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About CCST

OUR MISSION

To engage leading experts in science and technology to advise State policymakers - ensuring that California policy is strengthened and informed by scientific knowledge, research, and innovation.

STUDY PROCESS OVERVIEW

The reports of the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) are viewed as being valuable and credible because of the organization's reputation for providing independent, objective, and nonpartisan advice with high standards of scientific and technical quality. Checks and balances are applied at every step in the study process to protect the integrity of the reports and to maintain public confidence in them.

Ensuring Independent, Objective Advice

For over 25 years, CCST has been advising California on issues of science and technology by leveraging exceptional talent and expertise.

CCST enlists the state's foremost scientists, engineers, health professionals, and other experts to address the scientific and technical aspects of society's most pressing problems.

CCST studies are funded by state agencies, foundations and other private sponsors. CCST provides independent advice; external sponsors have no control over the conduct of a study once the statement of task and budget are finalized. Study committees gather information from many sources in public and private meetings but they carry out their deliberations in private in order to avoid political, special interest, and sponsor influence.

Stage 1: Defining the Study

Before the committee selection process begins, CCST staff and members work with sponsors to determine the specific set of questions to be addressed by the study in a formal "statement of task," as well as the duration and cost of the study. The statement of task defines and bounds the scope of the study, and it serves as the basis for determining the expertise and the balance of perspectives needed on the committee.

The statement of task, work plan, and budget must be approved by CCST's Board chair. This review sometimes results in changes to the proposed task and work plan. On occasion, it results in turning down studies that CCST believes are inappropriately framed or not within its purview.

Stage 2: Committee Selection and Approval

Selection of appropriate committee members, individually and collectively, is essential for the success of a study. All committee members serve as individual experts, not as representatives of organizations or interest groups. Each member is expected to contribute to the project on the basis of his or her own expertise and good judgment. A committee is not finally approved until a thorough balance and conflict-of-interest discussion is held, and any issues raised in that discussion are investigated and addressed. Members of a committee are anonymous until this process is completed.

Careful steps are taken to convene committees that meet the following criteria:

  • An appropriate range of expertise for the task. The committee must include experts with the specific expertise and experience needed to address the study's statement of task. A major strength of CCST is the ability to bring together recognized experts from diverse disciplines and backgrounds who might not otherwise collaborate. These diverse groups are encouraged to conceive new ways of thinking about a problem.

  • A balance of perspectives. Having the right expertise is not sufficient for success. It is also essential to evaluate the overall composition of the committee in terms of different experiences and perspectives. The goal is to ensure that the relevant points of view are, in CCST's judgment, reasonably balanced so that the committee can carry out its charge objectively and credibly.

  • Screened for conflicts of interest. All provisional committee members are screened in writing and in a confidential group discussion about possible conflicts of interest. For this purpose, a "conflict of interest" means any financial or other interest which conflicts with the service of the individual because it could significantly impair the individual's objectivity or could create an unfair competitive advantage for any person or organization. The term "conflict of interest" means something more than individual bias. There must be an interest, ordinarily financial, that could be directly affected by the work of the committee. Except for those rare situations in which CCST determines that a conflict of interest is unavoidable and promptly and publicly discloses the conflict of interest, no individual can be appointed to serve (or continue to serve) on a committee used in the development of reports if the individual has a conflict of interest that is relevant to the functions to be performed.

  • Point of View is different from Conflict of Interest. A point of view or bias is not necessarily a conflict of interest. Committee members are expected to have points of view, and CCST attempts to balance these points of view in a way deemed appropriate for the task. Committee members are asked to consider respectfully the viewpoints of other members, to reflect their own views rather than be a representative of any organization, and to base their scientific findings and conclusions on the evidence. Each committee member has the right to issue a dissenting opinion to the report if he or she disagrees with the consensus of the other members.

  • Other considerations. Membership in CCST and previous involvement in CCST studies are taken into account in committee selection. The inclusion of women, minorities, and young professionals are additional considerations.

Specific steps in the committee selection and approval process are as follows: Staff solicit an extensive number of suggestions for potential committee members from a wide range of sources, then recommend a slate of nominees. Nominees are reviewed and approved at several levels within CCST. A provisional slate is then approved by CCST's Board. The provisional committee members complete background information and conflict-of-interest disclosure forms. The committee balance and conflict-of-interest discussion is held at the first committee meeting. Any conflicts of interest or issues of committee balance and expertise are investigated; changes to the committee are proposed and finalized. CCST's Board formally approves the committee. Committee members continue to be screened for conflict of interest throughout the life of the committee.

Stage 3: Committee Meetings, Information Gathering, Deliberations, and Drafting the Report

Study committees typically gather information through:

  1. meetings;
  2. submission of information by outside parties;
  3. reviews of the scientific literature; and
  4. investigations by the committee members and staff.
In all cases, efforts are made to solicit input from individuals who have been directly involved in, or who have special knowledge of, the problem under consideration.

The committee deliberates in meetings closed to the public in order to develop draft findings and recommendations free from outside influences. The public is provided with brief summaries of these meetings that include the list of committee members present. All analyses and drafts of the report remain confidential.

Stage 4: Report Review

As a final check on the quality and objectivity of the study, all CCST reports, whether products of studies, summaries of workshop proceedings, or other documents, must undergo a rigorous, independent external review by experts whose comments are provided anonymously to the committee members. CCST recruits independent experts with a range of views and perspectives to review and comment on the draft report prepared by the committee.

The review process is structured to ensure that each report addresses its approved study charge and does not go beyond it, that the findings are supported by the scientific evidence and arguments presented, that the exposition and organization are effective, and that the report is impartial and objective.

Each committee must respond to, but need not agree with, reviewer comments in a detailed "response to review" that is examined by one or two independent report review "monitors" responsible for ensuring that the report review criteria have been satisfied. After all committee members and appropriate CCST officials have signed off on the final report, it is transmitted to the sponsor of the study and is released to the public. Sponsors are not given an opportunity to suggest changes in reports. All reviewer comments remain confidential. The names and affiliations of the report reviewers are made public when the report is released.

(Click here for additional details on CCST's peer review process.)


Updated 3/22/17
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