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This call for evidence was issued on November 24th 2015, and closed on January 31st 2016. The inquiry report was published on 2nd June 2016

Sense About Science is seeking information and views about how government commissions and publishes research from the academic community, professional bodies, the civil service, charities, the media and other interested parties.

Research conducted or commissioned by central government is an important part of guiding, developing, modifying and monitoring policy. Although departmental guidelines require prompt and complete publication of such research, there have been repeated allegations in recent years of publication being held back. 

This has raised public concerns for a number of reasons:

  • Failure to make publicly-funded research available to the public
  • A lack of transparency on the basis of government decisions and the role of evidence in reaching them
  • Potential effects on the willingness of researchers to assist in policy-making

It is not known how significant or widespread the delayed publication or withholding of government research is, and there is little comparative evidence of how different departments or agencies behave. There will also be examples of good practice, for instance where potentially awkward research has been published promptly.

Sense About Science is conducting an inquiry, to be led by one of its trustees, the Rt. Hon. Sir Stephen Sedley, into the scale and sources of the problem, and into possible remedies. An initial scoping exercise was conducted between 18th September and 30th October 2015 to establish this call for evidence.

The inquiry will consider the publication of research, including analyses of official statistics, initiated by Whitehall departments and the arms-length bodies that report to them. We also welcome submissions relating to devolved administrations, but not to local authorities. The inquiry will consider what has happened in established instances of research being held back, and will suggest how controversial or inconclusive research can be handled.

We invite submissions about your experience of commissioning, conducting, publishing or accessing government research, particularly in the following contexts:

1. Contracts and rules

Do research contracts make publication principles clear? Are these principles ethically and legally appropriate? Who is responsible within departments for ensuring that research is published promptly and fully?

2. Expectations of publication

These vary, especially as regards the timing of the announcement of policy and in relation to controversial topics. What justifications may there be for delaying or withholding publication of government-commissioned research?

3. Potential improvements

What changes would improve the way government commissions, conducts and publishes research? How can good practice be spread?


Timetable

Written submissions: Sunday 31st January 2016. 
Research and meetings: 31 March 2016
Report publication: June 2016. 

Note: The UK’s National Action Plan on open government is under review, and the Cabinet Office has also initiated a review of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. This inquiry will attempt to work with reference to these initiatives, and to raise relevant issues that relate to them.