Informal information gathering

70. Information gathering is important to the overall scrutiny function of committees. Much information is gathered by taking evidence from witnesses in the formal setting of committee meetings. These meetings form part of the proceedings of the Parliament and are regulated by Standing Orders. This is not, however, the only method available to gather information and may not be appropriate in all situations, particularly where committees wish to engage in more participative sessions with contributors. Additional options available to committees include fact finding trips and informal briefing sessions. Some committees have found it useful to have informal briefing sessions which can involve ministers, Executive officials and representatives from stakeholder groups. These sessions can perform a useful role in allowing members to increase their background knowledge of a subject preparatory to commencing an inquiry or scrutiny of a Bill. Briefings may also be provided for members by parliamentary officials. Although briefing sessions enable members to obtain background information and clarification of factual points in an informal setting which allows a more participative discussion, such sessions should not be used as a substitute for formal evidence taking. They are not part of the proceedings of the Parliament and are not Officially Reported. It is for a committee to agree whether it is appropriate to organise a briefing session or to invite witnesses to give evidence.