Sciencewise commissioned four public dialogue workshops looking into the public’s views of emerging areas of policy involving science and technology.
Problems and Purpose
In 2013, Sciencewise supported a Horizon Scanning process and workshop run by the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) at the University of Cambridge to identify relevant policy areas that could be informed by public dialogue. This was to inform the strategic direction of the Sciencewise programme and the planning of future activities.
The public dialogue reviewed the top 30 priority policy issues that involve science and technology, as identified at the Cambridge workshop by policy makers, scientists, and technologists. It also identified the potential aspirations and concerns of the public in these policy areas.
The key objectives for the public dialogue were to explore which emerging areas of policy involving science and technology the public thought should be priorities for the UK Government, and which they felt were priorities for further public involvement beyond the normal democratic process. The project aimed to explore the spontaneous views of participants and their more specific reactions to emerging areas of policy that were selected as priorities by the CSaP workshop participants. 
Background History and Context
As part of the Sciencewise programme for 2012 to 2015, a horizon scanning workshop was run by the CSaP at the University of Cambridge to help Sciencewise and BIS develop a list of: policy issues that are likely to face the UK Government in the next five to ten years; of scientific and technological developments that are likely to intersect with those issues; and of public questions and concerns that might be raised on the basis of those intersections. This list was to inform the strategic direction of the Sciencewise programme and planning of future activities.
CSaP used a three-stage process to identify a list of potential issues that could be discussed and prioritised during the actual workshop. The three stages were:
- Stage 1 (November 2012 to December 2012) – identifying emerging policy challenges facing the UK in the next five to ten years through consultation with policy makers
- Stage 2 (December 2012 to the end of January 2013) – identifying scientific and technological developments that are likely to intersect with the issues identified in stage 1 through consultation with scientists and technologists
- Stage 3 (February 2013 to March 2013) – identifying public questions and concerns based on feedback from potential workshop participants – policy makers, scientists and technologists.
The workshop was held in Cambridge in March 2013, and was attended by 54 senior policy and decisions makers including from UK Government departments, the research councils, the Royal Society, the Technology Strategy Board and from other members of CSaP’s network. The workshop concluded by identifying a list of 30 priorities in emerging areas of policy involving science and technology.
The public dialogue, which took place in April and May 2013, then considered these 30 priority areas and identified public concerns, questions and priorities. 
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills organisation Sciencewise funded and commissioned the project (£50, 000). Ipsos MORI, a leading Uk research company, were contracted to deliver the project. Richard Watermeyer of University of Cardiff School of Social Sciences/PIER Logistics was the independent evaluator of the project.
The Sciencewise programme is funded by the Science and Society Team of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). It aims to improve policy-making involving science and technology across Government by increasing the effectiveness with which public dialogue is used, and encouraging its wider use where appropriate. 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
Public participants: 43
Total stakeholders involved: 388
388 stakeholders contributed to identifying emerging policy and science and technology issues and 54 attended the Cambridge workshop to identify the 30 topics covered in the public dialogue.
Three six-hour public dialogue workshops, each involving 12 to 16 participants, were conducted in London, Manchester, and Cambridge in April and May 2013. A total of 43 public participants attended the three workshops.
Participants were recruited on the street. Quotas for gender, age, socio-economic group and ethnicity were set to ensure participation of individuals from a range of backgrounds. ‘Soft’ quotas based on level of interest in science were also set as it was hypothesised that general attitudes to science might impact on the views expressed in the workshops.
Methods and Tools Used
A consultation workshop with experts involved in policy making and science and technology identified 30 issues for public dialogue.
Three six-hour public dialogue workshops, each involving 12 to 16 participants, were conducted in different locations around the country with a final three-hour reconvened workshop in London. Stimulus materials used during the workshops were developed based on the descriptions of the policy areas and science and technology challenges developed by the experts.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
30 issues were identified through a process of consultation with experts involved in policy making and science and technology at a workshop run by the Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy.
Three six-hour public dialogue workshops, each involving 12 to 16 participants, were conducted in London (27 April 2013), Manchester (11 May 2013) and Cambridge (18 May 2013). A final three-hour reconvened workshop was conducted on 25 May 2013 in London, the aim of which was to involve participants in the analysis of the findings from all three workshops.
Drawing on the descriptions of the policy areas and science and technology challenges developed by the experts, Ipsos MORI designed stimulus materials to test the issues with the public. This presented a challenge as the wording of many of the issues had to be simplified as it was too complicated to use with the public, but without changing the scope and meaning of the issues. To ensure that this was achieved, Sarah Castell, Research Director for the project from Ipsos MORI, attended the experts’ workshop and was responsible for internal sign-off of materials. Organizers were able to draw on the emerging report from the CSaP workshop which summarised the 30 themes and was in the process of being collaboratively edited during the time the materials for the public dialogue were developed. Also, all materials were signed off by Sciencewise, who had oversight of both projects and also sent attendees to the CSaP workshop.
Ipsos MORI began each workshop eliciting spontaneous views on seven policy areas (created by categorising the issues that experts had developed), as well as giving participants an opportunity to create their own themes if they thought any were missing. The seven policy areas were:
- Health, healthcare, population & ageing
- Energy & environment
- Public safety
- Government & politics
- Information technology
- Business & technology
This allows identification of how the public’s spontaneous language on these themes reflects, or differs from, the ways the experts conceptualised and discussed the issues. In each chapter of the report, organizers discuss this by theme, identifying the implications for government and other communicators.
Participants were then presented with the stimulus materials that had been developed using the experts’ ideas. Each idea was presented on a separate sheet of A4 divided into two boxes. The top box explained the changes might occur in society, while the bottom box gave examples of the scientific and technological developments that might impact those changes, including pictures to make the stimulus more engaging.
