Office of Science and Technology
Implementation of Guidelines 2000

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REPORT BY THE CHIEF SCIENTIFIC ADVISER PROFESSOR DAVID KING

INTRODUCTION

1. This is my first overview of the application of the Government’s guidelines for the application of scientific advice in policy making. The guidelines were first issued in 1997 and reported on by my predecessor in 1998 and 1999.On the basis of experience they were revised and strengthened in July 2000 and published alongside the Government’s White Paper on Science and Innovation.

2. The key messages of Guidelines 2000 are that departments should:

think ahead and identify early the issues on which they need scientific advice;

obtain a wide range of advice from the best sources, particularly when there is scientific uncertainty; and

publish the scientific advice and all relevant papers.

8. Both Guidelines 2000 and the shortly to be published Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees were highlighted in the Government response as key elements in addressing many of the "Lessons Learned" in the Phillips Report, particularly those that called for greater openness, transparency and public involvement in the process by which Government obtains and uses scientific advice.

9. The Government has readily accepted the great majority of the recommendations made in these three reports and, while developing or already having in place mechanisms for implementing many of them, has said that it fully recognises that there is still more that needs to be done.

DEPARTMENTAL PROGRESS IN IMPLEMENTING THE GUIDELINES

11. I asked departments to report on the extent to which they have implemented Guidelines 2000, including details of any new structures or initiatives they are planning, developing or have in place. I was also interested to hear of any areas where difficulties in implementing the Guidelines had been encountered and what lessons had been learned and what further actions were planned.

12. All departments give some examples of how the Guidelines have been implemented, and some have been able to point to examples where they believe they could have done better. Events over the last year have only served to reinforce the importance of the ideas that lie behind the Guidelines being at the core of modern policymaking. I attach particular importance to public confidence that the Guidelines are fully implemented and that difficulties in their application are addressed and overcome. I will be considering with Departmental Chief Scientists how to establish better practices and processes to ensure that Guidelines principles become firmly embedded into the policy making process. It is my view and that of Departmental Chief Scientists that some element of independent monitoring or peer review should constitute part of next year’s report. I will be giving further consideration to how this might best be achieved and discussing possible approaches with departments.

13. The full reports on implementation from individual departments are included in the annex to this report.

14. All departments have now appointed an official to oversee implementation of both Guidelines 2000 and the forthcoming Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees. This person will also handle any complaints from the public relating to implementation issues. A second annex contains website and contact details for each department.

General issues

15. Guidelines 2000 have formed an important plank in the Modernising Government programme and the Government is committed to seeing Guidelines 2000 implemented across departments. The principles contained in the Guidelines and the need for their effective implementation has been recognised by all departments and many have made great strides forward since the last implementation report.

16. Of particular note has been the setting up of the Food Standards Agency, which from its inception has been committed to developing and operating best practice procedures that not only fully implement Guidelines 2000 but in a number of areas go even further.

17. Some departments have also put in place internal procedures for regular assessment of their compliance with the Guidelines and a number report the development of additional initiatives to promote and strengthen further the implementation of Guidelines 2000.

18. For example:

To ensure that it has access to the best possible scientific advice, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is carrying out a comprehensive review of its expert committees that advise it on food safety issues. A review panel that includes independent assessors and stakeholders will carry out an assessment of the ways that scientific advice is commissioned, how the committees work and how their advice is incorporated into the agency’s decision-making processes.

Some Lessons Learned

19. A number of Departments have identified areas where lessons have been learned and where they are seeking to improve Guidelines implementation.
Particular issues that have been highlighted include:
- Difficulties encountered in defining the key questions that need to be asked often as a result of lack of appropriate departmental in-house expertise. In particular this has been pointed out by some departments that have identified the need for greater recognition of the social dimensions of scientific questions.
- the need for policy officials used to a more traditional approach, to be prepared to take into account scientific advice that cuts across traditional views and policies. The Forestry Commission has used the Guidelines to expose such attitudes and promote greater willingness to listen to unorthodoxy and criticism.
- There is recognition that without effective co-ordination of its scientific resources it may not always be easy for a department to identify the best source of expertise to address an issue. A number of departments are seeking to address this by setting up internal structures to co-ordinate and maximise the benefits of their scientific research and advice. Two examples are the Home Office’s proposals for a Knowledge Management database and the Department for International Development’s Knowledge Policy Unit.
- Inability to fully implement the Guidelines because of other priorities for scarce resources. Some Departments have found this to be a particular issue in relation to resource intensive initiatives such as open meetings, public consultation and publication of some documents. HSE for example has sought to address the publication issue by improving internal systems to ensure publication and requiring a publication plan from its research customers.

