September 21, 2016
INTRODUCTION: WHY TRANSPARENCY?
The concepts of transparency, disclosure and accountability are deeply entwined. Transparency refers to the principle of creating an environment where information on existing conditions, decisions, actions or other matters are made visible, accessible and understandable to all interested parties. Closely related to transparency is disclosure. Disclosure is the process and methodology of providing information and decisions related to an organization through timely dissemination and openness. Accountability refers to the need for those in an organization to justify their actions and policies and accept responsibility for their decisions and results.
Transparency is necessary for the concept of accountability to take hold among the major “players” both within and outside an organization. Transparency requires organizations to face the reality of a situation and makes members of that organization more responsible, particularly if they know they will have to explain their views, decisions and actions. Transparency is also a means of fostering accountability, internal discipline and better governance. Transparency and accountability improve the quality of decision making.
Transparency and accountability are mutually reinforcing. Transparency enhances accountability by making it easier to monitor an organization’s activities, and accountability enhances transparency by incentivizing participants within an organization to explain their actions and ensure that such explanations are disseminated and understood. The goal is for transparency and accountability to improve current decision making, as well as the public’s understanding of the key factors in current and future decisions.
A Transparency Policy, therefore, seeks to ensure that sufficient information is disclosed to interested parties and the public in general, while holding the decision makers accountable.
There are a number of obvious advantages to a Transparency Policy, particularly for a panel of experts that oversees scientific research such as the Expert Panel for Fragrance Safety (“Expert Panel”).
First, by its very nature, safety and science is meant to be “open” and transparent. Accordingly, it is contrary to the essence of a scientific expert panel not to have a transparency policy.
Second, many of the Expert Panel’s actions with respect to safety assessments are already subject to public scrutiny through peer reviewed publications. A Transparency Policy will do nothing more than expand this process.
Third, the Expert Panel has nothing to hide and should encourage the dissemination of information regarding its decision making process. For example, the current Expert Panel’s Conflict of Interest Statement, as well as its Operating Guidelines, demonstrate the Expert Panel’s strict ethical standards and openness and should be readily available to any interested parties.
Fourth, the Expert Panel may well benefit by knowing that it will be held accountable for its actions and policies when such actions and policies are more accessible to interested parties pursuant to a Transparency Policy.
There is, however, a tension between transparency and confidentiality. The existence of proprietary information may deter the implementation of a transparency program in certain instances. For example, releasing preliminary “raw” data and results on fragrance material safety may cause undue and misplaced concern or give those with knowledge of that information a perceived or actual competitive advantage. Also, legal advice protected by the attorney-client privilege should be maintained as confidential to preserve the privilege and encourage frank discussion among Expert Panel Members. And any third party information provided to the Expert Panel in confidence should be maintained as confidential. Accordingly, a Transparency Policy must balance the goals of transparency with – in certain circumstances – the need for confidentiality. On the whole though, transparency should be the general rule, and confidentiality the exception.
During its January 18, 2016 meeting, the Expert Panel discussed establishing a formal Transparency Policy and the key elements of such a policy. The following arises from these discussions and forms the basis of a final Transparency Policy that will govern and guide the Expert Panel in its actions and deliberations.
ELEMENTS OF THE EXPERT PANEL’S TRANSPARENCY POLICY
1. General Recommendation
The Expert Panel should adopt and periodically update a formal Transparency Policy.
Safety and science initiatives – the bread and butter of the Expert Panel – are meant to be open and transparent. Additionally, many of the Panel’s actions with respect to safety assessments are already subject to public scrutiny through peer reviewed publications. A Transparency Policy is well advised and would facilitate accountability in the fragrance industry and allow continued public scrutiny of the Expert Panel’s actions.
2. Exceptions to Expert Panel Transparency Policy
Third party proprietary and confidential information provided to the Panel in confidence, as well as Attorney-Client communications, are exempt from the Transparency Policy.
The existence of proprietary and confidential information will affect any transparency policy. Accordingly, the Expert Panel’s Transparency Policy should exclude third party proprietary and confidential information provided to the Panel in confidence, as well as attorney-client communications.
