The new economics foundation trialled a version of democs, a card game and policy making tool, in schools. Based on feedback from teachers and students, the Democs process was successful in offering a tool to get students to learn and discuss technical scientific issues.
Problems and Purpose
Sciencewise funded a pilot study of Democs – “deliberative meeting of citizens” – a part-card game, part-policy-making tool that enables small groups of people to engage with complex public policy issues. It helps people find out about a topic, express their views, seek common ground with the other participants, and state their preferred policy position from a given choice of four, they can also add their own policy positions.
The game enables players to identify and absorb the basic information they need to discuss an issue that may be complex and that they may not have discussed before.
The aims of the Democs for Schools project were to:
- Develop an existing adult version of the Democs board game into one that could be specifically used by schools
- Develop and refine training in facilitating Democs for professionals who work with young people
- Enhance the ability of students to understand and discuss sensitive and complex scientific issues.
Background History and Context
Democs was developed by the New Economic Foundation (nef) in the early 2000s with the following goals in mind:
- Enabling participants to learn about a topic;
- Supporting opinion formation on a given topic through discussion with others;
- Enabling participants to vote on what they would recommend to decision-makers, and suggest new policy options.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Cost of project: £166 000 (Sciencewise contribution £81, 000)
The project was managed by nef (the new economics foundation), in partnership with the Centre for Science Education at Sheffield Hallam University. Sciencewise ERC provided expertise and financial support in the project.
nef (the new economics foundation)
nef is an independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being.
Centre for Science Education at Sheffield Hallam University
CSE is a research and business development unit specialising in the STEM subjects, but in particular, science. 
Sciencewise-ERC is a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills funded programme to bring scientists, government and the public together to explore the impact of science and technology in our lives. It helps Government departments and agencies commission and use public dialogue to inform policy making, involving science and technology issues. Its core aim is to develop the capacity of Government to carry out good dialogue, to gather and disseminate good practice, have successful two-way communications with the public and other stakeholders, and to embed the principles of good dialogue into internal Government processes.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Number of participants: 1, 189
Number of schools: 30
Teachers that sent detailed feedback: 20 
Methods and Tools Used
Democs – “deliberative meeting of citizens” – is a part-card game, part-policy-making tool that enables small groups of people to engage with complex public policy issues. It helps people find out about a topic, express their views, seek common ground with the other participants, and state their preferred policy position from a given choice of four; they can also add their own policy positions.
Ideally, it is played by groups of six, but any number of players between five and nine will work equally well. The game may be facilitated by an outsider or the group can be self-facilitating.
How it works
- Democs is a card game that comes in an A4 box, on CD ROM, or is free to download from the nef website.
- It is suitable for anyone aged 16+. Some kits have been adapted for use in schools students aged 12+.
- Groups of 4–8 play for 1 to 21⁄2 hours. Several groups can play at once.
- Participants do not need to know anything about the topic before playing. It is straightforward to facilitate.
- Democs is unbiased – the cards include different viewpoints on the topic.
- Democs is an interactive, collaborative learning process.
- Results from Democs are collected and fed back to nef – either by sending back feedback forms or for schools kits only by inputting results online. nef collates the results into a bigger national picture which can be used to inform decision makers of public opinion when appropriate (if there is a public consultation on the topic, for example). For schools kits, the nef website gives a visual cumulative vote for each topic as a bar chart, so that Democs participants can see for themselves what all players to date think on that topic. 
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The project focused on engaging young people with a number of topics covered in Key Stage 3 (vaccinations policy animal experimentation and climate change) and Key Stage 4 (neuroscience, genetically modified food, and stem cell research). A range of Democs kits was produced to cover the different key stages and age ranges and to offer a choice of topics for both schools and youth groups. These kits were trialled with young people at the BA Festival of Science in Belfast, then edited and revised to ensure they were appropriate for the two Key Stage audiences.
The kits were then developed by publishing two trial versions – one in June 2005 and one in September 2005 – which would be tested in schools, and a final version published early in 2006.
