The overall goal of research in the Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) at Colorado State University is to develop the knowledge base needed to support a food and fiber production system that is profitable, environmentally sustainable, and socially acceptable. Research conducted by the AES is guided by state, regional, and national priorities. This document describes the AES approach to a peer review system designed to insure that the highest quality research projects consistent with identified priorities are conducted. Peer review involves obtaining the objective opinion of other scientists on research proposals or completed projects. Administrators and users of research results may be involved in peer reviews when appropriate. Research projects are to be designed so as to withstand the rigors of a systematic evaluation of appropriateness and quality by the peer review process.
The AES is a University-wide organization. The Deans of each College serve as the focal point for the peer review process within their respective colleges and will implement a peer review process for AES projects conducted by their faculty. The Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station is the ultimate authority to approve projects once they have received endorsement from the peer review process in each College.
The peer review process is conducted within the framework of predetermined criteria whose thrust is that of judging whether an AES research project incorporates a state of the art scientific approach to the topic investigated. It is expected that the peer review process will afford the Principal Investigator the benefit of the system’s best counsel and that every project will enjoy an additional degree of credibility not otherwise available.
The peer review process will view individual research projects as the primary unit for planning and accountability by the AES at Colorado State University and by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), USDA. The broad goal of peer review is to subject every project to a rigorous and systematic evaluation for its appropriateness and quality. This broad goal is translated into the following six objectives:
- Insure completeness of project outlines (all items in the current guidelines for an Agricultural Experiment Station Project Outline should be included)
- Evaluate relevance and potential impact of the proposed research, including stakeholders impacted
- Evaluate quality and scientific value of the proposed research
- Consider opportunities for cooperation with other individuals or units
- Provide opportunity for the Principal Investigator to weigh criticisms with reviewers and make adjustments as appropriate
- Provide the Agricultural Experiment Station and CSREES with an indication, project by project, that the process was followed.
Guidelines for AES Project Management
AES research provides an opportunity for integration of applied and basic knowledge. AES research programs are expected to conduct mission-oriented research as well as contribute to basic knowledge required to address future problems in food, fiber, and natural resource systems.
Project reviews are key elements of the overall research design. The sequence of reviews for every Agricultural Experiment Station project is the same and consists of:
- an initial project proposal review
- annual reviews
- a terminal year review.
- In some instances, special reviews will be conducted.
- Peer Review Process For Proposed and Renewal AES Projects
To initiate or renew an AES project, the Principal Investigator(s) prepares a detailed outline following the CSU AES format (see project outline). Upon completion of the project outline, the Principal Investigator will submit the project outline for review by the peer review process adopted in the College. If the project is a renewal proposal, it is the charge of the peer review panel to thoroughly review all project reports and to deliver a firm set of recommendations concerning the future of the project. The recommendations from the peer review process are to be shared with the Principal Investigator(s) to enhance the quality of AES research projects.
With this focus in mind, criteria to be used in peer review includes:
- Will the research make a substantial contribution to knowledge and does it appear to be well designed and have scientific merit?
- Is the research directed towards solving a state problem? Does the project fit state, regional and national priorities as well as meeting AES objectives? What are the utilitarian payoffs for this research?
- Is the scope of the research realistic and in line with potential financial support? Is there likelihood of additional or major support from outside agencies?
- At what stage of development is the project? If it has been active for a significant period of time, has enough progress been made to justify continuation?
- Is there a time dependency or urgency factor which will fit with certain state, regional, or national priorities?
- Does the project have good management and planning relative to research plan, schedule, statistical analysis and publication?
Following peer review, the following steps will occur:
- The Dean of the College or their representative reviews the project outline for adequacy in accordance with College and AES requirements and, after approval, certifies that the proposed project has had peer review and that the reviewing group approves the subject matter and approach. The proposal and accompanying documents are transmitted to the Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station.
- The Agricultural Experiment Station Director reviews and with concurrence transmits the documents to CSREES as required.
- Should project approval not be forthcoming at any level during the approval process, the project proposal is to be referred to the previous level for further review and modification.
- Annual Review of Projects
Annual reviews of projects are conducted by the Principal Investigator’s Department Head/Chair, College Dean and the Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station. Progress reports are entered into the NIFA reporting portal (REEport), and are also made available through the Internet (CSU and USDA sites) and to the general public through various online services and CD-ROM products. As a result, these technical reports are accessible worldwide. The quality of the progress report reflects both upon the Agricultural Experiment Station and the scientist. All annual reports are posted on the AES web site. It is important that Principal Investigators prepare high quality reports, and that reviews by Department Heads and Deans pay particular attention to the identification and clear explanation of the impact of the results of the research project. Projects not demonstrating a measurable impact are subject to reevaluation for support with AES funds.
The following guidelines are suggested for developing the annual report:
- Report can be focused rather than inclusive of all project activity.
- Target one key component of the research project.
- Emphasize accomplishments and their impact in relation to project objectives rather than activities.
- Suggested report approach:
- State problem
- Describe study conducted in general terms
- State the results or accomplishments
- Present summary statements of the impact of the project results
- Economic impact
- Social impact
- Environmental impact
In summary, the annual report should emphasize accomplishments in a statement of progress for the past year and an assessment of the impact of the research completed. It is expected that the Principal Investigator will receive comments from the Department Head/Chair relative to strengths and weaknesses of the project on an annual basis.
- Terminal Year Review
In the terminal year of a project, the Principal Investigator will prepare an overall project accomplishment statement for the AES Director. A meeting will be scheduled for the Principal Investigator, Department Head and Dean/Associate Dean and AES Director to discuss project accomplishments and future research needs. Prior to this meeting, the Principal Investigator is requested to prepare a one page summary of the research project identifying the following items:
- What is the most important finding from this research project?
- How is this research project impacting the science of your discipline
- How is this research impacting a Colorado issue?
- Who will utilize the results of this research and how are the results being communicated to the target audience?
- How does this finding contribute to the issue identified in the objectives of the proposal?
If a new or renewal project proposal is developed by the Principal Investigator, the project proposal will be subjected to the peer review process adopted by the College and processed as described above for new or renewal projects.
- Other Reviews
Special reviews can occur at the discretion of the Director. A special review is usually the result of a concern that the project is no longer viable and that it should be significantly altered or terminated . Such reviews can occur at any time during the course of the project’s life and organizationally will resemble a Terminal Year Review.