This is Part Three of Danya’s series on the peer review process.
I have previously discussed what a peer review entails as well as some of the questions a peer reviewer would ask when reviewing documentation, etc. This entry documents how the social sciences fit into the peer review process.
In a peer review process, especially those for controversial projects (e.g. nuclear waste management), the social sciences dictate that there needs to be as much emphasis on dialogue about values and the ‘people aspects’ as is commonly conducted with technical and scientific data. Equally important are the communications and public consultation processes that develop and maintain public trust. An HSAL peer review team is headed by project managers, planners and social scientists trained to be sensitive to the ‘people aspects’ of the project as a major priority. When required, an HSAL peer review team is supported by engineers and technical specialists as sub-contractors.
Effectively dealing with the ‘people aspects’ of a project is often just as complex as the engineering associated with a technical peer review exercise. It is important to get the ‘people-aspects’ of potentially controversial projects right. This involves communications and public interactions informed by sound social science. We maintain that a broad dialogue between the technical and non-technical disciplines in a peer review team setting is as important as receiving individual advice from scientific and technical experts
The following are key principles of a peer review process from a social sciences perspective:
Transparency and Trust – The development of trust between all stakeholders is crucial to a peer review process. Trust can be divided into two categories: fiduciary trust and technical competence. Fiduciary trust refers to the trust in the decision makers, while technical competence refers to the trust in the technology and scientific data.
Objectivity – In order for a peer review process to provide an objective point of view, it should not function as an advocacy process. Whether the ‘scope’ of a peer review establishes a climate of advocacy or objectivity has an essential role to play in the success of the peer review process. A peer review process may in some cases be used as an advocacy process. Without ‘objectivity’ as the fundamental core to the scope of the peer review work, there is little likelihood that a successful outcome will result.
Visibility of the peer review team – In conducting peer reviews, it is important to define how visible and accessible members of a peer review team should be. With some projects, the nature of the work is such that peer review teams are provided explicit directions to complete a technical review and then issue a report without any presentation of results to the public. The public concerns are then examined and considered where appropriate. In other instances there may be a public presentation of peer review findings at a public meeting or forum or simply the release of a peer review report as a public document. At that point the work of the peer review team is complete. For contentious projects such as nuclear waste management projects, we believe it is beneficial for a peer review team to have a visible presence in the community in order to be responsive to questions and concerns raised by individual citizens and local community groups.
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.