To produce its policy recommendations, the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors reviews the evidence review report from SAPEA, as well as other sources of evidence, and then responds to the European Commission’s original request.
Drafting the Scientific Opinion
The most common way the Advisors give their advice is by writing a document called a Scientific Opinion. The first draft is usually written by a single Advisor who has agreed to take the lead on the topic, then shared and discussed extensively with the other members of the Group.
The Scientific Opinion gives systemic, transdisciplinary and unbiased advice, and takes into account political viability, trade-offs and unintended consequences.
Developing the Scientific Opinion requires distilling policy recommendations from scientific evidence. To achieve this, the evidence needs to be analysed in view of the EU policy background, the EU values as laid down in the treaties, and the most recent sociopolitical and international developments. An Opinion that is fit for purpose responds to the request of the College of Commissioners, while also taking into account the policies and the ‘world’ in which it will be published.
Contents of the Scientific Opinion
The Scientific Opinion includes:
- an executive summary
- a description of the issue
- the policy context
- the methodology used
- a discussion of available options
- a discussion of any scientific uncertainties or minority views (where relevant)
- conclusions and policy recommendations
Sources of evidence
The Advisors’ Scientific Opinion is based on the best available scientific evidence. In general, this is drawn from the SAPEA evidence review report, plus any other evidence-gathering activities undertaken by the SAM secretariat on the Advisors’ behalf.
All the information used by the Advisors is publicly accessible, and the process of gathering that evidence is public. All contacts that the Advisors make during this process, and all information they receive, are recorded by the SAM secretariat.
Presentation and scrutiny
The Advisors’ draft recommendations are presented and scrutinised in a series of meetings:
- Sounding board: This is a meeting with a group of eminent experts in the field that have not been involved in the evidence-gathering. The aim is to review the recommendations and elicit the opinions of the experts. It is one of the critical final stages in the development of the Scientific Opinion, as it is the third level of independent scrutiny by scientists (in addition to those by SAPEA and the Advisors).
- Stakeholder meeting: This is a meeting with representatives of organisations that are concerned with the recommendations in the Opinion. The aim is to review the recommendations and elicit first reactions from these representatives. Crucially, this stakeholder meeting is not comparable to a typical Commission ‘stakeholder consultation’.
- Policy officers: This is a meeting with policy officers from relevant directorates-general of the European Commission as well as from agencies.
The final version of the Scientific Opinion is adopted by the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors as a whole. If there are any dissenting opinions, these are noted.
Other forms of advice
Occasionally, the Advisors may decide not to write a Scientific Opinion. Instead, they may write a statement (alone or jointly with others), or to communicate their advice in a different way.
In any case, the principles of independent, evidence-based advice are always applied.