour of the process; or
  • inadequate records of decisions because of an overly defensive approach to holding information.

The AHRC is committed to meeting the highest standards of openness and accountability consistent with the effective operation of the peer review process. The AHRC believes that retaining the confidentiality of some key aspects of the peer review process is in the best interests of good research, and hence also of the public generally.

Once applications are funded, the balance of the public interest requires a higher degree of disclosure. Issues of confidentiality, personal information and intellectual property may still apply to AHRC processes.

A public authority can only refuse to provide information where the information falls into one of the categories of exempt information. For most exemptions the release (or withholding) of information is subject to a public interest test. The most relevant exemptions are listed at the bottom of this document. All requests for information are considered individually.

In consultation with the other UK Research Councils, the AHRC has developed the linked framework concerning the release of information at various stages of the peer review process. This framework applies to all types of applications for funding through the AHRC.

For more information, see the Peer Review Framework on the RCUK website.

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