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How the Geological Society agrees its public statements

The Geological Society of London

Procedures for Generating and Signing Off Consultation Responses and other Public Statements

  1. In the context of Council’s strategic aim of setting out the vital role of the Earth sciences in addressing the challenges of the 21st century, it is important that the Society strives to be efficient, effective and representative in its public statements. These may be reactive responses to consultations carried out by government departments, parliamentary committees and other bodies, or other more proactive publications such as briefing papers and policy or statements.

    The time available on the part of staff and Fellows for developing and signing off such statements is limited, and past experience has shown that while there is widespread enthusiasm that the Society should be active in responding to a variety of consultations, and promoting views developed on behalf of the Fellowship, contributions to such statements are not easily solicited, especially as many consultations leave little time for internal deliberation. Furthermore, the process for signing off Society statements should be appropriate to their content and target audience, so that the time of committees and officers is well used, while ensuring that statements enjoy the confidence of Council and the Fellowship.

    The revised procedures for generating and signing off public statements, set out below, have been agreed by External Relations Committee and Council. They were developed in discussion with staff at other scientific societies responsible for their public statements, who contend with similar issues, to ensure that the Geological Society learns from best practice.

  2. The Society receives more calls for evidence and consultation notifications than it is able to respond to. This is likely to increase as we grow our policy activities. Incoming requests will be considered as falling into one of four categories, to be determined by the staff in light of the Society’s strategy, and related discussions by Council, ERC and others:

    • Relates to a core area of Geological Society ‘science for policy’ or ‘policy for science’ – the Society will make a response

    • Relates directly to the interest area of a Specialist or Regional groups.

    • May be of interest to some Fellows or the wider geoscience community – where possible, the call will be publicised via the website, email newsletter, etc, enabling Fellows to respond in their own right if they wish to do so, but no Geological Society response will be prepared

    • Not considered of interest to Geological Society Fellows or the wider geoscience community – no action will be taken

    As at present all consultations received and action taken will be notified in Geoscientist and listed on the website.

    In identifying matters on which it wishes proactively to develop a statement, briefing paper, etc, the Society will naturally be selective, focusing on core policy areas (already a matter of discussion at ERC and among standing committee chairs, and a matter which will be explicitly addressed in the next business plan). Staff will be mindful of the potential for reputational damage through submission of poor quality, inaccurate or subjective responses.

  3. A database of Fellows willing to be consulted on Society responses and statements will be established. If the decision is made to respond to a consultation or call for evidence (or to develop a statement or similar), this group will be emailed asking for their input. This will often be required quickly. The subset of individuals who choose to respond will of course be self-selecting. Experience at other societies shows that a healthy level of response is possible and that members generally limit their comments to matters in which they have relevant expertise, as the Code of Conduct would require our Fellows to do. (Attempting to limit the call for input to those who have indicated relevant expertise to the Society would be burdensome and artificially restrictive.)

    In some policy areas, the Society may establish expert groups (as has happened for radioactive waste management, and climate change, for example). These groups may be specifically asked for their input, in addition to (not in place of) an appeal to the database of those willing to be consulted more generally. Other additional inputs might also be sought, including those of non-Fellows, depending on the particular case.

  4. The staff will then draft the required text, possibly in collaboration with a representative of the relevant expert group, taking on board comments received during the internal consultation process. The draft text should always be signed off by the Executive Secretary and either the Secretary for Foreign and External Affairs or the President. If the staff or the Secretary for Foreign and External Affairs considers it appropriate, for example because further input is sought over and above that generated by the standard internal consultation process, the text will be circulated to ERC. If the statement entails a change in Society policy or practice, or the subject matter is considered controversial, it will be referred to Council. Statements, briefing papers, etc, developed by the Society should always be discussed and approved by Council, if possible face-to-face rather than electronically. If any changes to draft statements are agreed by ERC or Council, a revised version will be circulated to ERC or Council as appropriate for final approval prior to submission. As much time as possible will be allowed for internal consultation and signoff processes, but this will often be constrained by the tight timetables set by consulting bodies. Not all members of any group being consulted will choose to respond, of course, and failure to respond within reasonable timescales will be taken as acquiescence.

  5. Specialist Groups (including Joint Associations), Regional Groups and Commissions of the Society may be informed of consultations, or asked to respond, in their own right. Groups/Commissions must inform the staff of any such notifications or requests, and to discuss whether it is most appropriate for the Group/Commission to act alone, to pass the request to the Society for action, or to act jointly. Similarly, the Society’s staff will keep Groups/Commissions informed of relevant consultations, and to seek their input where appropriate.

  6. The Society will keep other relevant organisations, such as BGS and University Geoscience UK, informed of relevant Society statements and responses. On occasion it might be sensible to act jointly, and at other times it might be more appropriate for the Society to respond in its own right. No other body will have a veto regarding our public statements.

Nic Bilham
Head of Strategy and External Relations

13 August 2010