External Conflict of Interest (COI) Advisor Selection Methodology
Approach to Managing Conflicts of Interest
A robust and transparent mechanism is needed to prevent and/or manage conflicts of interest (COIs) of members of the NSAC. This will help ensure objectivity of the advice and maintain public trust in the scientific integrity of Health Canada’s nutrition-related decision-making.
All NSAC nominees were required to complete the Affiliations and Interests Declaration Form at the time of nomination. This initial declaration also specifies that “Health Canada seeks nominees who do not currently have, and have not for the past two years, direct or indirect affiliations and interests with food and beverage industries.”Footnote 1
Nominees were screened for COIs during the selection process by an external COI Advisor. COIs were determined based on an assessment of a nominee’s declaration of affiliations and interests and their curriculum vitae.
Once appointed, it is the responsibility of each NSAC member to update his/her declaration:
- before each meeting, by email, and
- at the start of each meeting, orally, and
- each year, by email.
The NSAC Co-Chairs are accountable to assess members’ affiliations and interests on a regular basis. If there are any circumstances of a conflict involving a member as per the COI policy, that member would be asked to step down in order to uphold the impartiality of the scientific advice provided by the Committee.
In a view to increase transparency, the following information will be made public:
- a summary of expertise, experience and affiliations and interests of NSAC members on the NSAC website; and
- any new declarations of affiliations and interests made prior to meetings will be documented in records of proceedings and made available on the NSAC website.
External Conflict of Interest (COI) Advisor
The appointment of a strong COI advisor, along with an open and transparent process for the selection and assessment of affiliations and interests, helped to strengthen the NSAC membership selection process.
The duties of the COI Advisor included:
- Screening completed Affiliations and Interests forms of NSAC nominees; and
- Attending the selection committee meeting to answer questions/concerns from the selection committee; and
- Providing specific advice on how to deal with COIs on a case-by-case basis during the NSAC membership selection process and for the duration of the NSAC (initially for a three-year period).
Given the importance of this role, a rigorous selection process was followed to select the COI advisor.
Selection of COI Advisor
From August to October of 2019, the following expert groups were consulted in the development of criteria and process for selecting a COI Advisor, and in identifying potential COI Advisor candidates:
- Health Canada (HC)’s External Advisory Body (EAB) Advisor
- HC’s Departmental COI Office
- HC’s Ombudsman’s Office
- HC/PHAC Research Ethics Board
- The Office of the Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister
- The Canadian Council of Academies
- The Canadian Institute of Health Research’s Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research
COI Advisor Selection Criteria
The following selection criteria were used to assess the suitability of individuals for the COI Advisor role:
Criterion 1: Independent of the Government of Canada (i.e., not employed by a federal department or agency)
This criterion ensures objectivity.
Criterion 2: Demonstrated expertise in conflict of interest (expertise must be explicitly on COI)
- Can be demonstrated through, for example: sitting on committee(s), teaching, speaking/media engagement(s), publication(s) on identifying and/or managing COI
This criterion helps ensure the selection committee receives sound advice on identifying COI.
Criterion 3: Recognized leader in the field of conflict of interest
- Can be demonstrated through, for example: holding Research Chair, Award Recipient, Keynote Speaker, or ≥5 publications in field over the past five years
This criterion is a further reflection of expertise and appointing a COI advisor that is a recognized leader will help defend decisions if scrutinized.
Criterion 4: Experience providing recommendations or advice related to conflict of interest
- Experience developing criteria for assessing and managing COI
- Experience providing recommendations to recognized boards, committees, steering groups, and/or community or voluntary associations and cumulative years of experience of ≥ 2 years
This criterion is intended to ensure advice that is relevant and useful for the NSAC.
Criterion 5: Available to work 9 am – 5 pm in the Eastern Standard Time zone (+/- 3 hours)
This criterion is important for ease of communication and scheduling with the selection committee in order to determine the membership of the NSAC within reasonable timelines.
COI Advisor Selection Process
The following steps in the COI Advisor selection process were carried out from October 2019 to March 2020:
Step 1: Potential COI advisor candidates were contacted by the NSAC Secretariat to determine interest in the COI Advisor role. Interested candidates were provided with the selection criteria and had an opportunity to demonstrate how they meet each criterion.
Step 2: The NSAC Secretariat reviewed the information provided by candidates and developed a short list of candidates who met all the criteria.
Step 3: A departmental panel interviewed the short-listed candidates in order to develop a pool of qualified candidates and recommend a COI Advisor for the NSAC selection process. The panel was comprised of:
- Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, Health Canada’s Departmental Science Advisor;
- Dr. Supriya Sharma, HPFB’s Senior Medical Advisor; and
- Ed Morgan, Director General of HPFB’s Policy, Planning, and International Affairs Directorate.
This allows other HC external expert advisory bodies under development to access a qualified pool of COI advisors.
Step 4: Health Canada has posted on the NSAC website a Summary of Expertise, Experience and Affiliations and Interests of the COI Advisor.
- Footnote 1
Food and beverage industries include any entity that makes a profit from food and/or beverages, including, but not limited to: agriculture, distributors, manufacturers and processors, grocers, restaurants and foodservice, exporting and marketing.
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