This is part one in a series.
What exactly is a professional peer review? A professional peer review focuses on the performance of professionals, with a view to improving quality, upholding standards, or providing certification. A professional peer review should not to be confused with a scholarly peer review, which is conducted in an academic or research based setting. Rather, professional peer reviews are common with large engineering processes (e.g. environmental assessments) whereby an independent peer reviewer (which may include a whole team of experts) reviews the study findings of a project proponent and their consultants. Moreover, a peer review process is often used to assist a client (e.g. a municipality) in their understanding of highly specialised technical documentation. We refer to a peer review process for a municipal client as a ‘municipal peer review’.
The purpose of the municipal peer review process is to instil confidence and accuracy in the scientific findings over the course of a project. Independent research is not conducted. Instead, the a peer review would indicate where there are studies missing or if there are significant gaps in the analysis. HSAL has conducted peer reviews for a variety of municipal clients, most commonly for nuclear waste management and resource management issues. Currently, HSAL is leading the peer review for the Port Hope and Port Granby Projects for the Municipalities of Port Hope and Clarington for the clean-up of low level radioactive waste and marginally contaminated soils.
In the case of the Port Hope and Port Granby Projects, the peer review process is also conducted to enable the municipalities to be involved in the decision making process as an equal party by providing them with a team of experts who understand the complex issues involved in a clean-up process. For example, the issues involved in a radioactive waste clean-up process (e.g. nuclear and health physics, air quality, hydrogeological engineering, etc.) cannot be addressed by most municipalities because they do not necessarily have the staff and resources to deal with them.
My next entry will focus on the questions that a peer reviewer asks when reviewing project documentation.
Danya Al-Haydari is an Environmental Planner at Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited, where she specializes in public consultation, environmental assessment and energy policy. She has coordinated work for the Port Hope and Port Granby Projects, and conducted research on the Port Hope Area Initiative’s Property Value Protection Program. Most recently, she co-authored a paper for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization on community well-being in nuclear host communities. Danya is a member of the Canadian Nuclear Societyand Women in Nuclear Canada.