How do we choose what to work on?

This is a question we are often asked, as you might imagine. On any given day there are long, short and medium answers. The in-a-nutshell version is something like this:

  • we keep an ongoing list of future work topics that have been suggested to us, and people are welcome to send in suggestions at any time;
  • a subgroup of Council members review the long list annually, to produce a shortlist of three or four ‘leaders’;
  • the chosen topics are then are discussed at our annual Forward Look meeting, where the Council decides which are the most suitable for further work

I’m not really doing it justice here, but here is a longer explanation, outlining all of the processes and levels of consideration that precede the establishment of a Council project.

What I would like to say a bit more about here, though, is our Forward Look meeting. For example, did you know that for every topic that is being discussed at a Forward Look meeting, a comprehensive background paper is produced? This year there were three background papers on the ethics of sports science, complementary therapies and resource pressures within the NHS. The papers give an overview of the major policy, regulatory and legal issues to date, and outline the important ethical considerations relating to each of these areas. These, along with other such papers from past years, are an incredibly rich resource that has proved invaluable to the Council in the course of deciding which topics to pursue.

And now that you know, here’s where you can find them. We have published these papers as a matter of course for the last few years, but now they have a more prominent place on new website. Please do take a look and share them widely.

In addition to producing background papers, we also invite experts from academic, medical and policy backgrounds to give short presentations to help Council members to establish which topics are most appropriate, and how best the Council might meaningfully contribute to the current debate. The criteria that form the basis of our decisions are as follows:

  • the topic should be associated with recent advances in biological and medical research and/or there are ‘new’ reasons for looking at longstanding issues or revisiting issues covered in previous Council reports;
  • the issue raises complex ethical questions;
  • input from the Council would be timely;
  • the Council would be able to make a distinctive contribution;
  • action by the Council would anticipate or respond to public concern; and
  • there is sufficient reason to consider this topic over others.

The future work subgroup is due to meet towards the end of this year and over the next few months we will be working on developing the long list of topics. Should you wish to suggest an issue for our consideration, please email futurework@nuffieldbioethics.org – we look forward to hearing from you.

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