Funding agencies have long used panel discussion in the peer review of research grant proposals as a way to utilize a set of expertise and perspectives in making funding decisions. Little research has examined the quality of panel discussions and how effectively they are facilitated.
Here we present a mixed-method analysis of data from a survey of reviewers focused on their perceptions of the quality and facilitation of panel discussion from their last peer review experience.
Reviewers indicated that panel discussions were viewed favorably in terms of participation, clarifying differing opinions, informing unassigned reviewers, and chair facilitation. However, some reviewers mentioned issues with panel discussions, including an uneven focus, limited participation from unassigned reviewers, and short discussion times. Most reviewers felt the discussions affected the review outcome, helped in choosing the best science, and were generally fair and balanced. However, those who felt the discussion did not affect the outcome were also more likely to evaluate panel communication negatively, and several reviewers mentioned potential sources of bias related to the discussion. While respondents strongly acknowledged the importance of the chair in ensuring appropriate facilitation of the discussion to influence scoring and to limit the influence of potential sources of bias from the discussion on scoring, nearly a third of respondents did not find the chair of their most recent panel to have performed these roles effectively.
It is likely that improving chair training in the management of discussion as well as creating review procedures that are informed by the science of leadership and team communication would improve review processes and proposal review reliability.