Early Identification of Issues

20. Horizon scanning and early identification of issues are acknowledged by departments to be an important element in obtaining scientific advice and planning research strategies. The new Code of Practice will require scientific advisory committees themselves to have procedures for horizon scanning. However, it is evident that while a number of departments report on individual horizon scanning initiatives, some departments are not yet confident that they have in place their own effective mechanisms for ensuring that appropriate horizon scanning takes place within the department.

Obtaining Advice

21. Departmental reports recognise the importance of obtaining appropriate scientific advice from the best possible sources. As I have described earlier, there is an awareness of where shortcomings in the current system are occurring and steps are being taken to address these. All departments that incorporate science into policy making have access to sources of external advice and research. There has been a considerable broadening of the range of expertise employed in many of the committees from which departments seek scientific advice. For example, almost all scientific advisory committees now include at least one lay member and some two or more and also frequently include members from non-scientific but relevant disciplines such as ethics or social science. The Code of Practice for scientific advisory committees will lay out the need for committees to ensure, in discussion with their sponsor department(s), that they have the right expertise to fulfil the remit they have been given.

22. There appears to be relatively little use made of foreign scientific expertise in obtaining scientific advice. Although some examples of this have been reported by departments, (DH, FSA, Forestry Commission, HSE), the Government has indicated that it will consider how more might be done to attract such people where this is appropriate.

23. Departments are reporting greater use of public and/or stakeholder consultation both for development of policy based on scientific advice or where appropriate in development of the advice itself. This latter area is particularly relevant where developments in the science itself may have actual or potential significant social or ethical implications.

Handling and Publication of Advice

25. There have been a number of cross-departmental initiatives put in place to improve publication of research results and scientific advice in a climate of greater openness and transparency.

26. For example, as a first step towards greater use of Internet technology, work is progressing on a central science portal linking science and technology domains on departmental websites, which will also be accessible to people outside Government. In addition to providing public access to information about departmental research, the initiative will facilitate better information exchange and research co-ordination amongst departments.

27. All departments have a website on which they publish information. In accordance with the Guidelines this would normally include the scientific advice and analysis that underlies policy decisions together with research programmes and findings. Departments are also increasingly using the Internet as an additional mechanism for public consultation.

28. Many departmental scientific advisory committees now also have their own website (most being hosted on the website of their sponsoring department) and all have or are developing a publication policy. Starting from a presumption of openness the new Code of Practice for these committees will set out minimum standards for what committees should publish.

Conclusions

29. Clearly much has been done to take forward implementation of the Guidelines since the last report. The principles exemplified by Guidelines 2000 are increasingly being built into departmental ways of working with many departments now having in place a broad range of internal structures and initiatives to improve and co-ordinate implementation.

30. However, there have been a number of issues raised, for example by the Phillips Report on BSE, which have highlighted the need for further clarification of some aspects of the way in which departments obtain and handle scientific advice. Many of these are too detailed to sit comfortably in a high level document like Guidelines 2000. To address these issues and to encourage greater crossdepartmental consistency in handling science policy issues I shall be setting up a system of "Chief Scientific Adviser’s letters" which can be updated as necessary. These letters, which will be addressed to departmental Permanent Secretaries, will set out good practice on arrangements for handling scientific advice and for managing research in their departments. Their publication will provide the wider public with the means to judge how well departments are measuring up to the latest benchmarks and also inform the work of other review machinery.

31. I do share the concerns expressed by some departments about the adequacy of inhouse expertise and its impact on the ability to ask the right questions and identify the appropriate external experts. As part of its crosscutting review the Government will be looking at departmental in-house scientific expertise and I shall be looking carefully at the results of this exercise to see what more needs to be done.

32. As I have already indicated, a Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees is due to be published shortly. While this is considerably more detailed than the Guidelines and focuses on the advisory bodies themselves rather than Government departments it covers much of the same ground and many of its principles are applicable to both. Therefore in future I plan to publish a joint implementation report covering both implementation of Guidelines 2000 by departments and implementation of the Code by their scientific advisory committees. That document will also contain a list of those committees that can be expected to follow the Code.

 

ANNEX A - DEPARTMENTAL REPORTS

The Home Office: Guidelines 2000 Implementation Report

The value of the Guidelines principles is widely recognised in the Home Office and their application has actively contributed to ways in which scientific advice is used to support policy. This has been helped by the Modernising Government initiative to construct a framework of seven high level policy aims. Each of these has supporting Business Plans into which the contributions of science units to policy support have been fully integrated. Some of the detail of this support is set out on S&T Roadmaps which form part of the HO Science and Innovation Strategy.

