What is a public reviewer?

Peer reviewing is an important part of the research process. It is where a research proposal or report is read and commented on by people with similar interests and expertise to those who wrote the proposal or report. Peer review helps to check the quality of the report or research proposal. In this section we focus on peer reviewing research proposals (sometimes called funding applications) – members of the public may also be involved in reviewing research reports or other research documents (see case study 15).

Reviewers might be members of the public, researchers, or other professionals. When reviews are carried out by members of the public it is sometimes called ‘lay’ review to distinguish their contributions from researchers and clinicians. We use the term ‘public’ review in this resource.

A number of research funders, including the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), ask members of the public to review research proposals along with clinicians and researchers. The role of researchers and clinicians as peer reviewers is usually to provide a scientific review of the research proposal, that is to review the technical and methodological aspects and confirm the timeliness of the proposed research.

The public reviewers bring a unique and valuable perspective because they can draw on their knowledge and experience of a particular condition or their use of health and social care services– either as a service user or carer. A panel or board will usually decide whether to award funding for a research project and members of the panel/board will take into account the reviewers’ comments on the research proposal when making their decision.

Members of the public who act as reviewers have a particularly important role in answering questions such as:

  • Is the research question important to the public, patients, service users or carers?
  • Is the research looking at outcomes that are important to the public, patients, service users or carers?
  • Is information for the public, patients, service users or carers clear and easy to understand?
  • Will the public, patients, service users or carers be willing to take part in the project?  Or will it inconvenience them so much that they are unlikely to agree to take part?
  • Did the researchers actively involve the public, patients, service users or carers when they planned their research? Was this done well?
  • Are there any plans to involve the public, patients, service users or carers in the research?  Is there a budget for this?