Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat
Policy on the Principle of Consensus

1. Policy Title

Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) policy on the principle of Consensus.

2. Effective Date

This policy is effective December 1, 2010.

3. Policy Objective

This policy provides the definition of consensus, to be considered by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) for scientific peer-review meetings conducted under the auspices of the CSAS.

4. Policy Statement

When DFO Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat peer-review meetings take place, meeting conclusions and final scientific advice are to be reached by consensus.

For the purpose of DFO Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat peer-review meetings, consensus means an absence of opposition to the meeting conclusions and advice that are based on scientific data and information and not on external considerations such as the potential impacts of future decisions.

5. Context

Leading the process for review participants to reach consensus and identifying when consensus is reached on discussion points are significant and sometimes challenging tasks, for the chair of a peer review meeting. It is rare that all participants will have a unanimous point of view. Discussion and debate is an important component of the peer review process. Sound science advice benefits from a process were consensus can evolve through consideration of alternate interpretations and contrary opinions.

Although consensus usually means agreement by a group as a whole, it is often the result of an absence of opposition to proposed conclusions. In many cases, some of the participants believe that additional data or more thorough analyses could support another conclusion or refine the conclusions and advice; however, they do not oppose the proposed conclusions, as these are supported by the current data and scientific analyses being considered.

In some cases, it may be apparent that different conclusions are supported by the various sources of data or by different but valid scientific analyses. In such cases, consensus should be developed by considering the weight of evidence for each proposed conclusion.

It is also possible that different conclusions are equally supported by the scientific data and analyses and, after examining the issue objectively, are equally plausible (e.g. when several plausible stock assessment models give different results). In this case, the chair should indicate that consensus regarding the conclusions and advice could not be reached. The proceedings and Science Advisory Report (if produced) should describe the nature and weight of evidence, and the associated uncertainties, that support each possible conclusion.

In cases where there is a different point of view preventing the group to reach consensus, which is supported by scientific evidence, but not the weight of the evidence, it is essential to document the discussions in detail in the proceedings of the meeting, including the reasons why the alternative conclusion was not retained. In extreme cases, a description of the different position (minority report) is prepared and can be included in the proceedings as an annex. This is a last resort situation and should be avoided whenever possible.

The chair has the responsibility to remind participants that the conclusions and advice of a scientific review must be based on demonstrated evidence or facts. The chair also has the discretion to declare consensus although there may be opposition that arises from a non-scientific basis. The conclusion(s), supported by the most convincing evidence, should be the one(s) retained. The chair must develop a statement of consensus based on the weight of scientific evidence.

6. Application and authority

Questions on the policy may be addressed by mail or e-mail to:

Director, Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat
Oceans and Science Sector
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
200 Kent St.
Ottawa, ON,
Canada K1A 0E6

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