Procedures for the Production and Review of Proactive Academy Reports and Statements of the Royal Academy of Engineering
The purpose of this document is to outline Quality Assurance procedures designed to ensure the maintenance of the Academy’s reputation with respect to its published reports and statements.
These procedures apply to all proactive reports, statements and other documents which are intended for publication by The Royal Academy of Engineering, irrespective of the originator.
The procedures do not apply to responses to Parliament and others, which are dealt with as set out in the (1998) Academy report ‘Mechanisms for the provision of advice to external bodies’. Nor do the procedures apply to personal statements which The President might make from time to time in response to national events.
3. Key Elements
It is recognised that reports produced by The Academy will vary considerably in their scope, importance and method of production. However, there are certain features common to all which need to be managed and checked. They are as follows:
Terms of Reference
Composition of the working group responsible for producing the report
Call for evidence
Circulation of drafts for comment
Final approval procedure
These features are to dealt with by following the procedures outlined below:
3.1 Terms of Reference.
Terms of reference define the scope of the study and the deliverables expected.
Every study which is expected to produce a report or statement for publication should begin with the definition of Terms of Reference and their approval by the sponsoring Standing committee (or Council).
It should be understood by all concerned that the Terms of Reference will serve as the primary benchmark against which final review and approval will be conducted.
3.2 Composition of the Working Group responsible for producing a report
The Chairman of the sponsoring standing committee will choose a chairman for the working group in consultation with the secretariat and will invite the appointed chairman to choose additional members in a similar way.
Whenever a working group is formed The Academy will post a notice on its public Web Site which announces the Terms of Reference for the study concerned, giving details of the proposed Chairman and members. Comments or objections will be invited within three weeks. The membership of the working group may subsequently be amended following consultation between the responsible member of the secretariat and the chairman of the sponsoring Standing committee.
At the first meeting of the working group members will be invited to disclose any background, bias or vested interests which are relevant to the study in question. Details will be recorded and summarised in the final report. Members may propose amendments or additions to the working group at this point.
It is recognised that on many issues which are studied by The Academy those who have most to contribute are people with views coloured by experience. It is therefore essential to the acceptability of the final report that the working group is constructed taking into account the nature and sensitivity of the subject matter as well as the need for balance in, and preferably the avoidance of, vested interests. It is also important that the working group contains the competence to address all aspects of its Terms of Reference. For example, economic and social issues associated with an engineering study may require the involvement of appropriate external experts in the working group.
There will be occasions when an issue is very contentious and all Fellows who have experience in the field have strongly vested interests themselves. In consequence the likelihood of achieving balance and a dispassionate consensus is nil. To meet such a challenge an effective solution, which has been employed by The Academy, can be to establish a working group which has no relevant expertise and then to take evidence in a manner similar to a House of Lords committee. This can work very effectively provided appropriate steps are taken to ensure that draft reports are circulated and review is thoroughly undertaken.
It is also important to be aware that on certain issues whilst there may be a consensus among Fellows this may not be shared outside The Academy. In such situations it is important that this is overtly recognised, if not in the composition of the working group, then within the report itself
Underlying these general statements is a challenge to those responsible for establishing any working group, particularly where the ensuing report is intended to influence
Government policy. This is to ensure, as far as is practicable, that readers of the report will not have reason to criticise the working group for presumed bias, vested interest, lack of competence or lack of balance.
3.3 Calls for evidence
If The Academy wishes a report to influence public policy then it is highly desirable that all those outside the Academy who might have views on the subject should be invited to submit evidence. This should be done by posting a notice on the Academy’s Web site inviting evidence by a certain date and by the despatch of press releases to those organisations and individuals believed to have something to contribute.
There will be occasions when the working group believes that it need not consult outside the group itself or known experts within the Academy. Whilst this may be acceptable in particular cases, particularly where all that is sought is a consensus opinion among Fellows of The Academy, the first meeting of the group should be invited to discuss this issue and to reach a formally recorded decision.
Written evidence should be supplemented by invited oral evidence on occasion.
3.4 Circulation of drafts for comment
Before a report reaches the review stage it is incumbent on the working group chairman to ensure that the draft is circulated for comment to all those who have contributed evidence. The draft should also be put on the Academy’s Web Site inviting any Fellow to comment if they wish.
Whilst it is not expected that everyone will agree with all of the report it is important to pick up errors of fact and understanding which could undermine the conclusions. This consideration outweighs any potential reduction in media interest at the time of the report’s publication.
3.5 The Review procedure
When a report is complete in every respect, in the form in which the working group would like it to be published, it shall be subject to review by an independent panel of Fellows prior to being sent to the relevant Standing committee for approval.
The review for a particular report shall be chaired by a member of the standing committee who has had no involvement in the report production process. He will be assisted in the review by not less than two or more than four members of the Academy’s panel of reviewers. The chairman of the review panel will decide the appropriate number.
The panel of reviewers will comprise eight Fellows of The Academy who have volunteered their services for three years. They will expect to be called upon from time to time to review reports on any topic, for any standing committee, against criteria similar to
those shown in Annex A. The panel will have a range of disciplines within it but expertise in a field is not a prime requirement for a reviewer. Equally, the reviewer is expected to address the report dispassionately and regardless of whether he or she agrees with the conclusions.
Reviewers will remain anonymous and will not be named in the published report.
The report from each reviewer will be sent to the Chairman of the review panel who will pass on the comments, without attribution, to the chairman of the working group. The group must then consciously address each point which is made and record its decisions. Only when the chairman of the review panel is satisfied that the reviewers’ comments have been fully and seriously addressed may the report be sent for final approval by the sponsoring standing committee.
3.6 Final approval
Once the report has been reviewed to the satisfaction of the chairman of the review panel he or she will present it to one of the regular meetings of the sponsoring standing committee. The chairman of the working group responsible for the report shall not be present on this occasion, though he or she may have been present to give progress reports on previous occasions.
The standing committee will be invited to give (or withhold) its approval to the report, taking into account the views of the independent reviewers and forming its own judgement about the suitability of the report as an Academy publication.
Where significant changes are requested in a report by a sponsoring standing committee the amended report shall be sent back to the chairman of the committee for final approval.
4. Final note
No set of procedures can cover all possible reports which might be produced by the Academy. However, the underlying principles are clear enough and should be followed when the procedures are found to be wanting or inappropriate.