Our Study Process

Our reports are viewed as valuable and credible because of the institution's reputation for providing independent, objective, and nonpartisan advice with high standards of scientific and technical quality. Checks and balances are applied at every step in the study process to protect the integrity of the reports and to maintain public confidence in them.

Defining the Study
Before the committee selection process begins, National Academies' staff and members of their boards work with sponsors to determine the specific set of questions to be addressed by the study in a formal "statement of task," as well as the duration and cost of the study. The statement of task defines and bounds the scope of the study, and it serves as the basis for determining the expertise and the balance of perspectives needed on the committee.

The statement of task, work plan, and budget must be approved by the Executive Committee of the National Research Council Governing Board. This review often leads to changes in the proposed task and work plan. On occasion, it results in turning down studies that the institution believes are inappropriately framed or not within its purview.

Committee Selection and Approval
Selection of appropriate committee members, individually and collectively, is essential for the success of a study. All committee members serve as individual experts, not as representatives of organizations or interest groups. Members are expected to contribute to the project on the basis of their own expertise and good judgment. Learn more about our committee composition and balance, conflicts of interest, and independence policies and procedures

Committee Meetings, Information Gathering, Deliberations, and Drafting the Report
Study committees typically gather information through: 1) meetings that are open to the public and that are announced in advance through the Academies' website; 2) the submission of information by outside parties; 3) reviews of the scientific literature; and 4) the investigations of the committee members and staff. In all cases, efforts are made to solicit input from individuals who have been directly involved in, or who have special knowledge of, the problem under consideration.

In accordance with federal law and with few exceptions, information-gathering meetings of the committee are open to the public, and any written materials provided to the committee by individuals who are not officials, agents, or employees of the National Academies are maintained in a public access file that is available for examination.

The committee deliberates in meetings closed to the public in order to develop draft findings and recommendations free from outside influences. The public is provided with brief summaries of these meetings that include the list of committee members present. All analyses and drafts of the report remain confidential. 

Report Review
As a final check on the quality and objectivity of the study, all Academies reports — whether products of studies, summaries of workshop proceedings, or other documents — must undergo a rigorous review.  The National Academies recruit independent experts with a range of views and perspectives to review and comment on the draft report prepared by the committee.

The review process is structured to ensure that each report addresses its approved study charge and does not go beyond it, that the findings are supported by the scientific evidence and arguments presented, that the exposition and organization are effective, and that the report is impartial and objective. Learn more about the guidelines for report review.

Each committee must respond to, but does not need to agree with, reviewer comments in a detailed response to review that is examined by independent report review monitors responsible for ensuring that the report review criteria have been satisfied. After all committee members and appropriate Academies officials have signed off on the final report, it is transmitted to the sponsor of the study and is released to the public. Sponsors are not given an opportunity to suggest changes in reports. The names and affiliations of the report reviewers are made public when the report is released.