Expert Advisory Panel

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Definition

An expert advisory panel is a group of appointed experts selected to provide advice on a specific issue, particularly issues requiring technical knowledge and expertise such as scientific issues [1]. The members of the panel should be independent from government or decision-makers, and their advice is provided as a group rather than as individuals [1].

 

Panels are frequently appointed by governments and public agencies, as outlined by Health Canada.  However, they can also be utilised as one element of a participatory process, such as this Western Australian public engagement process. Thus, the precise function and mandate of an expert advisory panel is likely to vary.

 

An expert advisory panel is distinct from a panel discussion or a Q&A with experts. The latter are often held as a method of information provision for lay citizens, either as part of the information phase of a deliberative process or as an open public forum. By contrast, an expert advisory panel usually provides advice directly to decision-makers.

 

Problems and Purpose

 

In general terms, an expert advisory panel is usually established when a government, agency or public engagement process requires specific technical expertise to help them reach a decision or develop policy.

 

Governments and organizations face the challenge of having to limit the number of expert voices that are able to participate in a discussion, whilst trying to ensure as broad a range of expertise as possible are included [2]. Setting up an expert advisory panel may mitigate this to some extent by selecting a diverse range of experts to provide advice [2].

 

The precise purpose of an expert panel will vary slightly, but Health Canada suggests the following as possible reasons for establishing a panel:

 

  • policy development and implementation

  • program development and implementation

  • professional or scientific matters where there is a need to supplement expertise

  • a matter for which there is a lack of conclusive data or scientific certainty

  • a matter for which input on a risks and benefits evaluation, including ways to mitigate or minimize risks, would be beneficial [1]

Another reason for setting an up an expert panel is to assist a decision-making body in the interpretation and understanding of evidence [4].

An expert panel may also assist in the organisation of a participatory process by suggesting particular topics or witnesses to provide information to deliberating citizens, or in the evaluation of different criteria and options.

History

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Participant Selection

Members of an expert advisory panel are usually selected or appointed due to their expertise in a particular area, by a government, public agency or - in the case of a participatory process - organisers or conveners. Members should be independent from whoever convenes the panel, so an expert panel should not include any government officials or public servants if set up by a government.

 

Expert advisory panels do not generally involve lay citizens as members of the panel, as individuals are specifically chosen for their expertise, rather than to reach a cross-section or random sample of the population. There may be some exceptions to this; Health Canada notes that someone may be appointed to join an expert advisory panel due to ‘first-hand personal experience as, for example, a health professional, patient, consumer, or caregiver’ [1]. In this case, such individuals may not have professional or academic expertise but provide expertise through their personal experiences. A distinct method is a citizens’ advisory board or citizens’ advisory panels which have been employed in participatory processes, such as in the Northumberland Hills Hospital Collaborative Budget Strategy.

 

Appointment processes will vary according to the organization appointing the panel. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) primarily considers an individual’s suitability based on ‘technical ability and experience’, but also considers international diversity when appointing a panel to try and get a broad range of perspectives [2].

 

When appointed as part of a deliberative or participatory process, an expert panel might be selected by a steering group, which is often set up to oversee a process. This was the case for Western Australia’s Review of Agricultural Lime Routes. Here, a steering group comprised of stakeholders, community and government representatives selected members for an expert panel.

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

The precise process followed by an expert advisory panel will vary according to its purpose and mandate. Expert advisory panels may be established for different lengths of time, ranging from several years [2] to simply the length of a deliberative process in that context. One important aspect is for the panel to have a clear focus and mandate at the outset [1, 3].

 

How exactly an expert advisory panel communicates with each is also likely to vary and there does not appear to be a fixed approach. Panels may meet on a semi-regular basis either in person or virtually [1], or members may attend meetings pertinent to their mandate held by government or other organizations. Some panels may contain smaller specialist groups within the panel who meet separately [5]. Given that an advisory panel is a non-executive body, it may not be bound by particular protocols regarding process and procedure, and may be organized more informally than other types of committees and boards [6].

 

Expert panels may also produce reports or support reports produced by organizations or government [7]. On the other hand, they may provide advice directly to decision-makers, with no direct connection to the general public.

