Public and stakeholder involvement



Who is a stakeholder?

  • Members of the public who do not consume, trade or produce illegal drugs. Public money from taxation must be used to pay for all illegal drug-related services since prohibition does not permit the taxation of the illegal drug trade to cover these social costs as is the case with the legally regulated drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

  • Consumers of illegal drugs and those who wish to have the freedom of choice to do so. This group is severely effected by illegal drug regulations: they are denied equal opportunity to take individual responsibility for their health choices. They are socially excluded and face punishment disproportional to the harm they cause.

  • Traders and producers of illegal drugs and those who wish to have the freedom of choice to do so. This group is severely effected by illegal drug regulations: they are denied equal opportunity for fair trade since prohibition constitutes a major barrier to competition (e.g. between intoxicant drugs alcohol and cannabis). They are socially excluded and face punishment disproportional to the harm they cause.

  • Scientists from other relevant disciplines or with other perspectives.


The Code of Practise for Scientific Committees:

60. When communicating risks to the public, committees should take note of written guidance and other sources of advice available on the communication of risk and when necessary seek advice from individuals or groups with relevant expertise on risk communication.

62. In cases where decisions are particularly significant, committees may decide to take views on preliminary drafts of its advice from relevant organisations, other parts of the scientific community or even, in some appropriate cases a representative sample of members of the public. Where there is a written consultation, appropriate elements of the Government’s Code of Practice on Written Consultations should be followed.

91. Committees should develop a policy for the communication of their work to the public and other interested parties and for receiving feedback. There is a range of mechanisms that can be used such as: open meetings, public consultation, dialogue with interested parties and the calling of outside experts to attend meetings.

92. Committees should identify interested parties and consider maintaining an open register of relevant stakeholders. They should consult on issues that generate widespread public concern or raise significant ethical questions. Particular attention should be paid to the communication of risk assessments.

93. Committees should aim to hold open meetings on a regular basis, or provide equivalent opportunities for direct public access. Open meetings may need to be organised in a different way from a committee’s normal meetings.

94. Public consultations, written or otherwise, should accord with the Government’s Code of Practice on Written Consultation.

95. Documents issued for consultation should include a list of all the consultees to whom they are being sent. Secretariats should keep lists of consultees and ensure relevant centres of scientific excellence are made aware of consultation exercises.

96. The general principle of consultation is that there should be transparency, which means that the public should be able to understand the procedures by which the committee arrived at its decisions. There should also be openness, in the sense that the public should have sufficient information available to be able to understand the chain of reasoning underlying a committee’s advice, and have access to the information on which the committee based its assessments.


House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology: The Scientific Advisory System

52. The most effective way of ensuring the validity of advice is to open the advice to peer review. Peer review may be formal - by asking other experts to review the advice - or informal, for example by opening the advice to public scrutiny. It is important to ensure that formal peer review is independent and rigorous. There is a risk that reviewers may be too close to those they are reviewing to be critical or to offer a significantly different perspective. This may be regarded by a hostile public as incestuous. It is, therefore, important that formal peer review be supplemented by wider scrutiny. Many advisory committees are already in the practice of publishing their advice to Government, and the commitment to transparency for all advisory committees will facilitate scrutiny greatly. But for this wider scrutiny to be effective the Government must offer clear channels for scientists of other disciplines to offer their alternative perspective.

53. A key question in our inquiry has been whether the Government is sufficiently aware of those independent scientists whose views diverge from the profession's mainstream: dissident or even maverick voices. It should be the clear responsibility of advisory committees to draw dissenting views to the attention of Government.

68. There have been lay members on some advisory committees for many years. Our case studies have convinced us of their value. As the Phillips Report states, "a lay member can play a vital role on an expert committee, and in particular can ensure that advice given by the committee addresses the concerns of, and is in a form that is intelligible to, the public".[109] The Government has stated that it agrees with this finding.[110]

69. There is some uncertainty about the definition of the term "lay member". It does not necessarily mean a non-scientist; indeed, some scientific background may be very useful. The Guidelines 2000 state rather vaguely that, in obtaining advice, Departments might draw on "lay members of advisory groups, consumer groups and other stakeholder bodies". The Guidelines should clarify that "lay members" can include scientists of other disciplines.

70. We recommend that the norm be for at least two lay members (depending on the size of the committee) to be appointed to scientific advisory committees. The Guidelines should make this explicit.


Guidelines 2000: scientific advice and policy making

7. Sources [of advice] may include:
d) consultation with interested stakeholders and stakeholder groups, including groups representing the interests of consumers and members of the public.
e) issues brought to the attention of Government by the interests directly concerned (e.g. individuals, companies, scientists or lobby groups) or by reports in the media.

12. Departments should draw on a sufficiently wide range of the best expert sources, both within and outside Government. These might include not only eminent individuals, learned societies, advisory committees, or consultants, but also professional bodies, public sector research establishments, lay members of advisory groups, consumer groups and other stakeholder bodies. As all experts will come to issues with views shaped to some extent by their own interests and experience, departments should also consider how to avoid unconscious bias, by ensuring that there is a good balance in terms of the type of institutions and organisations from which the experts are sought. Experts from other disciplines, not necessarily scientific, should also be invited to contribute, to ensure that the evidence is subjected to a sufficiently questioning review from a wide-ranging set of viewpoints.

13. Consideration should be given where appropriate to inviting experts from outside the UK, for example those from European or international advisory mechanisms, particularly in cases where other countries have experience of, or are likely to be affected by, the issue under consideration.

17. Where issues are sensitive, departments should take utmost care that the questions are framed to cover the concerns of all relevant stakeholder groups, including consumers and the general public. In some particular cases it may be necessary to undertake prior public consultation before the terms of the questions are finally settled.

29. Early communication with key interest groups may be appropriate. Consideration should also be given to providing early warning of significant policy announcements to other governments and international organisations, where there are likely to be implications for other countries. Where possible, scientists from such countries or organisations should be involved in the process of consultation and advice.


Office of Science and Technology: Implementation of Guidelines 2000

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.

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.