A public dialogue was undertaken to democratically engage stakeholders in the UK on the question of maintaining leap seconds to synchronise clock and solar time.
Problems and Purpose
The specification for Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the timescale used throughout the world, must be agreed internationally. Responsibility for this resides with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
In 2015, member countries of the ITU were to decide whether to maintain leap seconds, the mechanism by which clock time (based on UTC) is kept synchronised with solar time (time-determined by the rotation of the Earth and the apparent movement of the Sun through the sky).
In recognition of the potential cultural and technical impacts of this decision, the National Measurement Office (NMO – now the National Measurement and Regulation Office) commissioned a public dialogue to gather evidence to support or reject the assumption that the public felt strongly that clock time should be linked to solar time.
The dialogue was designed to inform the UK’s view about whether leap seconds should be maintained or discontinued. There was also an interest that other countries had a chance to learn from discussions with the UK public and undertake similar exercises in their own countries to test their own assumptions. 
The main objectives of the dialogue were to:
- Discover the diversity of opinion, and strength of opinion, of the linkage between time and the motion of the Earth through consultation with the general public, religious, and scientific communities
- Share with different stakeholders the impacts of: maintaining the link between earth rotation and atomic time (keeping leap seconds) and of; dropping leap seconds as being proposed. 
Background History and Context
The timescale most commonly used for all precise timekeeping in the UK and internationally is UTC. It is maintained by highly accurate atomic clocks around the world and is the basis for civil timekeeping in the UK. Historically, time has been determined by the earth’s rotation and the sun’s location in the sky. However, earth’s rotation is irregular and slowing over the long term. This means that any timescale determined by accurate measuring devices such as atomic clocks (e.g. UTC) are slowly falling out of synchronisation with solar time.
To keep UTC and solar time synchronised, ‘leap seconds’ are periodically added to UTC to adjust for the irregularity in the earth’s rotation. This ensures that the difference between UTC and solar time is no more than 0.9 seconds, and that the historical correspondence between the time on our clocks and the position of the Sun in the sky is maintained.
The periodic insertion of leap seconds can cause problems to systems such as computers and communications networks, so there have been proposals to cease their use. Ceasing use of leap seconds would result in a gradual separation between solar time and UTC. The 2012 ITU Radiocommunication Assembly (ITU-RA) considered a proposal to end the intermittent insertion of leap seconds in UTC. International views were strongly divided and a large number of countries had not considered the issue. Therefore, to allow further studies to be carried out, the ITU-RA members postponed making any decision until the WRC in 2015.
The Leap Seconds Public Dialogue was launched to inform the UK’s position leading up to WRC in 2015. 
Organizing, Supporting and Funding Entities
Cost of project: £175 000 (Sciencewise contribution: £85 500)
The dialogue was funded by the National Measurement Office (NMO) and Sciencewise with a budget of £175,000 including £15,000 of in-kind contributions. The programme was guided by an Oversight Group of eight members Chaired by the NMO. OPM were contracted to deliver the dialogue project. Hopkins van Mill were the evaluators of the project
The leap seconds dialogue was managed by NMO in close collaboration with The OPM Group with support and advice from Sciencewise. Governance of the project was in the hands of an Oversight Group comprising 8 members and chaired by NMO. The OG met 5 times throughout the process and was convened by NMO’s Project Manager. The group provided input on the context of the leap seconds debate, routes of further research, the overall approach to the dialogue, the stakeholder and public recruitment approach, draft workshop designs and stimulus materials. The findings of the dialogue were discussed at the final OG meeting and feedback on the draft Dialogue report was provided via email. OG members had not committed to attending all OG meetings, which meant that only 3 to 4 members consistently took part in all the discussions. 
National Measurement Office (NMO)
NMO is responsible for managing and developing the National Measurement System (NMS) which is a network of laboratories and processes that provide measurement standards and calibration testing facilities.
OPM is an independent centre for the development of public services and provides consultancy, research and leadership development. OPM is the dialogue contractor for the project.
Hopkins Van Mil
Hopkins Van Mil facilitate engagement to gain insight and offer solutions for participation; public dialogue and community engagement, and is the evaluator for the dialogue. 
