Published: 11 March 2024

By Dr Mehwaesh Islam, Research Policy Manager, AMRC

Today we’re launching our refreshed expert review principles and associated guidance (insert trumpets, confetti and applause!) 

We’re so proud of our charities being able to demonstrate robust processes for making funding decisions. It's a core membership requirement for AMRC members. We want to continue to ensure that our members stay ahead of the curve in this space, and that our processes and guidance are designed to support you as best as we can.  

Read on to find out what’s changing, why and next steps!  

Why the need for change? 

Following our 2020 peer review audit, we decided it was time to pause and reflect on what’s working well and what isn’t. We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our members about the value of the AMRC guidance and the support given as part of the audit process, which gives our charities the opportunity to improve their practices. But we know that the audit process itself was very burdensome, both on AMRC and our member charities.  

Aside from revisiting how the audit is run, we felt that it was an opportune time to refresh our principles and accompanying guidance. We wanted our guidance to reflect the fact that different charities can have different approaches to meeting our principles. We also wanted to ensure our requirements and processes enable our members to stay on the front foot with the shifting sands of change in today’s research landscape.  

So, what’s new? 

We've renamed and reshuffled our five principles of peer review into six principles of expert review. In renaming and shuffling the principles we haven’t lost anything - the content and guidance within the old principles is encompassed by the new principles.  

A few examples of the changes we have introduced include 

  • We’ve changed the terminology we use from ‘peer to expert review. This is to reflect that we consider ‘experts’ involved in the process in the broadest sense – not just academics, but also experts from industry, clinicians, early career researchers, patients or people with lived experience and their carers, etc.  

  • We’ve revised our guidance under each principle to move away from ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ and instead provide examples of ways to meet the principle. The guidance has been edited to reflect current best practice and updated with new case studies. 

  • We've introduced ‘Diversity’ as a standalone principle, encompassing guidance previously under Balance. This includes an additional requirement for charities to consider the diversity of experts involved in review in terms of location, career stage, gender and ethnicity, as well as involving patient and public representatives. We acknowledge that this isn’t an easy one to crack, but we need to get better at it. 

  • There’s more in the guidance about cross-cutting themes such as Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and patient and public involvement (PPI) in expert review. We hope that this will improve the quality as well as fairness of AMRC members' expert review processes which will ultimately result in maximum patient benefit. 

  • We’ve introduced a principle of ‘Proportionality’ and clarified when written review is necessary and when you might want to reconsider. 

  • There’s more in the guidance on innovative methods of expert review (such as sandpits and partial randomisation). We think that these can be incorporated by our members in your processes without compromising the overall principles of expert review. 

  • We’ve clarified our guidance to ensure that proportionate long-term review is carried out by both funders of single institutes and those making long-term strategic investments without ongoing open competition. 

We hope that the above changes and updates will improve clarity and allow more flexibility across the diversity of our membership. 

What’s next? 

We know that our members are comfortably meeting most of the above recommendations. But we want to help you improve your processes in areas where you think they may be lacking. Over the course of the year, we will be offering events, training, surgery-style sessions and peer-to-peer support to provide support and guidance on an ongoing basis.  

The next audit of our members’ funding decision-making processes will take place in 2025 (as planned) but we'll make it lighter-touch​ than the previous exercise, whilst upholding the quality kitemark and necessary assurance that makes the process so valuable to our members.  

Ahead of the full audit next year, we're keen to run a pilot with a handful of members to stress test the new process. We're looking for volunteer member charities to take part in this pilot. Could this be your organisation? If so, please get in touch with me via [email protected]. A bonus for charities taking part in this pilot is that they will not be re-audited in 2025.  

Last but not the least, we’d love to hear from you about things that you are doing differently. We will continue to update the guidance with case studies and examples of good practice.  

We hope you’ll find these changes useful. Ahead of the next audit, let’s get ready to bring our expert review A-game!