Headlines: January 14th, 2002

DEFRA is to set up new consultation procedures to ensure its research efforts are pointed in the right direction.A technique new to the department, called ‘Horizon scanning’, will invite people outside the department to challenge how DEFRA is spending its 140 million pound research budget, and to challenge assumptions made from the data that is gathered. It will ask outsiders to identify weaknesses and to offer alternative ideas for topics that require research.

After BSE and Foot and Mouth, the department is aware it has to win round people who in the past have been critical of its research priorities.

Development of the programme is being managed independently of the department by the Science and Technology Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex. SPRU will manage a consultation process and in April submit proposals to an external advisory panel which in turn will make recommendations to DEFRA.

The consultation will be primarily conducted on a special web site constructed for this purpose at www.defra.gov.uk/horizonscanning. Stakeholders will also be able to make submissions by email or post.

DEFRA recently appointed Professor Howard Dalton FRS of Warwick University as its new Chief Scientific Adviser. Professor Dalton, who takes up his new post full time in March, will be broadly responsible for scientific advice across the range of the department’s work. His appointment is at a more senior level than the previous Chief Scientist, reflecting the wider brief for DEFRA than MAFF.