Depending on the nature of the topic, the Council will decide the format that the project should take. Traditionally, Council projects have established a working group to examine and report on the issues under consideration. In its Strategic Plan 2012-2016, the Council committed itself to a broader range of activities (examples of different types of projects the Council has initiated are available here), meaning different formats might suit different projects.
The Chair of the working group is appointed by the Council, and he/she is usually an independent, senior academic with an interest in the field and knowledge of the wider policy environment. The Chair is co-opted as a member of Council during the course of the working group, to facilitate communication between the working group and the Council.
The Chair and the Council together appoint further working group members. Members are chosen to ensure that the working group contains a range of experience and skills, while retaining a committee of workable size. Members must be willing to contribute to debate in an open and constructive manner, and to work together to produce a rigorous consensus report. Members of working groups take part in a personal capacity (rather than representing any organisations or groups) to ensure they are free to explore different views and positions.
Working groups vary in size depending on the project. For instance, the mitochondrial DNA project involved a small working group of six people, meeting over 6 months. Other projects, such as the Children and Clinical Research project, involved 12 people over two years.
The Council’s research culture project was overseen by a Steering Group made up of members of staff from six of the UK’s leading scientific organisations, who shared similar concerns about the factors affecting the research community. In contrast, the Council’s naturalness project is overseen by a Steering Group of Council members. The composition and size of the group will depend on the type of project.
Working groups and Steering Groups are supported by the secretariat, with a senior member of staff serving as secretary to the group.