Federal Council regulates crisis-related activation of scientific expertise
Bern, 08.12.2023 - At its 8 December meeting, the Federal Council adopted an implementation proposal regarding the creation of ad-hoc scientific advisory groups during crises. Switzerland’s ERI institutions are to jointly propose experts for the groups. The ERI institutions and the Confederation have drawn up a Code of Practice for participants in the Swiss National Science Advice Network.
The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of consulting scientific experts early on in crisis management. As part of its response to Postulates 20.3280 Michel and 20.3542 De Quattro, the Federal Council decided on 23 November 2022 to activate scientific expertise during crises through the creation of ad-hoc advisory groups. It adopted a corresponding implementation proposal at its meeting today.
Close cooperation with ERI institutions
The implementation proposal requires the Federal Council to examine whether a scientific advisory group should be formed when an interdepartmental crisis organisation is established. If so, experts will be nominated to participate in the scientific advisory group. Nominations are to be made by Switzerland’s six major ERI institutions: the Swiss Conference of Rectors of Higher Education Institutions (swissuniversities), the ETH Board, the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences, the Swiss Science Council and the Swiss Innovation Agency – Innosuisse. Throughout this process, swissuniversities serves as the contact point for the Confederation, which must approve proposed experts before they can participate in the advisory group. The Federal Chancellery (FCh) and the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) sign a framework agreement with the six ERI institutions. This agreement will be signed today. This broad-based support from Switzerland’s key ERI institutions is fundamental to a scientific advisory group’s effectiveness, credibility and legitimacy during a crisis.
Code of Practice for participants in the Swiss National Science Advice Network
The ERI institutions and the Confederation have drawn up a code of practice defining the tasks and responsibilities of scientific experts. The code of practice states that experts are to advise policymakers about the current state of certainty and uncertainty in their field of expertise, develop realistic scenarios, and outline different policy options, explaining their respective risks and benefits. The code also states that scientific evidence alone is never sufficient for decision-making as other aspects must be taken into account, in particular societal values and interests.
The code of practice stipulates that any public communication by a scientific advisory group is generally regulated by the Conference of Information Services guidelines on information and communication by the Federal Council and Federal Administration (guidelines available in German, French and Italian). The chair or vice-chair of the advisory group is responsible for communicating with the public, in coordination with the FCh and the lead department. During a crisis, experts are to coordinate their communications with the chair or vice-chair of the advisory group in order to avoid misunderstandings. At the same time, the code of practice stipulates that the independence of scientific advice must be guaranteed at all times.
Topic-related clusters for crisis preparation
For certain crisis-relevant topics, the ERI institutions establish expert pools ahead of crises. Known as clusters, these pools allow experts to be recruited more quickly in a crisis. In addition, these topic-related clusters encourage discussion in their fields with the Federal Administration and where necessary with Parliament and the cantons. The Federal Council will propose cybersecurity, public health and international challenges clusters in 2024.
The Federal Statistical Office is also to assist advisory groups in data acquisition during a crisis. Before a scientific advisory group is established, the Federal Chancellery supports the lead department in coordinating with extra-parliamentary committees that may also take on an advisory role during a crisis. This prevents redundant work.
This implementation does not have any immediate financial or personnel-related impact on the Confederation. In a crisis, however, the employers of experts appointed to advisory groups may be entitled to compensation for the time that the experts are unavailable.
Address for enquiries
Federal Council Spokesperson
Tel. +41 (0)58 462 37 03