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
Public participants: 111 involved in public workshops, 1000 unique website visits
Total stakeholders involved: 21
Total experts involved: 12
A recruitment fieldwork agency was used to deliver against the recruitment specification. The total number of participants was 111 with 28 attending in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff and 27 in Tamworth. The targets set for the number of participants in each location were therefore met in each area. Criteria were set for age, gender, demographic classification and level of scientific knowledge. The specification specifically excluded recruitment from lists and those who had taken part in public consultation or market research within the last year. Importantly the participants needed to come from the local area and to be able to commit to attending both rounds of the dialogue. In three of the four locations (Tamworth, Cardiff and Edinburgh) the following targets were set for religion: At least 7 of participants reporting no religion; remainder must include at least 6 Christian and 8 from a mix of Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Sikh, Jewish. Targets for reported religion as Christian were met in each location while targets for no religion were met in Edinburgh and Tamworth, but only 4 participants reporting they had no religion in Cardiff. Other religions were represented to a limited extent in other regions, and least of all in Edinburgh.
Methods and Tools Used
The project included the following elements:
- Establish an oversight group to guide the project design, delivery and evaluation
- Carry out desk research and interviews to identify stakeholders
- Scope stimulus materials for workshops and content for the website
- Conduct a national stakeholder workshop
- Carry out an online survey and discussion forum
- Facilitate two rounds of public workshops in four different locations
- Arrange two pop-up dialogues
- Carry out reporting and evaluation
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The national stakeholder workshop was held on 30 April 2014 in London and attended by 26 stakeholders including representatives from navigation, astronomy, meteorology, IT and communications, religion, engineering and time measurement sectors. The purpose of the workshop was to explore the most important issues regarding the use of leap seconds, how they might be tackled, and how to share an understanding of those issues with members of the public. This workshop informed and contributed to the development of the public workshops that were then undertaken. The stakeholders developed a list of issues around leap seconds and weighted that list by significance. Participants to the stakeholder workshop were recruited using the networks of NMO, OG members and substantial additional research by the OPM Group.
The public workshops were held in four different locations across the UK (Edinburgh, Belfast, Tamworth and Cardiff). In each location, there was one half day workshop, followed by a reconvened full day workshop (Edinburgh and Belfast round 1 on 14 June and round 2 on 28 June; Cardiff and Tamworth round 1 on 21 June and round 2 on 5 July). The same participants attended both workshops in each location. The total number of participants was 111 with 28 attending in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff and 27 in Tamworth. Experts were present at 6 of the 8 workshops to discuss topics with participants and answer their questions. The public participants were recruited by a professional recruitment company, who were provided with a detailed recruitment specification by the OPM Group.
The leap seconds website was launched after the stakeholder workshop to complement the public workshops through online engagement with a wider section of the public. Close collaboration between OPM, NMO, Sciencewise and the Oversight Group led to an accessible online record of the UK dialogue process. The website includes a discussion forum, background information, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), a glossary and other relevant resources to which the dialogue materials were added throughout the project duration. Just under 200 users completed a survey which was a mechanism for the general public to share their views on the issue. Around 1,000 unique users mainly from the UK and USA browsed the web pages with clear spikes in usage after the website went live and after the public workshops. The number of contributions to the discussion board was negligible. The website was linked to @LeapSecondsUK twitter account which had 59 followers. The OPM Group used Google Analytics to analyse website usage and a coding frame in Excel for analysis of qualitative comments.
Two pop-up events were held in London, one in Kingston town centre where OPM engaged a small number of people in the high street and one at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich against the backdrop of the exhibition ‘Ships, clocks, start: the quest for longitude’. The purpose of the pop up dialogues was to test how re-framing the dialogue questions with a focus on technical rather than cultural implications impacted on the initial responses of members of the public. The pop up events led to 21 conversations with members of the public in Greenwich and 12 in Kingston. 
The national summit was not held due to the limited number of stakeholders involved in the dialogue process and diminished project resources as a result of the addition of the digital engagement element after the dialogue contractor had been commissioned. 
Summary of Key Findings
The majority of participants believed it was important to maintain leap seconds.
Participants at the public dialogue workshops expressed a clear preference for maintaining the link between clock time and solar time. Many participants were skeptical of the argument that programmers would not be able to deal with the impacts that leap seconds have on technological systems. Participants also discussed potential impacts on air traffic control, the financial industries, navigation and astronomy, often suggesting that the impacts were too contested for them to be able to come to a firm view
The participants involved in the pop-up dialogues were more indifferent to the issue than those involved in other aspects of this dialogue project. In common with findings from other areas of the dialogue project, key concerns of those who had an opinion were around maintaining links with natural cycles unless it was essential to change.
Nearly 200 individuals responded to the dialogue project’s online survey. Around 90% felt they knew a lot or a bit about leap seconds, 61% were strongly in favour of continuing to use leap seconds to keep clocks in time with the sun and 68% suggested they would have some concerns or feel angry if leap seconds were discontinued. In total, 11% of respondents were strongly or somewhat against continuing to use leap seconds and almost 20% said they would have had no strong reaction if leap seconds were discontinued. 
