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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a statement?

A Statement is a publication that addresses topics of importance to society by presenting the current state of research on these topics in a understandable manner and recommending possible courses of action for policymakers and society. Statements are prepared by recognised experts within a working group and are the result of a complex process of discussion, teamwork and review. Such statements are aimed at policymakers, scientists, business people and the general public.

How does the Leopoldina identify relevant topics?

The Leopoldina is free to choose the topics it addresses. Nevertheless, the Leopoldina is ready and willing to take on specific topics in response to a request from the government or another organisation and to draw up a corresponding statement The topics are still addressed independently and on a scientific basis in such cases. The Leopoldina regularly discusses current topics when a need for scientific advice arises. Within the Leopoldina, this process takes place in the Presidium, in the Classes and Sections, and in the Scientific Committees. Discussions are also held with policymakers (members of parliament, ministries), research organisations, professional associations and civil society institutions such as associations, foundations and religious organisations. Partner organisations, for example in the Standing Committee of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, can also propose topics, as can the Science – Policy – Society Department. Once a topic has been defined and assigned to a working group, the initiators work in consultation with the Science – Policy – Society Department to compose a written outline with a predefined framework.

Who decides which working groups are established?

During the next phase, the outline is further developed on the basis of discussions within the various committees and among the Leopoldina members. It is subsequently discussed in the Presidium. If the Presidium decides to produce a statement and to set up a working group, the outline may be presented to the Standing Committee of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. The Presidium and the Standing Committee may request the scientists who proposed the working group to present the outline within the Presidium or the Standing Committee. If members of partner academies express an interest in collaboration, a joint working group can be established. From that point, the working group is always referred to as a joint working group that includes the name of the partner academies and the organisation responsible for coordinating the group.

What is the Standing Committee of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina?

The Leopoldina was responsible for establishing the Standing Committee of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. The resolution passed by the Joint Science Conference (Gemeinsame Wissenschaftskonferenz) of Germany in February 2008, which appointed the Leopoldina the German National Academy of Sciences, states:

“The Leopoldina is setting up a Coordinating Committee, in which it will cooperate with acatech and representatives of the state academies, including the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW). Under the aegis of the Leopoldina, the coordinating committee will decide on the topics that are to be addressed, appoint working groups and approve the recommendations following external evaluation.” (Resolution passed by the Joint Science Conference of Germany on 18 February 2008)

The partner organisations in the Standing Committee are the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, acatech – the National Academy of Science and Engineering, and the academies within the Union of the German Academies of Sciences. The Leopoldina is responsible for coordinating the Standing Committee, which includes managing day-to-day operations.

Which criteria are used to form working groups?

The German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina appoints members of working groups freely and independently. Expertise and the appropriate selection of working group members are key to the quality and success of a statement. Therefore, the best experts available should be selected.

Both members and non-members of the Leopoldina, from Germany and abroad, can be appointed to the working groups. Working group members represent a wide range of disciplines, and thus ensure that a topic can be addressed in its full complexity. Membership in a working group entails active and regular collaboration. These criteria are particularly decisive in the search for suitable working group members. The names of potential members are already listed in the written outline. Suggestions are also made by the Academy Office, which systematically searches among the Leopoldina’s 1,500 members and the research community for individuals who could be appointed to a working group.

Finally, the Presidium of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina decides who will participate in a working group. In the case of joint working groups, all of the organisations involved decide together on the group’s composition. Individuals active in business, politics, associations and social groups may be invited to participate in a working group’s consultations and expert discussions. In individual cases, people from these groups who have close links to research or academia may be invited to participate in a working group, if this is deemed necessary for the topic to be appropriately addressed and if reasons for this invitation are provided.

Over the course of the discussion process, it may become clear that a working group lacks expertise in a certain area. In this case, it is possible to appoint additional members. These individuals also need to be approved by the Leopoldina Presidium and, where applicable, by the partner organisations. The names of all working group members are published on the Leopoldina’s website.

How is the independence of a working group ensured?

All members proposed by the Leopoldina and all spokespersons of the working groups are appointed ad personam on the basis of their scientific expertise. They may not represent an association or lobby group within the working group. Working group members work in an honorary capacity and declare any potential conflicts of interest.

How do the working groups function?

A statement is always the result of an open, unbiased and intensive group discussion process. Working group members are therefore required to draw on their knowledge and experience while remaining receptive to new ideas and solutions.

