6 Science across Government |
60. One of the aims of the OSI is "to improve
the quality and use of science and technology (S&T) advice
across Government and increase public confidence in the Government's
use of S&T".
A key aid in achieving this aim is the updated Chief Scientific
Adviser's Guidelines on Scientific Analysis in Policy Making which
were published in October 2005 and which we examined in some detail
in our Report on scientific advice, evidence based policy making
and risk. A second
key document, also the responsibility of the OSI, the Code of
Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees is currently under
review. We expect this review process to address the concerns
raised in our scientific advice report, and we look forward to
examining the new Code when it is published.
61. The OSI is also directly involved in improving
science within Government through its rolling review programme
of the quality and use of science in individual departments. Each
review focuses on ten broad areas in order "to assess how
effectively government departments:
i. Develop a clear, overall science strategy;
ii. Horizon scanto identify future science-related
iii. Review and harness existing research with
a view to identifying gaps and opportunities for future research;
iv. Commission and manage new research;
v. Ensure the quality and relevance of department
vi. Use research and scientific advice in formulating
vii. Publish results and debate their findings
and implications openly;
viii. Share, transfer and manage knowledge;
ix. Have implemented Guidelines 2000 and the
Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees; and
x. Use, maintain and develop scientific expertise
(within the department itself and in the scientific communitycapacity
and capability building)."
The general principles of each review are to: be
external and independent; focus on the quality and use of science,
not on value for money; be published; reflect departmental diversity;
add value by identifying and sharing best practice across government
departments; and be responded to.
62. The work is carried out by staff from the OSI's
Science Review Team, with a Steering Panel of senior academics
and external experts and senior officials from Government departments
overseeing each review. The process to be followed is set out
clearly on the OSI website and includes discussing possible areas
of focus with the department concerned at the beginning of the
review, as well as discussing emerging findings and issues at
an early stage, and consulting stakeholders such as the appropriate
scientific community. A draft report is sent to the department
under review for comment before the final report is published
by the OSI. Departments are expected to issue a formal response
to the Review, and to each recommendation, within three months.
The OSI has undertaken to follow up on progress in implementing
the Review's recommendations within "about 15 months"
of the Department's response.
63. The OSI website states that each review "will
take approximately ten months from start
In fact the process takes much longer than this estimate. In the
case of the first review, into the Department for Culture, Media
and Sport, the review lasted from May 2003 until October 2004.
When our predecessor Committee raised this issue with the OSI,
they were assured that these teething problems would not affect
the projected timetable for other reviews since consultants would
be employed to carry out most of the fieldwork, and the department
would impose clearer and tighter project management methods.
The Government assured the Committee that this change would "allow
the [OSI] team to have up to three reviews running at any one
time, depending on the size of the departments to be reviewed".
In fact, of the four reviews commenced since that date, only two
(Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [Defra] and
the Health and Safety Executive [HSE]) have been published on
the OSI website, and both of those took almost two years, from
requests for comments from consultees in early 2005 to publication
in late 2006. The only readily available information on the other
two reviews are requests for submission of comments from stakeholders
by 18 November 2005 for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
(now the Department for Communities and Local Government) and
by early January 2007 for the Home Office. We understand that
the Department for Communities and Local Government review is
in fact to be published shortly but this is a far cry from the
original OSI aim of reviewing three to four departments each year
and allowing ten months for each review.
64. Given the OSI commitment to publish the reviews
and responses on the website, we are also concerned at the poor
quality of the information available in this way. For example,
we note that the information available on the "Work Programme"
page of the OSI Science in Government website is unacceptably
out of date, listing the published reviews on HSE as "underway"
and on Defra as "just getting underway", and making
no reference at all to the two reviews currently in hand.
We wonder whether this is not a further sign that the Science
review team are overworked, although we make the general observation
that the OSI website could be better designed and maintained.
65. We are concerned at the long time-lag in producing
the reviews of departmental science. We believe that this is an
excellent initiative but we agree with our predecessor Committee
that "the programme will lose momentum and influence if there
are not marked improvements to the process".
The DTI cites these reviews in their Annual Report 2006 in support
of their contention that "Government continues to improve
the quality of its science and scientific advice".
However, this judgement is hard to substantiate where so few reviews
have been conducted and the there is so little public information
on them. We recommend that the OSI again review the resources
available to its Science in Government team, with a view to increasing
the turnover and production of departmental science reviews. We
also recommend that the OSI publish a more realistic assessment
of timetables for each review and for the programme as a whole.
In general, we recommend that far greater attention is paid by
the OSI to updating its website. The OSI should be expected to
set an example in communications and the use of IT to inform the
public and stakeholders of its work.
66. It would be a pity if the poor standard of presentation
were allowed to detract from the quality of the work itself in
this field. We have had an opportunity to examine the outcomes
of the review process in the form of the reports published so
far and we are grateful to the OSI for drawing these to our attention
as each appeared. In particular, we drew upon the review of Defra
science in our recent inquiry into Research Council Institutes
and we found it very useful as an external assessment of the departmental
science programmes and use of science. We are aware that other
departmental select committees have also shown an interest in
these documents which could provide contribute to their work on
departmental scrutiny or other inquiries. We recommend that
the OSI adopt a policy of forwarding copies of departmental science
reviews and subsequent responses upon publication to the relevant
select committee in the Commons. We urge our colleagues on other
select committees to make thorough use of these documents to inform
their scrutiny of the departments under review.
102 www.dti.gov.uk/science/science-in-govt/page8314 Back
Seventh Report from the Science and Technology Committee, Session
2005-06, Scientific Advice, Risk and Evidence Based Policy
Making, HC 900-l, November 2006 Back
HC (2004-05) 8, p 28 Back
HC (2004-05) 453, p 7 Back
HC (2004-05) 8, p 28 Back
Department of Trade and Industry, Technology Strategy Board, Annual
Report 2006, November 2006, p 97 Back