The Home Office places great importance on horizon scanning for the early identification of issues which will require scientific advice and to exploit the potential of emerging technologies. This is exemplified by the work of the Forensic Science Service in tracking the rapidly expanding body of DNA science and building a programme to develop ultrasensitive methods of securing DNA evidence from minute crime scene traces. Then to automate DNA analysis so that this technology can be applied to volume crime and therefore impact on the number one Home Office policy goal of reducing crime. This is being supported by a National DNA database (which is a major new investment) and there is new work on the use of Bayes Nets for the statistical interpretation of evidence and the development of expert systems. All of this work is widely peer reviewed through open publication and presentations at conferences and through FSS’s strong bilateral links with forensic services, particularly in the USA and Europe.

The Home Office funds many other crime reduction initiatives including the generation of a strategic look ahead to where the large scale investment by business in electronic data tag technology is going on a world-wide basis and to forecast potential crime reduction applications for the police service. This involved setting up a large industrial collaborative framework involving companies involved in the creation of development and implementation of innovative applications of these technologies as well as the police service and other stakeholders, including HO policy representatives. Tagging systems are primarily of interest to manufacturers and retailers to increase the efficiency of distribution and stock control, while the Home Office interest centres on the potential for crime deterrence and big improvements in the police service’s ability to locate and identify stolen property and to secure evidence for prosecutions. These mutual interests led to a major project being funded which is now engaged on setting up a range of high profile electronic tag pilot demonstrators, each in a different product sector and engaging the active participation and joint funding of household name manufacturers and suppliers. These will test the effectiveness of this technology in both delivering business benefits and reducing property crime and are intended to act as a catalyst to accelerate the widespread adoption of these tags in large scale manufacturing. The project benefits from scientific and technical expertise drawn from leading industries, from other government departments and also from a European Standards Committee plus a high degree of transparency and a high profile media campaign.

A third example of the use by the Home Office of the Guidelines is the introduction of an incapacitant into the police service for normal patrol duties. The Department realised very early on that such a radical new step for the police raised many sensitivities, particularly those on the possible effects to human health. From the outset there was sustained media interest and the active involvement of many experts. The Home Office assembled a multidisciplinary team which could provide advice on some aspects of the project but fully recognised the need to bring in the highest quality advice from outside experts. A widespread consultation exercise was launched to identify the optimum solution to meet operational requirements. This involved sifting through relevant data, holding discussions with leading experts and organisations – both nationally and internationally - and weighing professional findings and experiences. Department of Health and the Ministry of Defence expert advice was sought and the Department of Health Committee on Toxicity was engaged to provide the best advice on candidate incapacitants. The incapacitant selected was CS dissolved in MIBK and the COT review concluded that the available data did not raise concerns about the health effects of CS spray. There were some concerns about exposure to asthmatics and people with certain heart conditions; these were addressed by adherence to ACPO operational guidelines and recommended aftercare procedures, together with follow-up studies to look for any delayed effects. The COT report was published on the Internet and indeed there was a high degree of public access to project papers throughout. CS spray has now been successfully introduced into the police service where its widespread deployment has substantially reduced injuries to the police and the public in operations involving in arrest and restraint and concerns over safety issues have been allayed.

The Home Office has largely decentralised its science base and a substantial part of it is now a net trading fund agency (the Forensic Science Service) and an NDPB (the Police Information Technology Organisation). Some other science units that have been retained in the core Home Office are located in Directorates where they provide close support to policy.

Also there is no Chief Scientist function so it was decided to set up the function of Hard Science Co-ordinator in order to:
- Improve access to scientific advice for the whole Department.
- Identify long-term cross-cutting scientific issues.
- Take a corporate lead on providing scientific advice to support policy.
- Advise on the content and balance of S&T programmes to meet the Home Office high level policy objectives.
- Develop mechanisms to improve co-ordination and promote synergies between science units.

This new function – which applies many of the Guideline’s principles – has improved the provision of scientific advice and the co-ordination of S&T programme. This has been supported by the development of a database of all science projects sponsored by the Home Office – both in S&T and those in the social and management science areas. This has been placed on the Home Office’s intranet.

Because Home Office scientific staff are spread across a number of locations it is not always easy to identify the best source of expertise to address an issue. So consideration is being given to setting up a Knowledge Management database and it is planned to pilot this in a science unit in 2002 to gauge its value before widening its use. If successful, this would have a real impact on maximising the benefits of scientific advice to the whole of the Home Office very much in line with Guideline principles.

Contact point:

The contact point for implementation of Guidelines 2000 is:

Alan Pratt, Deputy Director, PSDB, Sandridge, St Albans, Herts AL4 9HQ

Tel: 01727 816277. alan.pratt@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk