How the U.S. Department of Energy Streamlined Its Research Review Process

Topics: Customer Stories

Getting a piece of research peer reviewed and ready for publication is an intensive process. It requires numerous individuals editing the content, and a routing process that sometimes requires people to double back numerous times for corrections, additions and revisions. And that's just for one paper.

U.S. DEPT OF ENERGY RESEARCH REVIEW PROCESS.png When an institution is publishing thousands of pieces of time-sensitive, cutting-edge research, the complexity -- and the room for error --  multiplies. Especially if the process is being managed manually, through e-mail.

This is precisely the problem that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a division of the U.S. Department of Energy, continued to run into as the institution attempted to manage the routing, reviewing and publication of no fewer than 4,000 annual research papers. The NREL has a team of 2,000 scientists working in the critically important area of research, development and commercialization of renewable energy.

Renewable energy is a space where the right advancements and breakthroughs could re-shape industry, improve the global political landscape and even assure the long-term well-being of the environment. Needless to say, researchers involved in this burgeoning space can't afford to have their critical findings get hung up on the way to the broader scientific community because of a missed email. And they certainly can't afford to have an incorrect statistic publicized because an old version of a document accidentally ended up going to print. Given the stakes when it comes to the search for clean, alternative energy sources – none of us can afford for the government agency heading this research to experience such mistakes. And just as importantly, NREL justifies itself and its budget through its volume of publications. So both accuracy and efficiency are at a premium.

Thus NREL decided to implement a document management tool cutting edge enough to match their research, and created to specifically address the complexities that arise when busy people doing serious, detailed work need to get a lot of information out to the public quickly.

Doing Peer Review the Old-Fashioned Way

In NREL's old routing and review process, a reviewer would receive the document to review via email. That person would then make changes, edits and recommendations, save a new copy of the document, and email it along to the next reviewer. Numerous different players throughout the organization would edit for both grammar and content.

A manual chain of review like this is rarely as fluid and seamless as one would hope. And so NREL found that critical documents marked for review were getting lost in lengthy email threads. Reviewers were losing track of which document was which, so they would find that the draft they had just done a round of edits on and sent off to the next person had been an old draft that was missing changes from an earlier reviewer in the process. This led to what should have been a simple process devolving into snowballing disorganization and confusion.

And with renewable energy only growing as a topic of interest to scientists, industries and the general public, it was a foregone conclusion that the volume of papers coming down the pike would continue to grow. With a manual peer review process in place, more research meant more peer review confusion.

Centralization and Acceleration with SpringCM

SpringCM was a solution perfectly suited to fix the problems NREL was facing with its peer review process.

Creating a central, cloud-based repository of documents has allowed everyone who needed to make additions and edits to a given piece of research to visit one place, rather than reviewers sending documents back and forth via email countless times and attempting to keep track of them. With the ability to track edits and a built-in audit trail, it is now always clear which changes have been made by which reviewer and when.

But SpringCM goes beyond just offering a single place for all reviewers to visit. Our solution's smart rules automatically notify the next reviewer slated to look at a document, so the routing process moves forward automatically instead of resting on individuals remembering to reach out to the next reviewer.  

Since its implementation, SpringCM has enabled NREL to replace a cumbersome and confusion-prone document review process with an automated one that offers plenty of visibility and oversight and leaves no room for error.  

NREL’s Streamlined Research Review Process

NREL’s internal repository of documents slated for review and publication, known internally as "PubHub," has drastically sped up and streamlined the review process (and increased its level of data security as well). Collaboration is simple and turnaround and publication happen more quickly than ever. And since it's built with compliance in mind, SpringCM allows this government organization to easily meet Open Government standards for sharing data with the public.

With the review process SpringCM enables in place, NREL is now saving money through efficiency and building its standing through publishing more research.

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