The working group meetings are internal in order to allow open discussion and consideration of recommendations without external influence. Findings, analyses and draft texts remain confidential until a statement is published. Working groups reach their conclusions on the basis of current scientific findings and back up their statements by listing sources. Additional sources of information include 1) internal expert discussions and consultations with invited experts, 2) symposiums and workshops, and 3) empirical surveys.

How is the statement produced?

Writing statements is a demanding, creative process, which incorporates working group members’ discussions and positions. All members of the working group are required to actively contribute their knowledge to the process. The text produced by the working group members must be both scientifically based and formulated in a way that can be easily understood by the target group. The spokespersons of the working groups therefore have the important task of including members’ knowledge appropriately and guiding the process until the working group finds a common position.

Working groups strive to reach a consensus on the targeted outcome. However, if the members have differing opinions, these are presented and explained in a way that the target group can understand. As the publisher, the Presidium of the Leopoldina is responsible for the content of all statements that it has produced alone or in collaboration with partner organisations. The Presidium therefore examines the draft presented by the working group before any external review takes place. Usually a member of the Presidium, or, if necessary, a spokesperson of the working group, reports to the Presidium.

The drafting of the text is continuously documented. Minutes are taken of all meetings to document the progress of the project. The minutes are made available to all participating partner organisations.

The Science – Policy – Society Department accompanies and supports the work processes of each working group. The relevant staff members take part in all working group meetings.

How long does a working-group process take?

The work phase lasts around one to two years. When there is an urgent need for action, it is possible to draw up ad hoc statements, for which an accelerated approval process applies.

How does the review proceed?

Transparent working methods require a transparent review process. Before publication, each text is usually reviewed by five to ten experts from Germany and abroad. The reviewers work independently and have not been actively involved in the working group’s discussion process at any point, nor have they participated in the expert discussions or consultations. They work in an honorary capacity.

The German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina coordinates the review processes for its own statements and for all joint statements with partner organisations in the Standing Committee. The Presidium of the Leopoldina appoints the reviewers. In the case of joint statements, the presidiums of the participating partner organisations submit proposals, which are then agreed on jointly. The President of the Leopoldina appoints the reviewers and accepts the reviews and forwards them to the relevant working group. All reviewers are asked to assess the statement text on the basis of key questions. The reviews are forwarded to the working group so that it can revise the text accordingly and issue a statement on the review. Diverging opinions should be substantiated. The names of the reviewers are usually published with the statement, if they agree to this.

Where can I find information about a specific working group?

When a working group starts its work, the Leopoldina presents information about the working group (tasks and objectives, participating partner organisations, spokespersons, members). The website also names contact persons at the Academy Office and publishes announcements of public events. Statements are published in English and German and distributed free of charge. They are also published as freely available electronic files on the Leopoldina’s website.

Are there any topics that are not followed up?

Yes. Topic proposals are continuously discussed and developed further in the Sections, Classes, Scientific Committees and Presidium of the Leopoldina. However, at any given time there are more topic proposals than can be realistically addressed in working groups with the resources available. Therefore, the Leopoldina constantly has to choose whether and how to address certain topics at a later date or possibly not to pursue them at all.

How are the working groups financed?

The working groups are financed from the Leopoldina’s policy advice budget. The Leopoldina can provide financial support to assist with drawing up and publishing a statement. This funding is used to finance activities of the working group, such as meetings, expert discussions, workshops, consultations, any scientific staff required and publication of the statement. External funding is possible in principle, but this requires the authorisation of the Presidium. The scientific independence of a statement must not be impaired by the acceptance of such third-party funding. In exceptional circumstances, working groups may apply for limited additional funding during the course of a project if reasons are given for why this is necessary.

What is the role of the Leopoldina’s Science – Policy – Society Department with regard to the working groups?

The staff of the Science – Policy – Society Department support the working groups throughout their entire work, from the idea to follow-up activities. They function as an intermediary between the working groups, the Academy committees and the recipients of the statements, taking care of all matters relating to content, organisation and strategic approach. They regularly exchange information with the working group spokespersons and take part in all meetings.

CONTACT

Leopoldina

Elmar König

Head of Department Science – Policy – Society, Head of Berlin Office

Phone 030 - 203 8997 - 460
Fax 030 - 203 8997 - 409
E-Mail elmar.koenig @leopoldina.org