It has always been a matter of principle for the Volkswagen Foundation that its decisions concerning applications for funding are clearly discernable and arrived at in a sound and reliable manner. This would be utterly inconceivable without recourse to adequate procedures of peer review, an indispensable component of good funding practice. External peer review is the most important quality assurance instrument underlying the Foundation’s funding decisions. To implement a transparent and professionally managed process among all parties involved, is of utmost importance to the Foundation.
When an application for a research project fulfils the criteria required by the respective funding initiative, the Foundation requests leading experts from the corresponding research area either individually or as members of panels to assess the applications, thus providing the basis for decisions ultimately made by the Board of Trustees or the Secretary General. Without these external experts it would simply not be possible to carry out a proper examination of the more than 1,000 outline proposals and applications received every year. Therefore, our thanks go to the approximately 1,000 honorary reviewers – about one third of them from abroad – who lend their valuable support to the Foundation's procedure for peer review every year.
When appointing its experts the Foundation takes not only their academic track record into consideration, but also takes pains to preclude any partiality – be it positive or negative. For example, the Foundation does not call upon persons to act as its reviewers who belong to the same research institution or faculty as the applicant. Correspondingly, scholars and scientists who currently have an application under consideration by the Foundation, or whose application has been recently rejected, are as a rule not permitted to join in the assessment process.
The Foundation's reviewers maintain confidentiality with regard to applications passed on to them. Similarly, the Foundation maintains strict confidentiality in respect of the review process to ensure a clear opinion also in particularly problematical cases. In certain cases, however, an applicant may be supplied with excerpts from a review in order to provide an opportunity to revise points that have been criticized: this is always done anonymously.
The Foundation has formulated a Code of Practice for the peer review process which is binding upon all its experts.