What is the meaning and purpose of blind peer review?


Written by Dr Hannes Nel

In my previous article on peer review I concluded that it should not be used for accreditation purposes because of its inherent subjectivity. As if using peer review to evaluate for accreditation purposes is not bad enough, some add “blind” to “peer review” and then claim that “blind peer review” is justification for them not revealing the names or profiles of the evaluators. This is completely wrong in terms of the meaning and purpose of “blind” in this context.

If used as a way in which to evaluate an application for accreditation, blind peer review would mean that two or more people would evaluate (review) the same application. The purpose of this would be to ensure objectivity, which is achieved by having two or more experts evaluate the application without knowing who the other evaluators are. The reason why different evaluators should not know who the others are is to ensure that they don’t discuss their evaluations and findings. The possibility exists that they might influence one another, thereby rendering the process subjective and unfair.

Once the evaluation reports have been submitted to the quality assurance body, they would compare the findings and recommendations of the different evaluators. If the evaluators agree, their recommendations would be accepted. If they disagree, the quality assurance body can do one of three things:

  1. They can fall back on their veto right and decide which recommendation they agree with.
  2. They can invite the evaluators to meet and, with the quality assurance body facilitating the process, discuss the findings and recommendations in an effort to reach synergy.
  3. They can ask additional evaluators to also evaluate the application.

 

There is no reason to keep the identities of the evaluators confidential once the evaluation has been completed and a decision made. In fact, the identity of the evaluators should be revealed once the evaluation has been completed else the process cannot come to a logical conclusion, especially if there is a split decision between the different evaluators. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council of India (NAAC) also make use of peer review for evaluation purposes. However, the detail assessment report is made public after the evaluation and the identities of the peers are not kept secret. In fact, one of the critical elements of the NAAC evaluation strategy is transparency in all its policies and practices.[1]

One might argue that you should protect the evaluator’s against retribution, blackmail, bribery or intimidation. This, however, is not blind peer review, especially if the evaluation has been done by one evaluator only. Besides, the day it becomes necessary to protect evaluators against applicants for accreditation would be the lowest that a country claiming to maintain quality in education and training can sink to – then we can just as well not quality assure at all.

In closing, it should be rather obvious that a quality assurance body in education and training should have in its employ people who understand quality assurance concepts. It should also be obvious that such bodies should at all times act ethically. The worst thing that a quality assurance body can do is to bend and manipulate concepts to justify not conducting professional work, thereby misleading government as well as learning institutions.

 

 

[1] Prasad and Stella, 2004: 4-5.

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About Hannes Nel

CEO and owner of Mentornet (Pty) Ltd. Academic background: B. Mil.; BA Honnours; MBL; D. Com; D. Phil Published 10 books with two more in the pipeline.

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