Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 42

Supplementary evidence from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) following the evidence session on 1 May 2007

  Response from Dr Philip Newton to 11 May request for note on:

    —  the details and timescales regarding the consultation process for the Oceans 2025 proposal (Questions 45 to 50 refer)

  In my response to Q42 of the Committee, I stated that: "...the Oceans 2025 Directors, when they were developing the proposal, had an open consultation to try to answer our question of what needed to be in it, and that [it] involved the universities, as well as the various agencies and departments [that] could play a part in trying to shape what was in it".

  I can confirm that the above statement is correct.

  The actual consultation process used by the Oceans 2025 Directors was as follows:

      (i)  A 25-page overview of the draft Oceans 2025 proposal was posted on public-access areas of the websites of the seven Oceans 2025 institutes on 30 November 2005 (a few days later for some institutes)—shortly after its approval for such a purpose by NERC's Science & Innovation Strategy Board—with an open invitation to comment.

      (ii)  The consultation was open until 30 January 2006 (a period of two months). The overview draft remained on the public website until final proposal submission (end March 2006), whereupon it was replaced by a revised and finalised version of the overview.

      (iii)  The consultation was flagged as a website `news' item.

      (iv)  In addition, the overview document (and in some cases parts of the draft proposal) was used as a basis for a targetted consultation of key stakeholders, including relevant Government Departments and agencies.

      (v)  Parts of the university sector were also involved in some elements of the targetted consultation, such as in a 2-day workshop to develop the ocean modelling component of the proposal.

  It should be emphasised that the open component of this consultation was on the Oceans 2025 "overview" document, not the more detailed draft proposal which was in iteration until its submission as a final version for peer-review to NERC in March 2007. This distinction reveals that my answer to Q46 is technically incorrect, in that I said that "the proposal was subject to an open consultation.". By "proposal" I was in fact referring to the Oceans 2025 overview document (I have always been fully aware that the proposal was not openly consulted on). I apologise for the confusion caused here by my imprecise choice of language. The quote from Professor Henderson in Q46 refers to "…the Oceans 2025 document", which seems ambiguous as to whether it refers to the overview document or the draft proposal.

Additional remarks:

  An open consultation of this nature has not previously been normal practice in developing science proposals to NERC, and it is not normal practice for the actual proposals to be public documents. Indeed, if this were the case then the ensuing process of national and international peer-review of the proposal, and consequent analysis of the reviews by a panel of national and international experts, would arguably be compromised.

  NERC encouraged the Oceans 2025 Directors to undertake the open consultation on the overview document, to support development of the proposal, but did not issue any formal direction on following guidelines for Government-style consultations. In this case, the time constraints of the process would not have allowed a full 3-month consultation period. Moreover, it should be noted that this is a science proposal, not a strategy document, and it is highly unusual to conduct any sort of open consultation on science proposals.

  The final Oceans 2025 science proposal, minus the elements that were not funded by NERC, will be made publicly available on the Oceans 2025 website during the week commencing 14 May 2007.

May 2007

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