September 24, 2008

Enhancing Peer Review at NIH: Implementation Plans for 2009-10

Grant applications to the National Institutes of Health are evaluated initially by peer review groups composed of scientists from the extramural research community.

In June 2007, NIH began a comprehensive examination of the NIH peer review system with the goal of maximizing the system’s effectiveness, documenting the effort on the Enhancing Peer Review at NIH web site.

To begin the process, NIH formed working groups that solicited formal input from key stakeholders in both external and internal communities. The Final Draft Report issued in February 2008 describes the outcome of the diagnostic phase and the recommendations made by the working groups. In March 2008, NIH established a steering committee to draft implementation plans for each recommended action. A Peer Review Enhancements and Implementation Plan was announced in June. On September 19, NIH published an NIH Guide notice, Announcing Initial Implementation Timeline for Enhancing Peer Review, that outlines the preliminary implementation plans for the 2009 through 2010 calendar years, as follows:

Priority Area 1 – Engage the Best Reviewers
  • Improve Reviewer Retention: In 2009, new reviewers will be given additional flexibility regarding their tour of duty, and other efforts will be undertaken to improve retention of standing review members.
  • Recruit the Best Reviewers: A toolkit, incorporating best practices for recruiting reviewers, will be made available to all ICs in 2009.
  • Enhance Reviewer Training: In spring 2009, training will be available to reviewers and Scientific Review Officers (SROs) related to the changes in peer review.
  • Allow Flexibility through Virtual Reviews: Pilots will be conducted in 2009 on the feasibility of using high-bandwidth support for review meetings to provide reviewers greater flexibility and alternatives for in-person meetings.
Priority Area 2 – Improve the Quality and Transparency of Review
  • Improve Scoring Transparency and Scale: Review criteria-based scoring on 1 to 7 scale commences in May 2009. Reviewers will provide feedback through scores and critiques for each criterion in a structured summary statement.
  • Provide Scores for Streamlined Applications: In 2009, streamlined applications will receive a preliminary score.
  • Shorten and Restructure Applications: Shorter (12-page research plan) R01 applications (with other activity codes scaled appropriately) will be restructured to align with review criteria for January 2010 receipt dates.
Priority Area 3 – Ensure Balanced and Fair Reviews across Scientific Fields and Career Stages, and Reduce Administrative Burden
  • Fund the Best Science Earlier and Reduce Need for Resubmissions: To ensure that the largest number of high quality and meritorious applications receive funding earlier and to improve system efficiency, NIH is considering separate percentiling of new and resubmitted applications and permitting one amended application.
  • Review Like Applications Together: NIH is establishing an Early Stage Investigator (ESI) designation. In 2009, NIH will evaluate clustering ESI applications for review. The same approach will be considered for clinical research applications.


Enhancing Peer Review at NIH:
NIH Peer Review Policies & Practices:
NIH Center for Scientific Review:
August 2008 Extramural Nexus Article – Update on Peer Review: