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Les espèces envahissantes dans l’archipel néo-calédonien

Marie-Laure Beauvais
Alain Coléno
Hervé Jourdan

Aims and méthods of the expert group review

Marie-Laure Beauvais

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1The IRD (Institut de recherche pour le développement) conducts expert group reviews “to order”, to inform policy decisions and public debate on issues of importance to society. Making its scientists’ research and knowledge available to the community is one of the missions of a State-funded research agency.

2Their choice of action is eminently political and must take account of data from quite other fields than scientific research. The IRD’s purpose in designing the “expert group review“ method is a more modest one: to put together the knowledge available in the literature on a given subject, draw out the implications of that knowledge for a particular case, draw clear conclusions on which there is scientific agreement, identify points that are still controversial and point out any areas where the available information does not provide a basis for drawing practical conclusions.

3There are three key points for conducting a useful, reliable review:

  • Decisions often have to be taken in a far shorter time than thorough research would allow. Citizens need measures to be taken quickly, sometimes as a matter of urgency. An expert group review is designed to report on existing knowledge as found in the international literature; in principle, no new data are collected and no complicated new use of data is attempted.
  • The questions addressed rarely concern only one scientific discipline. All facets of the problem have to be elucidated, including from the most recent literature. The panel of experts therefore has some dozen members from different disciplines. The overall conclusions are debated and agreed collectively, each person taking full responsibility. The IRD’s Consulting and Industrial Liaison Department has the report peer reviewed by qualified persons outside the panel to make sure it covers the field in full, is clear, and accurately reflects the international literature. The experts on the panel have the final decision as to their conclusions.
  • Decision makers and citizens are rarely familiar with the terminology of the scientific disciplines concerned, but for public debate to take place they must have direct access to the scientists’ reasoning and conclusions. The authors of the report have to present their analyses using specialised terminology in order to ensure that their reasoning is “traceable“, but they must also draw up a simple and fairly concise synthesis report for the lay reader.

4These factors determine the schedule set for an expert group review and the form of publication. In particular, they determine the original approach used in the initial and final stages of the review:

  • Even before the panel of experts is formed, the questions to be asked are worked out by common agreement at an initial workshop between scientists and the commissioning institutions (who usually also want to involve stakeholders and partners directly concerned). The parties need to agree exactly on each one’s expectations. For example, some questions crucial for decision making are outside the scope of a scientific review and must be excluded. On the other hand, to focus their conclusions, the scientists must be guided by a sound knowledge of the context in which decisions are to be taken.
  • After putting together the data and analyses each expert has drawn from their own sphere of competence, the panel compares and collates their opinions. Their conclusions, worked out collectively, are then published in the form of a synthesis report accessible to a fairly wide readership. The synthesis report has to summarise a huge amount of work of a kind rarely presented in this form, and its scientific and practical scope will often reach far beyond the region or country directly concerned. For this reason the synthesis reports are always published in English as well as French.

5This was the method adopted for the review on Invasive Species in New Caledonia.

6This report is the panel’s scientific response to serious questions about biodiversity protection asked by New Caledonia’s three provinces.

7The specifications drawn up at the initial workshop included a set of twelve questions (see Appendix 1). A panel of ten scientists was formed, chaired by Alain Coléno (see Appendix 2 for the full list of panel members).

8As with other publications in the Expertises collégiales series, the reader will find the experts’ synthesis report and conclusions in book form. In a pocket in the book’s cover is a CD-ROM containing the analytical chapters on which the synthesis report is based.

9The IRD Consulting and Industrial Liaison department wishes to convey its sincere thanks the monitoring committee (see Appendix 3) for the consistently thoughtful and carefully-formulated questions it raised as a basis for the experts’ investigations.

10All our thanks also to the experts. It is not always easy to work and think together on a scientific literature review. Theirs is the glory, as well as the responsibility for the findings.

11Special thanks to Alain Coléno who headed the panel with total commitment. Thanks to his generosity and open-mindedness the panel was able to bring their information together coherently.

12And to Fabrice Colin, director of the IRD centre in Nouméa, who was kind enough to act as interface between Nouméa and Paris and who always made himself available for the requirements of the review.

13Our thanks to all those who contributed to the review and its publication, especially Anne Glanard and Michèle Bouchez.

14Lastly, sincere thanks to Bernard Chevassus-au-Louis (Museum national d’histoire naturelle) and David Simberloff (University of Tennessee) for their thorough and competent reading of the review.

© IRD Éditions, 2006

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