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Vol. LXIII, No. 3
February 4, 2011

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Peer Review Undergoes ‘Evergreening’ Process
Care to guess what They are?  

Standing in front of the peer review model are (from front to back) Dr. Sheryl Brining, NCRR, and Dr. Paul Sheehy, NIGMS, co-leads of the evergreening peer review initiative, and eRA’s Mike Rennolds, a business analyst who led the modeling effort.


Recruiting scientists to review grant applications is no easy task. Zeroing in on expertise and then arranging schedules convenient for all can be both daunting and time-consuming for the scientific review officer (SRO) charged with this undertaking.

But what if sophisticated text-mining tools helped the SRO identify the right reviewers more efficiently? What if the calendar-scheduling software used by NIAID could be leveraged for use by SROs at other institutes and centers?

These and other “pain points” in the business of conducting peer review at NIH were discussed as part of a broad effort called “evergreening peer review” initiated by the Office of Extramural Research’s electronic Research Administration (eRA). This task brought together 56 people from 15 ICs in 2-hour, twice weekly sessions held from February to July 2010. The initiative had two goals: gain efficiencies that will help NIH review staff in their daily work and provide input to redesign the peer review electronic systems that support their work. “

There have been a lot of changes in review at NIH as a result of the Enhancing Peer Review initiative,” said Dr. Paul Sheehy of NIGMS, co-leader of the initiative with Dr. Sheryl Brining of NCRR. “This is an effort to not only keep pace with the changes, but also get ahead of them by designing business systems we would like to have.”  

“Since peer review is at the heart of the grants process, we needed everyone to step back and take a look at the entire process,” noted Pete Morton, eRA program manager.

eRA’s IMPAC II grants administration systems are more than 20 years old. The evergreening group’s recommendations will allow eRA to develop the detailed requirements for new peer review electronic support systems and, based on future funding, build the new system. “This is a wonderful example of information technology not leading the business process, but customers leading the way with IT standing by them,” Morton said.

“This is a wonderful example of information technology not leading the business process, but customers leading the way with IT standing by them.”

The brainstorming, which builds on work initiated in 2006 by the NIH Office of the Chief Information Officer, resulted in the mapping of a 20-foot-long model of the peer review workflow from an SRO’s perspective. The new model has many purposes, including serving as a teaching tool for new SROs and to better inform eRA architects and analysts how any planned change to the system may impact other parts of the workflow.

Dr. Carla Walls, an SRO at NICHD, described the discussions as both rewarding and informative. “I see many benefits arising from the model,” she noted. “It can be a roadmap for developing a peer review training program to promote more efficiency and uniformity in review and spur helpful discussions between review and program staff about what’s involved in the review process from start to finish.”

Morton noted that the success of the effort demonstrated that the business process modeling approach could also be used for other major initiatives involving complex systems at NIH.

The initiative also culminated in a 56-page white paper that details the modeling process, the pain points and the recommendations.

“The evergreening peer review model gives us, for the first time, a complete picture of our business process and shows us the complexities associated with changing the system,” said Brining. “We are better poised to support policy changes now.”

“And to rebuild the eRA IT systems that support peer review,” added Morton. NIHRecord Icon

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