Citizen review panelists (panelists) play a central role in the Regional Arts Commission (RAC) annual grant making process. Each year, RAC invites dozens of local citizens representing a broad and diverse range of artistic and cultural viewpoints, professions and backgrounds, to serve on panels and assist with the evaluation of grant applications.
Panelists are volunteers who are knowledgeable and informed about our arts and cultural community, have backgrounds in the artistic disciplines under review, and are able to commit the time and energy to fulfill the obligations of the review process. RAC panelists commit to the following:
- Time to attend an orientation and learn how to review the applications according to the guidelines and review criteria
- Time to read the assigned applications including videos, photos, recordings or other work samples prior to the meeting
- Time to gather with other panelists to discuss and rate the applications in a one or two-day public meeting
Panelist Nomination Process
Panelists are nominated to serve as reviewers through a public process. An individual may self-nominate to serve or recommend others by completing a simple application process. Staff reviews the nominations and makes selections according to need, talent and the panelists’ availability to serve. To ensure that there is always a steady pool of talented panelists from which to choose, panelists may serve up to three years.
The “RAC Citizen Review Panelist Handbook” (click here to download) provides an overview of panelists’ roles and responsibilities as well as the grant review process. RAC staff manage the application process and provide panelists with online access to the applications and work samples several weeks prior to the meeting. Panelists then read the applications and review the work samples and make preliminary assessments. On a designated day, panelists meet as a group to discuss and assign final ratings to the applications.
To ensure that panelists are reviewing each application fairly, they are required to declare any conflict of interest with organizations that are applying for funding after they are nominated. In the event of a conflict of interest, panelists are required to recuse themselves from the discussion and voting on that application during the panel meeting.
Citizen Review Panel Meetings
Panel meetings are open to the public and applicants are encouraged to attend. Although they are not allowed to address the panel during the deliberations, they are present to hear the comments panelists make regarding the merit of their applications. This is an important learning process for the applicants as they are able to receive valuable feedback on their organization or program from individuals with expertise and diverse backgrounds.
After the panelists participate in a group discussion of each application using the review criteria as a guide, they are each asked to render a numerical rating, using a four-point rating scale, that they feel provides an overall assessment of the application’s merit. The ratings are then totaled and averaged to arrive at a final rating. This numerical rating is part of the formula that determines the amount of funding an applicant will receive.
Special Circumstance Review
RAC staff may determine (on a case-by-case basis) that an application should be pulled from the evaluation process and referred to the RAC Grants Committee for a separate review. This would only occur during extraordinary and rare circumstances and is typically reserved for when significant organizational changes occur after an application is submitted, but before the proposal is reviewed.
In addition to reading applications and serving on the panel, panelists may also be asked to participate in the appeals process. After applicants receive their organization’s panel comments and final ratings, they have the right to appeal if they believe that an error was made during the review that adversely affected their final rating. Applicants must have solid grounds for an appeal in order for it to be considered. Dissatisfaction with a rating or denial of an award is not sufficient ground for an appeal. Solid grounds for an appeal are based on a misstatement of fact made during the panel meeting that is evidenced by written information found in the application. New information not originally included in the application can’t be offered as evidence of the misstatement. Staff reviews and approves all requests for appeals which are submitted by the applicants in writing.
When there are appeals to be considered, staff will ask that the individuals who served on that applicant’s panel reconvene to discuss the appeal and determine if it has merit. If the appeal has merit, the panel will be instructed to increase the applicant’s final rating.
The panelists are sent the written appeal in advance of the meeting, which is typically held as a conference call unless there is a compelling reason for the panelists to convene in person. The meeting is conducted using Robert’s Rules of Order. A majority of panelists must vote in favor of approving a change to the final rating in order for it to be increased. The results of the meeting are shared with the applicants immediately following the meeting.