The first trial version of Democs for schools was produced in September 2005. Trialling in schools before that date was done utilising existing Democs kits (written for adults), or by producing in house kits (for example, the prototype Neuroscience kit called Mind the Gap). Neither of these options were a particularly good quality experience for school, students, staff or trainer.
The delay in publishing the first trial version meant that, in effect, the first and second phases of trialling were pushed together. Major trialling happened at the Festival of Science in Dublin (with school students, not in a school setting). Revisions to the kits were then made, and a second trialling phase occurred with three schools in October–November 2005. Two of these three sessions were observed by the evaluator.
Revisions to the schools kits were made and the final versions were published early in 2006.
Given the limited trialling period of September – December 2005, with a relatively small number of schools, testing kits has continued after the final versions were published in January– March 2006. Twenty teachers trialled the final versions of Democs in schools during National Science Week 2006. This has given more insights into the use of Democs in schools. 
The primary focus of the evaluation was the overall suitability of the materials for the school. Questions which were considered included:
- Did they seem engaged with the materials?
- Did student’s ideas and understandings appear to grow pre- and post-activity?
- Did the activity encourage dialogue amongst the students about the topics?
- Did the facilitation training for educators offer appropriate methods and skills that were appropriate for teachers’ needs?
Also examined, primarily through teacher feedback, was the potential for Democs to input views of young people into public policy. Teachers’ views on the accessibility of the materials for the targeted students was also looked at.
The evaluation also explored the following:
- Indications of dialogue
- Indications of cognitive gain
- Changing one’s mind 
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The Democs card game has also been used to develop a similar game, funded by the European Union, which builds on the results of the Democs project.
Impact on pupils
Young people who took part in the Democs card game gave very positive feedback with 74% saying they had enjoyed the experience. The vast majority of teachers (more than 70%) felt that as a result of playing the game, their students:
- Knew more about the scientific facts, concepts and terminology of the topic under discussion
- Were able to evaluate the impact of scientific development or processes on people, communities and the environment
- Had been able to present information, develop an argument and draw conclusions
- Had interpreted and questioned scientific ideas
- Were encouraged to think more about developments in science and technology and the associated benefits and risks.
Impact on teachers
Teachers felt that the information packs developed for Year 9 and 10 students were accessible and suitable and that the structure of the activity encouraged discussion.
The content and format also fitted in well with the new GCSE science curriculum, Science for the 21st Century, and active learner curriculum emphasis.
Overall, teachers felt that the project:
- Provided a way of holding a discussion and consultation on what were complex and technical topics
- Allowed flexibility and informality in the discussions so that everyone was encouraged to take part and air their views
- Helped to involve hard to reach groups and those who didn’t readily take to science as a subject
- Was inexpensive and therefore accessible to anyone who wanted to join in. 
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Feedback from teachers and students showed that the Democs process was largely successful in giving teachers a tool to get students to learn and discuss sensitive scientific issues. However, this depended on the time available, which was crucial.
By using concept maps as part of the evaluation at the beginning and end of a session, it was possible to track how the students’ appreciation of the issues grew, from lists of biological words learnt in the classroom, to more ideas linked to real life.
Whilst there are many similarities between the roles of teacher and facilitator, teachers reported how difficult it was to let go and hand over to the pupils to run their own discussion. A key finding was that teachers would like more training in discussion-based techniques to support their delivery of the Science in the 21st Century curriculum.
What would be done differently?
If they were to run this project again, nef could:
- Identify policy markers as key stakeholders at the beginning and ensure that results are written in a way that easily feeds into the policy making process
- Create materials with easily available downloads, showing opinions before and after and where the school is
- Simplify the process to fit into less time or, preferably, arrange to have more time so that students have a deeper level of understanding and discussion
- Spend more time training teachers in facilitation techniques
 Sciencewise (2006) “Democs for Schools” Sciencewise
 Duensing, S, Smith, K, Windale, M (2006) “Just like a bed of roses, Democ and discussion based learning in the classroom- Evaluation report”, Democs, nef, centre for science education, Sheffield hallam university
 Sciencewise (2017) “Democs” [ONLINE] Available at: https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20170110120247/http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/democs-2/
 Participedia Contributors. (2017). "Democs" [online]. Available at https://participedia.net/method/1278