3. The Expert Panel’s Presence on the Internet
The Expert Panel will establish and maintain a separate website under the domain name “fragrancesafetypanel.com/.net/.org.”
Information regarding the Expert Panel can be found on the RIFM website by clicking the “About Us” tab on the RIFM website, and then clicking “Expert Panel” to arrive at a single webpage that briefly explains the Expert Panel and then lists its members and their affiliations. A separate, stand-alone Expert Panel website is essential to promote transparency in the fragrance community. The following recommendations (Items 4 through 12 below) address the nature and content of the Expert Panel website so as to achieve the goal of transparency.
4. Biographies of Expert Panel Members
In addition to listing the panelists and their affiliations, the Expert Panel website will also provide biographies and more detailed CVs on Panel members.
It is insufficient merely to identify the name and affiliation of each Panel member without providing any information regarding the knowledge, expertise and skill set of the panelist. The Expert Panel website, therefore, will provide a biography on each Panel Member setting forth the panelist’s background and expertise. The biography will then provide a hyperlink to a more detailed CV should additional information be desired.
5. Conflict of Interest Statement and Operating Procedures
The Expert Panel Conflict of Interest Statement and its Operating Procedures should be publicly available.
Every Expert Panel member must sign a Conflict of Interest Statement to ensure impartiality and objectiveness. Additionally, the Expert Panel has promulgated Operating Procedures to govern its actions. These documents will be made available to the general public and posted on the Expert Panel website.
6. Dates and Locations of Expert Panel Meetings
The dates and locations of all Expert Panel Meetings that have been scheduled should be publicly available.
The Expert Panel typically schedules its meetings up to one (1) year ahead of time. This information will be made available, not only to the Expert Panel, but also the general public. Accordingly, the meeting schedule and locales for the Expert Panel will be posted and regularly updated on the Expert Panel website.
7. Agendas for Expert Panel Meetings
Agendas of Expert Panel Meetings should be publicly available.
Typically, Agendas for each Expert Panel Meeting are provided to Panelists approximately 10 – 14 days prior to meetings. Upon distribution to the Expert Panel, the current Agenda for the upcoming meeting will be posted on the Expert Panel website.
8. List of Fragrance Materials to be Discussed at Expert Panel Meetings
The list of all fragrance materials to be discussed and/or assessed by the Expert Panel at its next meeting should be publicly available.
In addition to making Expert Panel Meeting Agendas available to the general public, it makes sense to identify all fragrance materials that will be discussed and/or assessed by the Expert Panel during the upcoming meeting. This information should be posted on the Expert Panel’s website, in addition to RIFM’s website.
9. Soliciting and Allowing Written Submissions/Data for Expert Panel Consideration with Respect to Fragrance Materials to be Discussed at Panel Meetings
The Expert Panel should solicit from the public and allow written submissions and data with respect to fragrance materials that will be discussed at Panel Meetings.
To ensure that the Expert Panel receives and considers all available information with respect to fragrance materials that will be considered by the Panel in its assessments, the Panel will solicit and allow written submissions and data that are relevant to the fragrance materials being considered. Such solicitations will appear on the Expert Panel’s website in conjunction with notices of upcoming meetings.
10. Minutes of Expert Panel Meetings
The Minutes of Expert Panel Meetings should be publicly available.
The actions and decisions of the Expert Panel should be available to the public. Making minutes publicly available is not uncommon and complies with best practices in scientific organizations. Accordingly, the Minutes of Panel Meetings will be posted on the Expert Panel website.
11. Expert Panel’s Vision and Mission
The Expert Panel should adopt “Vision” and “Mission” statements and post them on the Expert Panel website.
The Expert Panel’s Vision Statement and Mission Statements should be made available to the general public and posted on the Panel’s website.
12. Availability of Expert Panel’s Transparency Policy
The current Expert Panel Transparency Policy should be made available to the general public.
The Expert Panel should be transparent about its own Transparency Policy. Accordingly, the current policy should be posted on the web for everyone to see.