In 2015 the Council commissioned the consulting firm Firetail to evaluate how successful the Council has been in meeting its strategic objectives over the past five years. The work set out to understand the landscape that the Council is operating within, evaluate its achievements, anticipate change and frame future strategy. Firetail approached this task by carrying out a review of the Council’s documentation, a series of 23 qualitative interviews with key stakeholders, and a quantitative stakeholder survey shared online with wider stakeholders.

Download the Firetail evaluation of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. The key findings are:

  • The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is a highly regarded and reputable body playing an important role in the UK’s policy landscape.
  • The Council’s traditional role is to convene representative groups in order to inform policymakers. Many stakeholders consider the Council’s role should be conceived of more widely, and the Council should engage with a broader set of audiences.
  • The Council can point to significant direct impact with UK policymakers on specific issues. It has also had a demonstrable, though more indirect impact on academic researchers, funders, the public, international and the private sector.
  • The Council’s ‘core process’ for selecting, writing and disseminating reports is one of its great strengths, but also the source of some of its weaknesses.
  • The Council is generally thought to have picked the right topics to work on. Issue selection is expected to become more difficult in the future.
  • The Council has made mixed progress against the strategic objectives described in its 2012-2016 strategy document. Many of the Council’s achievements go beyond the priorities outlined in that document and the objectives described in that document do not appear to have been the major driver of change for the organisation.
  • Bioethics is becoming more important and more complex. The Council plays a unique role in the sector.
  • There is a clear consensus that the Nuffield Council on Bioethics should be maintained. It should consider questions of future strategy whilst ensuring that its reputation for quality is maintained.

The Council’s Director, Hugh Whittall, said in response to the report:

The Council has long recognised that producing independent, rigorous reports is the bedrock of our credibility and ability to influence, and we are heartened that our stakeholders hold our work in such high regard. That our stakeholders see our reports having an impact in policy, media and international arenas supports the findings of our own evaluation processes, and we are glad that most feel our topic selection process is robust.The report highlights important challenges for the Council as it moves forward – some of which we already have been grappling with for some years. For example, some stakeholders express a desire for the Council to take a faster, more responsive and flexible approach to its work, while maintaining quality and inclusiveness. Others suggest that the Council could have a stronger impact on its audiences by more active engagement and advocacy for the use of its reports.Over the past few years we have been working to increase the pace and flexibility of our work, and to widen the voices that we include in our deliberative process. We have carried out projects over shorter timescales, delivered more accessible outputs, expanded our stakeholder engagement activities, and contributed to policy developments in a timely manner. At the same time, we have continued to conduct longer-term projects on topics that require and allow more in-depth, considered approaches and outputs.Importantly, our stakeholders agree there is an on-going role for the Council in informing and influencing debate around bioethics. We will set out in our next Strategic Plan how we will endeavour to deliver rigorous bioethical analysis in the way that our stakeholders find most useful.”