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The establishment of NISRA’s Peer Review College

Why

NISRA is committed to continually improving the quality of its statistical outputs. The UK Statistics Authority assessment process has indicated that the commentary (narrative) within publications should be less descriptive and more interpretative.  To help address this in Northern Ireland, the Agency introduced a process of peer review on a pilot basis, with the central purpose of improving the commentary and the interpretation and presentation of the data it produces.

How

The 6 month pilot took place during June to December of 2013.  Twelve Assistant Statistician volunteers from across the Agency were trained in commentary and peer review processes by staff from the National Statistician’s Office Good Practice Team and were provided with the relevant ‘top tips’ guidance.  The peer reviewers worked in 2 groups of 6.  The groups agreed at the outset how they would manage the workload, arrange meetings, feedback to authors and deal with differences of opinion.  Perhaps most importantly it was emphasised that all comments would be respectful and constructive  and all  discussions or outcome would be treated in confidence.  Nine publications from across the Agency were reviewed.

Impact

The pilot was evaluated in January 2014, using questionnaires, issued to the peer reviewers and the authors of the reports.  The response was overwhelmingly positive.  The peer reviewers all felt that their skills in the following areas had been improved or substantially improved by being part of the Peer Review College (PRC):  working as part of a team; writing about statistics; presentation of data; interpretation of data; and knowledge of NISRA outputs.  All the statisticians that received feedback from the PRC would recommend the process to a colleague and were either satisfied or very satisfied with the service provided.

NISRA’s experience indicates that peer review benefits our:

  • Assistant Statisticians in terms of improving  their writing and data visualisation skills;
  • publications with a constructive and consistent approach; and
  • the Agency by addressing the recommendations from the UK Statistics Authority assessments.

What Next

Given the positive outcome from the pilot, the Agency has agreed that the PRC should continue as follows:

  • A 6 month membership of the PRC will be mandatory for Assistant Statisticians who have at least one years experience working in NISRA;
  • The PRC will have 20 active peer reviewers at any one time working in groups of 5 (deemed most suitable by the pilot reviewers); and
  • Each group will review 3 publications (also deemed most suitable by the first round of reviewers) over their 6 months in the PRC

NISRA has developed supporting materials for the PRC: feedback form to the authors from the PRC as well as a quick feedback form from authors to peer reviewers to facilitate any questions or issues that the authors may have.

Contact

If you require any further information on NISRA’s Peer Review College please contact Arlene Connolly.