Transparency and openness of decision making

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The Code of Practise for Scientific Committees:

30. All members and secretariats should regard it as part of their role to:
- ensure that the committee has the opportunity to consider contrary scientific views and where appropriate the concerns and values of stakeholders before a decision is taken;
- ensure that the committee's advice is comprehensible from the point of view of a lay person.

40. The secretariat should ensure that the proceedings of the committee are properly documented so that there is a clear audit trail showing how the committee reached its decisions.

46. Committees should operate from a presumption of openness. The proceedings of the committee should be as open as is compatible with the requirements of confidentialit. The committee should maintain high levels of transparency during routine business.

55. Committees should aim at having a transparent and structured framework to examine, debate and explain the nature of the risk.

56. Whenever the committee’s work is likely to involve an assessment of risk or where the scientific evidence is expected to be subject to appreciable uncertainty, if not already available within its membership, advice should be taken from individuals or groups with relevant expertise and/or guidance: e.g. statistical modelling techniques, risk assessors, Interdepartmental Liaison Group on Risk Assessment.

58. It is inevitable that others may reach different judgements based on the same data and that sometimes judgements will prove to be wrong with the benefit of hindsight. Committees and secretariats should be open about both of these possible outcomes and committee reports should make clear where inadequate data is available and where judgements have had to be made in the face of uncertainty.

59. Within the context of the remit given to them, committees should use the most appropriate method of reporting outcomes that takes account of the level and type of uncertainty involved. Where practical and verifiable, risk should be reported in terms of the likelihood and consequences of the event. Sources of data should be quoted and any degree of auditing described. Where a range of policy options are considered, risks should be reported for each and reasons for choosing a preferred option should be made clear. This may require subsequent discussion with government. Committees should identify the sources and extent of uncertainties in the scientific analysis.

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.

61. Committees should agree on the mechanisms by which the committee is to reach its view. Members should be clear about whether or not they are expected to reach a consensus on particular issues.

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.

63. Whatever mechanism is used for agreeing the advice a committee should offer, it is essential that the minutes of the meeting should clearly set out what was the result of the discussion.

64. Committees should not seek unanimity at the risk of failing to recognise different views on a subject. These might be recorded as a range of views, possibly published as an addendum to the main report. However, any significant diversity of opinion among the members of the committee should be accurately reflected in the report.

65. The committee should establish a policy on what documents are to be published based on principles of openness and transparency. All committees are expected to publish, as a minimum, programmes of work, meeting agenda, minutes, final advice and an annual report. Unless there are particular reasons to the contrary they should also routinely publish supporting papers. Openness from the outset about risks and concerns can sometimes prevent difficult situations arising later on in a committee’s work.

68. Committees should abide by the principles contained in the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

70. Committees should be prepared to explain publicly why information is being withheld.

72. Committees should make the agenda available prior to meetings. As a minimum this should be published on their website and a paper copy available on request.

73. The committee should publish minutes of its meetings.

75. The minutes should accurately reflect the proceedings of the committee. They should be written in terms that make it easy for a layperson to understand the process by which a view has been reached. Where it is necessary for the minutes to contain substantial technical detail, there should be a summary comprehensible to a layperson.

77. Advice should be in terms that can be understood by a layperson. It should explain the reasoning on which the advice is based; make clear what principles, if any, of risk management are being applied, any assumptions underlying the advice and identify the nature and extent of any uncertainty.

78. In situations of uncertainty, committees could offer a range of options or interpretations to their departments rather than just one. In so doing they should distinguish between options which are alternative interpretations of the scientific evidence, and options which involve other factors including social, ethical or economic considerations.

79. Committee reports and advice should indicate where, in forming a view, the committee has relied on any external advice or information provided by others which the committee has not reviewed.

85. In order to help provide a full appreciation of its advice and decisions, the committee should, where appropriate, facilitate public access to documents or information that have contributed to the formulation of its advice. This would enable third parties to better understand the conclusions reached and decisions taken.

87. Where the committee has relied on previously unpublished background papers, a decision will need to be made as to whether to publish the papers. In cases where the costs of traditional paper publication would not be justified, the committee’s obligation to provide information could be discharged either by posting the documents on the committee’s website, or by allowing enquirers access to the documents concerned.

89. To ensure openness and transparency committees should seek to keep the public and stakeholders informed as they develop advice. In addition to timely publication of minutes and agenda committees should consider publishing interim working papers where these would be helpful. All substantive and significant papers should be published as soon as possible once a committee has formulated and delivered its advice, unless non-disclosure is justified under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

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. Where consultation takes place, it should be recognised that consultation will generally be designed to enable the committee to reach a view on the advice it should offer, not necessarily on the policy options to be pursued. Any consultation on policy options will generally be for the government. A committee may however wish to advise government on where it thinks public consultation might be necessary.

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.

Annex A: The Seven Principles of Public Life (Nolan Principles)

Openness
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

 

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

57. The Government's commitment to transparency is very welcome. We note that there are limitations to this commitment. The Government was not prepared to extend the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act to factual information made available to Ministers. The draft Code of Practice envisages that in some circumstances the advice of advisory bodies will not be published. Voluntary disclosure is not enough, if the public is to be convinced that the scientific advisory system is truly transparent.

 

Guidelines 2000: scientific advice and policy making:

22. Departments should ensure their procedures for obtaining advice are open and transparent. The evidence upon which the advice is based should be published. The analysis and judgement which went into it, and any important omissions in the data, should be clearly documented and identified as such. Any claims for material to be protected, e.g. on grounds of the commercial confidentiality of the information concerned should be rigorously tested.

26. Departments are individually responsible for the handling of advice commissioned by them, including its public presentation. In line with the Government's Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, there should be a presumption at every stage towards openness in explaining the interpretation of scientific advice, which may mean going further than the minimum obligations. Departments should aim to publish widely the scientific advice and all the relevant papers, so those outside can satisfy themselves about the process by which the advice was formulated, and that the conclusions are correctly drawn.

27. It is important that sufficient early thought is given to presenting the issues, uncertainties and policy options to the public so that departments are perceived as open, well prepared and consistent with one another and with the scientific advice. The difficulties associated with presenting uncertain or conflicting conclusions should not be underestimated.

 

Office of Science and Technology: Implementation of Guidelines 2000

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.

30. ... 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.

 

Phillips

"- To establish credibility it is necessary to generate trust

- Trust can only be generated by openness

- Openness requires recognition of uncertainty, where it exists".

These lessons are strongly endorsed in the Government's Interim Response. This states that the Government is committed to a policy of open and transparent working, and recognises that efforts to "build and sustain trust through openness cannot succeed unless it is fully prepared to acknowledge uncertainty in its assessments of risk".