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The dialogue process was designed to gather evidence to inform the UK Government’s thinking about its position at the 2015 International Telecommunication Union (ITU) conference.
The dialogue successfully informed the UK’s policy position on this issue. The dialogue was encouraged by the then Minister, the Rt Hon David Willetts MP. The results were used as evidence to inform his successors, the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP and the Rt Hon Jo Johnson MP. The findings of the dialogue were published with the statement that the dialogue ‘has helped inform policy on this issue. All four strands of the public dialogue indicated that the public has a strong preference for continuing to use leap seconds to maintain the link between time and the sun.’
The dialogue findings were discussed at NMO’s meetings with Ofcom (which led the UK delegation at the World Radio Conference (WRC) in November 2015).
At these meetings the main findings of the dialogue report were explained and UK delegates were encouraged to discuss the dialogue findings at international meetings with representatives of other countries.
In addition, Robert Gunn, Director of Programmes and Estates at NMO, attended a Conference Preparatory Group (CPG) meeting of the Electronic Communications Committee (ECC) in Malta in January 2015. The ECC’s CPG was responsible for developing briefs, studies and European Common Proposals for the WRC. Robert Gunn informed the representatives of other countries about the findings of the dialogue, encouraged them to undertake similar work and pointed them to the website if they wanted to find out more.
In November 2015, at the WRC, the ITU decided that ‘further studies are required on the impact and application of a future reference timescale’, including suppressing the leap second. A report is to be considered at the next WRC in 2023. Until then, leap seconds will continue to be applied. 
Analysis and Lessons Learned
What Worked Well
Project management, design and delivery
Effective governance and project management ensured the project was delivered on time, to budget and that it met the agreed objectives. Appropriate design and facilitation tools were used to draw out views and challenge participants to work with stakeholders to think through the issues. The mixed methodology of video, role play, quiz, prioritisation exercises and small group discussion were valued as a means to understand the issues. The research for the materials was particularly effective, leading to the creation of a design that took participants on a journey of a discovery. The dialogue remained unbiased with objective facilitation throughout. Participants generally appreciated the discussions for being interesting, respectful and fair.
Very high numbers of public participants agreed or agreed strongly that they had benefited personally from the project – 87% in Edinburgh, 92% in Belfast, 96% in Tamworth and 100% in Cardiff. They valued meeting facilitators, specialists and fellow participants who they enjoyed talking to; they gained an understanding of an issue that was new to them; and had the opportunity to air their views on a complex issue. Nearly three-quarters of stakeholders said they agreed or strongly agreed that they had gained knowledge about the leap seconds policy area. The majority of stakeholders felt that the project demonstrated good value for money.
What Worked Less Well
Involving stakeholders was a challenge for the project. Some stakeholders were not willing to engage with the dialogue as the subject was in negotiation at a global level and others were not aware of the issue at all or did not recognise that they had a stake in it. Timing was also an issue – there was little time between the start of the project and the planned stakeholder workshop. Ideally, stakeholders need to be identified and engaged well in advance of the project start date.
Despite the dialogue contractor’s best efforts to gain specialist involvement, there was an insufficient number of stakeholders available to the project. There were also gaps in expertise in specific areas (such as culture, faith, IT and defence). However, work was done to ll these gaps by means of video and written communications from those with a different view from the existing UK position. As a result, the dialogue was still an effective way of testing public views. The mixed methodology dialogue, the extensive research into the issue to cover all aspects of the debate, the use of online as well as physical engagement, the production of clear stimulus materials and the very effective briefing of the facilitation teams meant that the credibility of the findings was not compromised by limited stakeholder engagement.
The overall governance of the project was fairly effective although the Oversight Group would have benefited from the creation of a tailored terms of reference document. At some points, the Oversight Group members were not clear of the expertise of others in the room or the commitment they had made in agreeing to take part in the process.
Lack of specialist input to some public workshops
No experts were present at the Edinburgh workshop, partly due to the difficulties in engaging stakeholders. The evaluators found that the more stakeholders and experts that were present at the public dialogue events, the more participants asked questions and the livelier was the discussion. In Tamworth, there was a very full discussion over two sessions, but in Edinburgh, where there were no experts present, it was much harder to engage people. 
 Sciencewise (2016) “Case Study: Leap Seconds”, Sciencewise, March 2016
 Hopkins, H (2015) “Leap Seconds Public Dialogue: Final Evaluation Report”, Hopkins Van Mill: Creating Connections, June 2015
 Sciencewise (2017) “Leap Seconds” [ONLINE] Available at: https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20170110132933/http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/leap-seconds/