Open Science at EFSA – giving society a greater stake

How can EFSA meet society’s expectations and make its processes more understandable while ensuring that the environment of creative debate amongst its experts continues? How can EFSA increase accessibility while protecting commercially sensitive information and data and respecting the rights of data owners? How can EFSA be more open to meaningful scientific contributions from individuals and organisations beyond its Scientific Committee and Panels?

These and other questions are the subject of an EFSA discussion paper launched today for public consultation. The paper sets forth a conceptual framework, a step-by-step methodology and a plan for the Authority’s transformation into an Open EFSA over the coming years. EFSA wants feedback particularly on these key aspects of the paper and welcomes comments from national partners, other scientific advisory bodies, civil society organisations and other stakeholders as well as experts and practitioners in the field of open government and open science. In the coming months, input from the public consultation will feed into finalisation of a new Open EFSA policy and follow-up plan.

Executive Director Bernhard Url sets out the Authority’s vision for an Open EFSA: “EFSA is committed to opening up its scientific processes to the widest possible extent and to being more understandable to its partners, stakeholders and the public at large.” He added, “I believe that not only will this make EFSA more accountable and trusted, but it can also result in more comprehensive, more understandable and better focused scientific advice for decision-makers.”

Openness and transparency have been key values for EFSA since its creation in 2002. Adherence to these values helps to legitimise EFSA’s work and ensure accountability to society. The Authority has implemented and continues to develop important measures over the years to support openness and transparency goals. For example, a policy on proactive public access to documents is under development and EFSA’s Scientific Committee is also reviewing the structure and format of the Authority’s scientific opinions to make them more accessible and understandable.

EFSA recognises that society’s expectations regarding scientific bodies have grown in the last ten years. Technology has advanced and channels of engagement have multiplied giving more stakeholders the means to be involved in EFSA’s work. The Open EFSA initiative aims to explore how EFSA can better meet these expectations and also understand the implications they have for the Authority’s organisational set up.

At a time of budget cuts and public spending reviews, Dr. Url also urges caution. “We can see potential benefits – recent increased public engagement on important scientific opinions such as aspartame, bisphenol A and acrylamide point in this direction. But we are also aware of the challenges to increasing such engagement. That’s why we have devised an approach to really weigh up the costs as well as potential benefits of specific actions for increased information sharing and interaction throughout EFSA’s scientific processes. This is just the start.”

Interested parties are invited to respond to the online public consultation by 15 September 2014:

Notes to editors
  • The Open EFSA discussion paper is the latest step in EFSA’s transparency initiative launched in January 2013 to facilitate access to data and enhance transparency in risk assessment. EFSA’s Science Strategy for 2012-2016 highlights the importance of the Authority’s role in making data accessible to interested parties. A recommendation made by stakeholders in an external evaluation in 2012 called for the Authority to further enhance transparency in its decision-making processes.
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