Forensic Science Research – ‘Accredited Provider’

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Last week I summed up what I thought the current climate looked like in forensic science research.  This provoked some discussion through LinkedIn and twitter, mostly agreement.  I thought I would try and develop a couple of ideas of how we can move forward. Meet the ‘Accredited Forensic Research Provider’.


At the bottom of my previous blog I suggested the seeds of an idea, which I will flesh out a little here:

How about the FSSoc mandate that all of their accredited University’s invest in research in some way?

Or maybe introduce a research module in their accreditation?

Link each accredited University with a commercial partner, enabling a two way exchange of ideas and projects.


I would like to suggest the Forensic Science Society (FSSoc) introduce a ‘Research’ module, along with the three main Component Standards (Interpretation, Evaluation & Presentation of Evidence – Crime Scene Investigation – Laboratory Analysis).  Successful accreditation would lead to the use of the title ‘Accredited Forensic Research Provider’ (AFRP).  This would be applied for by University institutions, along with industry partner(s).  This would mean both University and partner companies could use the title.


Criteria for accreditation would include


  • Collaboration with industry
A must.  Both the partners would take part in the accreditation process.  Each party could partner with multiple others, providing each ‘host ‘ University was assessed.  Local Police, ‘sole trader’ type forensic professionals through to one of the big players can all chose to become involved in these partnerships.  Universities can provide cheap labour (particularly post grads and placement year students).  Companies can provide a certain proportion of time.  Both chip in for some consumables. I’m sure any accreditation fee would be shared by all!
  • Solid (forensic) research
The FSSoc accreditation panel should include academic and industry representatives (as it currently does) who can judge the scientific merit of the research in the University and from partners.  The guideline requirements should include outcomes that would be suitable for both parties (ie. will this improve our ability to deliver casework AND will this provide the opportunity for publications/other output).  The research would also have to be conducted under the conditions as if accredited to ISO 17025 or the relevant standard.  I know the accreditation may not be achievable  but the standard should be aspired to.  This would mean proper validation of assays, for instance, before any data is pushed into the public domain.
  • Justification of the need
This test would allow both early stage and ‘field ready’ research to be undertaken. You can justify the need for longer term ‘blue sky’ advancements as much as something to improve the service next month.


So how do we fund this?

That’s where the Technology Strategy Board come in – they said they have some money so how about a contestable fund? This could be run by the FSSoc and/or the TSB, with ring-fenced forensic science research money.  The nature of forensic science as an applied ‘magpie’ science (quote from an unknown person at the FSSoc meeting) means the panel should consist of academics and forensic practitioners.  Some of the project costs should be borne by the AFRPs.  Having a pot of money specifically for the development of forensic science can only be a good thing.


What do we gain from it?

Collaboration, targeted useful research and hopefully publications in forensic and related journals.

Universities get the input from expert practicing scientists.  Expert lectures, research input and ideas generation.

Forensic scientists/Police get access to lab space and students to e able to undertake research.  Most universities have project students or could provide a year long placement year (we currently offer this to all SHU students) focused on research. Cheap staff, under a watchful eye of practitioners and academics, both of whom have an interest in the outputs of the project can only help both parties.


In summary

The good: Forensic research fit for both universities and practitioners.  A nice new logo to use (AFRP) on websites and business plans.


The bad: Would have to persuade the FSSoc and TSB of the merits of the idea.  Contestable funding is always a little controversial.


The ugly: I haven’t really fleshed out the idea.  I do not usually share half ideas with people but this one seemed to have something!  What do you think? Could it work or do you have a better idea?  Please let us all know below!


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About Dr Tom Bassindale

Dr Tom Bassindale is a forensic scientist, and the founder of We Are Forensic. He is currently the subject lead for chemistry and forensic science at Sheffield Hallam University. He's managed hundreds of forensic toxicology cases, and is an experienced court witness. He has specialist expertise in forensic toxicology and drug testing in sport. And yes... he watches CSI.