Conducting meaningful peer review
To be recognized as scholarship, publications must be evaluated by experts in the relevant field: peer review. But who are the appropriate experts for publicly engaged projects? If the community members are equal participants in the research and it’s intended to benefit them, what role should they have in evaluating the resulting publications? Aren’t community members also “peer” experts?
Asking non-scholars to perform peer review and write a report on a manuscript poses some challenges, however. First, they generally are not familiar with academia’s culture of review and may neither understand what they’re being asked to do nor value it enough to spend the time. Second, publishers and their editorial boards may not accept reviews written by non-scholars or may require more explanation of who they are and how they constitute appropriate experts. (Best practices in peer review generally require reviewers to hold the PhD or relevant terminal degree and to have a significant record of scholarly publication.)
Alternative forms of review by community partners may be more effective and appropriate, but again they require more thought and work to arrange than the conventional format, and they may not be recognized by scholarly publishers and university RTP committees. Community peer review may occur earlier in a project, to evaluate methods and set aims for the project, and it may occur after publication, as community members engage with and call for expansion or changes to the publication.