Peer review by referees

NWO usually approaches external referees for the assessment of research proposals. These researchers are experts in the research areas covered by the submitted proposals. NWO asks them to give an assessment.

Selection of referees

Referees must be experts in the scientific area of proposal they assess. Referees are sought using international databases such as Web of Science, MEDLINE, ReviewerFinder and Scopus, as well as NWO data. The list of chosen referees can be submitted for advice to a subject specialist who is not involved in the proposals or the assessment process.

In principle, referees are not paid for their contribution.

A referee usually has three to four weeks to give his or her written assessment of a research proposal. Usually a referee only assesses one of the proposals.

Excluding conflicts of interest

Before NWO approaches a referee, the policy officer checks whether this person is involved in the research proposal, or has a relationship with the applicant. NWO asks potential referees to sign NWO's Code for Dealing with Personal Interests and to act in accordance with this. If a conflict of interest still arises, the expert concerned can no longer act as a referee. Researchers from rival institutions are also excluded.

Anonymous and confidential

NWO guarantees referees that their names will not be disclosed to the applicant or the selection committee. This allows the referee to give a frank assessment of the research proposal.

Referees are asked to treat the research proposal with due care and confidentiality so that the applicant's intellectual property and personal details are protected. For these same reasons, third parties cannot request to see the comments of referees.

Foreign referees

Because NWO wants to assess Dutch research proposals against international standards, most referees are researchers working outside the Netherlands. The use of foreign referees is often the only way to prevent possible bias or conflicts of interest.

Several disciplines

Research proposals are increasingly interdisciplinary in nature. This is taken into account when choosing referees. NWO tries to select referees from different disciplines, and preferably with knowledge of comparable multidisciplinary research. This approach results in advice that does justice to the broad scope of the proposal, and that ensures coherency between disciplines.