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Volunteer Opportunity: Be a Peer Reviewer

Grant-making by the Maine Commission for Community Service

The Maine Commission for Community Service builds capacity and sustainability in Maine's volunteer sector by funding service programs, developing volunteer managers, raising awareness of the scope and impact of the sector, and encouraging an ethic of service.

In order to carry out this work, the Commission makes grants largely using federal dollars (occasionally some private funding). Sometimes the grants are for large, multi-year projects and some are micro-sized to support projects in conjunction with days of service.

For example, the AmeriCorps State operating grants range from $150,000 to over $300,000 and cover a 3-year period. At the opposite end of the size spectrum are $500 grants to support community service projects on Martin Luther King Day of Service each January.

Regardless of the size, all the applications must be evaluated and rated to determine which will receive awards from the pre-determined allotment of funds.

The Commission recruits volunteers to serve as external peer reviewers. The Commission Task Force responsible for grant competitions selects reviewers whose experience and expertise best match the award process underway.

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What is a Peer Review?

Peer Review is the portion of the grant application assessment process that is conducted by a panel of individuals with expertise related to the purpose and/or area of focus for the grant program. In this context, "peer" refers to looking intently or searchingly at the proposal submitted in order to analyze the quality of each application and rate them based on published criteria. The Commission adds peer reviewer comments and ratings to other information and determines which applications to support.

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What is the process for Peer Review?

The Maine Commission for Community Service uses online meeting technology and teleconferencing to conduct peer reviews. This allows individuals from many different locations and in a wide variety of circumstances to participate from their home or office – wherever they can connect to the internet and telephone simultaneously.

Maine’s peer review process includes training and orientation to the grant program and purpose before applications are distributed. The proposals received are then distributed to peer reviewers electronically along with any forms used for the particular grant program. This is followed by a period of independent (i.e., “on your own”) reading and rating of applications.

Peer reviewers then meet electronically to develop consensus ratings and comments on the applications. At the completion of this meeting, the ratings are converted to a score using a pre-set system and the scores determine the rank order as well as recommendations of peer reviewers.

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Is there a stipend for Peer Reviewers?

No. The Maine Commission for Community Service asks peer reviewers to volunteer their time and expertise.

The conference call expense is underwritten by the Commission by using a service that is toll free to the user. For that reason, peer reviewers are urged not to use cell phones that may have usage limits on them.

There is also no cost for accessing the online meeting software. The connection is made through a temporary program that operates like instant messaging. The program can be activated just using mouse clicks but may require permissions from IT staff in agencies that have set high restrictions on firewalls. On home or personal computers, the connection takes about 90 seconds.

On rare occasions, the Commission has opted to bring peer reviewers together in a single physical space. If that does become necessary, mileage will be reimbursed by the Commission.

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Are the identities of Peer Reviewers made public?

The identities of Peer Reviewers are protected only during the actual review process. Under Maine’s rules for awarding contracts and bids, all reviewer comments, the scores, their identities, and so forth are public information once the decisions on awards are made public.

Other information that becomes part of public record are the names of all organizations that applied for funding and their proposals.