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Research Peer Review Guideline for Ethics Applications

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Section 1 - Introduction

(1) The University of Newcastle (UON) has a responsibility to ensure that, as with any research, proposals submitted for ethics approval are methodologically sound and of a high scholarly standard. Peer review of research provides expert scrutiny of a project, helps to maintain high standards, and encourages accurate, thorough and credible research reporting.

(2) This Guideline outlines the responsibilities and process requirements required for peer review of all research proposals submitted to the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) or the Animal Care and Ethics Committee (ACEC) for ethics approval. It supports UON’s requirement that all research proposals for ethics approval be subject to peer review, as outlined in the Responsible Conduct of Research Policy.

(3) Applications for ethics approval will not be accepted if the completed peer review does not comply with this Guideline.

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Section 2 - Audience

(4) UON researchers conducting animal or human based research.

(5) Conjoint appointed researchers conducting animal or human based research.

(6) Coursework and Honours Students and Higher Degree by Research (HDR) Candidates conducting animal or human based research.

(7) Peer reviewers.

(8) Heads of School.

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Section 3 - Document Specific Definition

(9) This Guideline should be considered in line with the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. In the context of this document, peer review means the “impartial and independent assessment of research by others working in the same or a related field” and having sufficient standing to competently review the merit and protocols of the project.

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Section 4 - Responsibilities

Faculty Research Committees Responsibilities

(10) Faculty Research Committees are responsible for:

  1. overseeing peer reviews in their respective Faculties;
  2. ensuring that the peer reviews conducted are of the highest rigor and are undertaken in accordance with this Guideline;
  3. providing suitable peer reviewers, which includes experienced researchers in the general field of study or specific methodology of the proposal under review;
  4. seeking an external peer reviewer in circumstances where a suitable peer reviewer cannot be identified internally; and
  5. facilitating peer review of research proposals prior to submission of proposals to a UON ethics committee.

(11) Faculty Research Committees can delegate Clause (10) e. to a Faculty specific peer review committee or to a School specific peer review committee where the volume of reviews warrants it. In each case, there should be a designated Chair of the Committee approved by the Faculty Research Committee.

Peer Review Committee Responsibilities

(12) Peer review committees have responsibility for ensuring that:

  1. a review of the research proposal is undertaken against the criteria listed in the peer review report form for ACEC (Independent peer review of scientific merit of a research protocol involving the use of animals) and HREC (Human Research Ethics Committee Peer Review Declaration) applications; and
  2. human ethics protocol peer reviewers respond to the questions listed on the Peer Reviewer Response form.

(13) Peer review committees or panels must review the research proposal against the criteria listed in the “Peer Review Declaration” included in the application for human ethics approval.

Peer Reviewer Responsibilities

(14) Peer reviewers need to ensure that they are independent of the researchers. That is, they should not be part of the research team for the project, or have any significant personal relationship or other conflicts of interest with members of the research team.

(15) Where the research proposal is for a project to be undertaken by a UON student as part of their program of study, the student's project supervisor cannot be a peer reviewer for the proposal.

(16) Peer reviewers should sign a confidentiality agreement where there are confidentiality or commercial in confidence issues.

Researcher Responsibilities

(17) Researchers seeking peer review should include a 2–3 page summary of the research proposal that covers:

  1. a brief literature review;
  2. the aims of the proposed research;
  3. the proposed study sample;
  4. the design, methodology and/or research procedures;
  5. for animal research, the animal species, number of animals, source and quality of animals (e.g. microbiological status) should be specified in the summary of the research proposal; and
  6. Power estimates if appropriate.

(18) Researchers must address any issues identified during the peer review prior to submission of an application to the ethics committee.

Head of School Responsibilities

(19) The applicant's Head of School must complete the Head of School Declaration where required (contained in the application for Human Ethics approval) confirming the completion of a peer review and endorsing the undertaking of the research.

(20) Please also see Clause 21.

Faculty Pro-Vice Chancellor Responsibilities

(21) The Head of School Declaration  is to be completed by the Faculty Pro Vice-Chancellor or nominee where the Head of School has a conflict of interest with the research or the research team.

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Section 5 - Peer Review Process Requirements

(22) It is essential that any peer review is separate from the ethics approval process. Peer review is not a function of the HREC or the ACEC, nor is it a function of a Faculty Research Ethics Advisor, except in as much as the HREC or ACEC must be assured that a peer review has been properly conducted.

(23) Peer review must be undertaken in accordance with the methodology approved by the applicable Faculty Research Committee, including use of a documented standard protocol and its attachment to the signed peer review form. The peer review process needs to be appropriate to review research proposals from Coursework and Honours StudentsHigher Degree by Research (HDR) Candidates, and Staff.

(24) The peer review process may be complementary to, or conducted concurrently with, other processes with a peer review element such as the confirmation process for Higher Degree by Research (HDR) Candidates, as described in the Confirmation Guidelines for HDR Candidates. Confirmation may meet peer review requirements where the methodology does not alter significantly as a result of the Confirmation process.

(25) An internal peer review is not required where the research proposal has been peer reviewed in the course of an award from a recognised granting body operating a competitive grants scheme. Applicants for HREC or ACEC approval will be required to confirm in writing that the research methods described in the ethics application matches that described in the grant application. Details of the grant, its reference number and a copy of the application to the granting body must be provided in the application for ethics approval.

(26) Peer review of research to be considered by the HREC or ACEC will be reviewed by at least one peer reviewer unless clause 25 applies.

(27) The peer review needs to be responsive to the relatively narrow research time window open to some researchers, particularly coursework and honours students. Peer reviews should be completed and returned to the researcher in a timely manner. Electronic submission of peer review documents, approvals and feedback to applicants is strongly recommended to shorten turn around.

(28) Any issues identified through the peer review are to be addressed by the applicant to the satisfaction of the peer reviewer prior to the submission of an application for consideration by an ethics committee.

(29) Peer review of human research applications must be in accordance with the process (as described in the Peer Review of Research Proposals Submitted for Human Ethics Approval Procedural Flowchart or Faculty of Science Proposed Peer Review of Research Proposals Submitted for Human & Animal Ethics Approval Procedural Flowchart).

(30) Peer reviews should be completed within 10 working days of submission, although shorter turnaround is strongly encouraged.

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Section 6 - Reporting

(31) The UON Research Committee will collect and collate quarterly reports from each Faculty Research Committee that documents the mean number (and range) of working days taken for all peer reviews from receipt of an application to the date of return to the researcher.