Understanding the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat


The Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) coordinates the production of peer-reviewed science advice for Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). Science advice is prepared both nationally and through DFO’s regional offices. 

The CSAS provides a formal, transparent process for the delivery of science advice to the department’s decision makers. Advice might relate to the state of an ecosystem, the impacts of a human activity, the effectiveness of a mitigation strategy or many other areas under DFO’s mandate. 

How are CSAS reports prepared and reviewed?

1. Call for science advice

Each year, DFO identifies areas in which science advice is needed. Regional CSAS offices receive requests for advice from the department’s many program sectors, including Fisheries and Aquaculture Management, Ecosystem Management, Species at Risk and others.

A steering committee is convened to guide the CSAS process for a request. The steering committee is typically comprised of DFO Science staff, the requester, and sometimes other interested and knowledgeable parties from outside DFO (such as Indigenous or academic participants). The members work together to define the scope of the request and to develop Terms of Reference

2. Data collection and analysis

Using the Terms of Reference, scientists collect and analyze relevant data and prepare a Working Paper(s). These scientists usually work for DFO but could also come from another government department or elsewhere in the Canadian or international scientific community.

A working paper is an assemblage of technical and scientific information. It does not constitute science advice, but contains the supporting information and analyses needed to generate advice. A working paper might provide a framework for how to tackle a problem, but it will not recommend policy options. 

3. Formal written reviews

Working Papers are typically reviewed by two experts identified by the steering committee. These experts could come from DFO, academia, another government department, or elsewhere in the international scientific community. Each expert submits an independent, written review. 

4. Peer review meeting

CSAS Working Papers and the formal written reviews are shared with a group of participants invited to a peer review meeting. Participants are selected by the steering committee based on their experience and expertise relevant to the subject matter of the review. Participants may include representatives of DFO, other government departments, First Nations, stakeholders, academia, environmental non-government organizations, as well as international experts.

The objective of the peer review meeting is to provide sound, objective and impartial science advice to DFO. A meeting chairperson(s) leads a review of the Working Paper, facilitates discussion of comments and concerns, and guides the creation of consensus advice. All participants are expected to be familiar with the material provided (Terms of Reference, Working Paper(s), formal written reviews, and supporting material), participate fully in discussions and bring their relevant expertise, experience, data and knowledge to the review. Participants are also expected to contribute to the development of the consensus advice. 

Consensus is considered to be reached if all parties can generally accept the Working Paper and support its conclusions and proposed science advice. Consensus generally means agreement of the group as a whole, but can be achieved through an absence of opposition. Consensus must be based on scientific data, information (including traditional ecological knowledge) and analysis. In cases where there two or more equally reasonable conclusions, the peer review may apply a “weight of evidence” approach to clarify which is most strongly backed by current available scientific evidence. Strongly opposing opinions or viewpoints may be noted in the record of proceedings. 

Once a Working Paper has been accepted, it becomes the final Research Document.

5. Results are finalized and made public 

Following completion of the process, three documents are typically published: 

  • Research Document (the approved, revised Working Paper) 
  • Science Advisory Report
  • Proceedings (record of discussion during the peer review process)
  • In matters of high public interest, a high level summary of a peer-review is frequently shared with media before the final CSAS report is published.

All CSAS process documents are posted online.

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