Care was taken to design the stimulus such that it reflected the discussions of the experts as well as the final wording they settled on for their themes. Examples of how the issue could positively impact people’s lives as well as potential risks, taken from the experts’ summaries and some source documents referenced in the emerging CSaP report, were also included.
Facilitators also explained that the examples of scientific and technological developments were illustrations of things that might occur.
Nonetheless, the stimulus did have an impact on the way that participants approached the issues. Participants paid significant attention to the pictures, examples, and aspects of the stimulus they understood best, and considered the issues in the contexts of their own lives. They often simplified the information by focusing on one or two points of the many raised on the stimulus. Thus, for example, one group came to call the issue ‘Keeping the lights on whilst reducing carbon emissions’ “the renewables one”, although this was only a small part of the wider issue presented in the stimulus.
Participants discussed each issue in a policy area in turn, with facilitators probing on whether they thought the issues were likely to occur and how they felt about them. After every issue in a theme had been discussed, participants were asked to select the one or two issues they thought should be priorities for the UK government.
Each workshop was split into two subgroups, and each subgroup looked at between four and six themes. This means not every participant saw every one of the 30 themes, but in each workshop, every theme was somewhere discussed and plenary sessions allowed the subgroups to look at and comment on each other’s choices. 
Key Messages from the Public
The participants at the workshops were clear that being involved in policy-making, at least in some areas, was very important to them. Key to their willingness to engage and give their views was the assurance that their views would be listened to, and that these views would be given realistic weight in the decision-making process.
There was a high degree of agreement among participants about the issues that were both most important for the UK Government and were priorities for public involvement, this included feeding a larger and more wealthy global population; the rising cost of high quality health and medical care; involving the public in decisions making; keeping the lights on whilst reducing carbon emissions. The case study illustrates the distribution of different priorities of the public and government, with a grid (see ).
Overall, participants prioritised issues that:
- Were urgent
- Could be seen to have specific outcomes for people
- Were multi-faceted, so could tackle several problems at once
- Were the Government’s job – rather than being issues of personal responsibility
- Had a moral or ethical dimension, such as fairness
There were also particular types of issue and policy area that were felt to be very suitable for public involvement, namely where there is a need for:
- Informing: The public needs to understand the policy and to buy-in to make it work. Policy makers need to understand behaviour to best design policy
- Deliberating: Where the timeframe, intensity and location of impacts are uncertain and decisions must be made about investment
- Counteracting other vested interests: For instance, where the public interest might conflict with the needs of business
- Accessing a range of views: For example, on controversial and emotive issues where different publics have different views
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The case study stated that it is too early to assess the long-term policy impacts of the horizon scanning public dialogue. However, in the short term, the output from the dialogue has helped Sciencewise and BIS to develop a list of:
- Policy issues likely to face the UK Government in the next five to ten years
- Scientific and technological developments likely to intersect with those issues
- Public questions and concerns that might be raised on the basis of those intersections
The output and list will inform strategic priorities for the Sciencewise programme and will enable it to initiate informed discussions across Government departments on those emerging policy areas identified as priorities by the public.
The findings were also shared with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) in October 2013.
The independent evaluation  concluded that this dialogue:
- Generated important new learning about public attitudes to public dialogue and ideas for coordinating future dialogue exercises
- Generated new evidence furthering the claims of public dialogue as an important, if not essential, aspect of science governance
- Set a precedent for public dialogue within policy horizon-scanning and established a need for more frequent horizon-scanning activity more generally
Analysis and Lessons Learned
What worked especially well
Unlike some other public dialogues, which take one issue and go into depth, this dialogue covered a plurality of topics, and looked at the surface of the issues to identify which would bear future public involvement. This meant that, every few minutes, participants were presented with a new set of ideas and dilemmas. This new information had to be quickly absorbed, and participants tried to link it up to their existing assumptions and knowledge. Three important learnings emerged from this:
- What the public might say when presented with similar information. Participants quickly revealed ‘sticking points’, myths, misconceptions, or ‘cultural baggage’ which tended to come up immediately when an issue was introduced. When government or others need to communicate on these emergent issues, they can learn something of the expected start points of the public from the responses of participants in this dialogue.
- The role of images and particular words is very important. Participants focused on pictures to give them a strong emotional steer as to what the idea was all about.
- Going through a lot of different areas meant that participants made bridges between the areas themselves. Participants started to learn about the process of decision-making around uncertain issues. This enriched their ability to reflect on the role for public involvement in different decisions.
This particular dialogue structure with a quick-fire look at a lot of different issues can provide a good way to gather spontaneous views on a wide range of subjects and to engage participants in thinking about the process of dialogue itself.
The dialogue also provided a good example of the use of reconvened meetings, not so much as the second instalment of a dialogue exercise, but as an opportunity for public participants to engage in critical reflection and deeper engagement in framing the results of earlier discussions. 
 Sciencewise (2015) “Case Study: Dialogue on outputs from a workshop on Science, Policy Making and Public Dialogue, New and emerging issues in the UK”, Sciencewise, February 2015
 Sciencewise (2017) “Dialogue on outputs from a workshop on Science, Policy Making and Public Dialogue, New and emerging issues in the UK” [ONLINE] Available at: https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20170110114903...
 Ipsos More (2013) “Hearing and Being Heard: The public’s views on their future involvement in policy making related to emergent science and technology”, Ipsos MORI, 2 August 2013
 Watermeyer, R and Rowe, G (2014) “Evaluation of Public Input to the Sciencewise horizon-scanning workshop project”, Cardiff University, March 2014