Terms of reference

Purpose

The Strategic Advisory Network (SAN) exists to provide the Executive arm of EPSRC with strategic advice that will assist it to develop, implement and modify plans, and to make appropriate recommendations to its Council.

SAN is devised as a flexible resource, enabling the Executive to obtain the advice it needs in a timely manner, drawing on a range of perspectives from across our key stakeholder groups.

Stakeholder perspectives likely to be most represented are:

  • Academic;
  • Users of research, including business, third sector and Government;
  • Upstream societal/ethical engagement;
  • Others including third sector, government, representative bodies.

SAN provides advice to the Executive. An important principle governs its function: the separation of the provision of strategic advice from delivery and decision-making by the Executive

Scope

SAN is intended to:

  • Provide advice in developing new strategies;
  • Provide advice on specific issues with a particular emphasis on the translation between strategy and operation;
  • Provide an appropriate environment for testing new ideas;
  • Provide a means of two-way dialogue with the research and user communities on topical issues, including EPSRC strategy.

Membership

Members are drawn from EPSRC’s stakeholder groupings. They are expected to bring a broad strategic view to bear and to act as ‘generous generalists’, advising across the breadth of EPSRC’s portfolio. Members are not required to act as representatives of their own organisation, research area or sector.

Members are required to declare any personal, private or commercial interests that might conceivably conflict with the interests of the EPSRC, and must withdraw from any discussion of topics in which they have such an interest.

The names of all SAN members together with a register of potential conflicts of interest will be published on the EPSRC website.

Nominations and Recruitment

Annually, we will issue an open call for self-nominations on the EPSRC website and also invite nominations from key stakeholder groups. Based on the competencies and characteristics required for the vacancies, the Executive will identify those who it might wish to appoint. The Appointments Assurance Committee will act in an oversight capacity for all appointments of EPSRC’s strategic advisers (including SATs). This committee will consider and review the Executives’ proposals and the rationale for these recommendations, challenging as appropriate. The sub-group is ultimately responsible for confirming and ratifying appointments. Further detail can be found on the EPSRC website.

Term

Membership will generally be for three years, with the possibility of extension of up to three years. In order to ensure the maximum flexibility and to ensure long-term continuity across the SAN membership, EPSRC will ensure there is staggering of terms.

Operation

SAN will most often be deployed in sub-sets, brought together to address specific questions, on which the Executive requires advice, or to explore and test new strategies and policies as they are developed. The size of each sub-set will vary according to need, but groups of six members will be typical.

Activity Specification

Each of the SAN’s individual activities or work-streams will be framed by a specification setting out the context, the desired outcomes, and how the outcome will be used.

Network Sub-sets

For each advisory work-stream, a sub-set of SAN will be convened. The sub-set will comprise a range of perspectives from across the representative stakeholder groupings. However, the Executive will select each sub-set membership as appropriate to the topic or issue in question. In some cases, the Executive will bring in additional, external expertise where it is not available from within the current SAN membership. A member of Council or a SAN member will act as chair for each work stream (see below).

Pre-activity briefing

For each work-stream, those members involved will be provided with a full briefing in advance. This may include opportunities to pre-review and scope the task through on-line forums. Prior to beginning each task and when the scope has been discussed and agreed, the members will be asked to consider if any additional expertise might need to be co-opted on to the sub-set. At the same time, members will be informed about the levels of confidentiality that will apply. This will be determined on a case by case basis.

Quality Assurance

EPSRC relies on the quality of the strategic advice it receives. This provides an external check on the development of EPSRC’s direction and plans. A Council member or SAN Member will be assigned as chair of each work stream, primarily to provide oversight of these aspects and to ensure that the reported outcomes accurately reflect the nature of the advice received. The advisory function of the SAN is separate from:

  • responsibility for the decisions made by the Executive; and
  • the independent peer review processes managed by EPSRC.

Expectations

The Executive will endeavour to:

  • Identify advisory work streams ahead of need, providing sufficient notice to enable planning arrangements including diary management;
  • Provide a clear specification for each advisory work stream;
  • Provide the appropriate information so that SAN members are adequately briefed and able to contribute meaningfully;
  • Provide an appropriate forum and tools for members to provide appropriate, high-quality strategic advice;
  • Maintain members’ knowledge of all SAN activities and of EPSRC strategic thinking and direction. This will be done through regular information flows following each Council meeting and through at least one annual meeting of the whole SAN;
  • Be clear about the information SAN members can share more widely and that which is provided in confidence;
  • Inform members about the outcome of the advice and how it will be used and in particular to explain the rationale where the advice has not been followed;
  • Make public the notes of work stream meetings.

The Members of the Network will endeavour to:

  • Act within the ‘Seven Principles of Public Life’, in particular to provide independent, informed advice avoiding actual or perceived conflicts of interest and taking a collegiate approach to policy and strategy development;
  • Act as ‘generous generalists’;
  • Challenge constructively and/or validate EPSRC’s perspectives drawing on the available evidence and their own experiences;
  • Take individual and collective ownership of the advice they provide whilst recognising the separation of that advice from responsibility for the decisions made, which rests with the Executive;
  • Make themselves available to participate in SAN work streams, subject to sufficient notice;
  • Respond to any requests to participate in pre-activity briefings;
  • Use their profile as SAN members in order to improve two-way communications within their respective stakeholder communities and, where appropriate, with decision-makers. This includes:
     
    • Gathering intelligence that can be brought to bear in policy development;
    • Explaining EPSRC policies to the community; and
    • Advocating, where relevant, on specific issues on behalf of Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPS);
    • Attend the annual meeting of the entire SAN.