 

An expert advisory panel provides advice and recommendations only and does not hold any decision-making power.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Expert advisory panels are - obviously - advisory in capacity. The organizations that establish them are not obliged to act on their recommendations. In practice, the work of expert advisory panel can have a range of outcomes.

 

Salerno et al (2011) report on the positive outcomes of an advisory panel on adult mental health in New York State. In this case, multiple panels were established by a mental health authority primarily to review evidence and provide practical recommendations on a variety of issues. Key to this approach was the combination of experts and stakeholders on the panel, along with an effort to engage with families using the services. This approach was cited as ‘a productive and efficient means of insuring that planning efforts by the state mental health authority are well informed with respect to both the evidence base and the practical realities of offering acceptable high-fidelity, high-quality practices’ [3].

 

A negative outcome is discussed by Drew and Grant (2016) in their review of how independent agencies and experts relates to blame in public policy making. In one case, an independent review panel on local government in New South Wales provided a report with recommendations for reform, but did not provide any empirical evidence to support their claims. This was then criticised by other experts and opposition politicians, although the chair of the panel then claimed their recommendations had been misrepresented, in an apparent attempt to shift blame [8].

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The above example by Drew and Grant (2017) highlights the importance of an expert advisory panel having clear parameters from the outset, particularly regarding where accountability ultimately lies. It should be clear that the organization or government convening the panel is responsible for making final decisions, and is accountable for those decisions [1]. In the case above, it appears that the government went ahead with the recommendations offered by the panel, despite a lack of evidence. Given that the ‘expert’ nature of the panel had been greatly emphasised by government, the failure to provide supporting evidence could serve to undermine the value of expertise [8].

 

Drew and Grant (2017) also discuss another panel which sought to distance itself from what was perceived as poor decisions already made by government. This panel was also mandated with reviewing local governments in Australia, and were asked to evaluate local councils according to predetermined criteria. These criteria had been widely criticised, and in its reports and recommendations the panel emphasised that the criteria had been established by government, rather than the panel.The authors argue that this is another attempt to ensure any blame is deflected from the panel onto government [8].

 

Another potential risk for an expert advisory panel is a lack of independence or perceived lack of it [8]. This, and the cases discussed by Drew and Grant (2017), emphasise the importance of establishing a clear focus, mandate and structure for any advisory panel, as well as careful consideration of who should serve on the panel [4].

Secondary Sources

[1] Health Canada (2011) Health Canada Policy on External Advisory Bodies. Available at: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/corporate/about-health-canada/public-engagement/resource-centre/policy-external-advisory-bodies-health-canada-2011.html#deab

 

[2] World Health Organization (2010) Expert Advisory Panels and Committees. Available at:  http://www.who.int/rpc/expert_panels/Factsheet_EAP2010.pdf

 

[3] Salerno, A., Dixon, L., Myers,R., Smith, A., Lamberti, J.S., Jewell, T., and Essock, S. (2011) Public-Academic Partnerships: A Public-Academic Partnership to Support a State Mental Health Authority's Strategic Planning and Policy Decisions. Psychiatric Services. 62(12), pp. 1413 - 1415. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ps.014132011

 

[4] Airports Commission (n.d.) Expert Advisory Panel for the Airports Commission. Available at:  https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/expert-advisory-panel

 

[5] Airports Commission (n.d.) Expert Advisory Panel: Terms of Reference. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/440701/ear-tor-and-membership.pdf

 

[6] Odgers Berndtson (n.d.) The Role of Advisory Boards: Who, what, why and how? London: Odgers Berndtson. Available at: https://www.odgersberndtson.com/media/2267/the_role_of_advisory_boards_-_who__what__why__how.pdf

 

[7] Royal Pharmaceutical Society (2018) Pharmaceutical Science Advisory Panel. Available at: https://www.rpharms.com/about-us/how-we-are-run/expert-advisory-panels-groups-and-forums/pharmaceutical-science-expert-advisory-panel

 

[8] Drew, J. and Grant, B. (2017) Multiple agents, blame games and public policy-making: the case of local government reform in New South Wales. Australian Journal of Political Science. 52(1), pp. 37-52. Available at: https://doi-org.ezproxy.canberra.edu.au/10.1080/10361146.2016.1238872

 

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