General Issues
Science & Technology
United Kingdom
Scope of Influence
Parent of this Case
Start Date
End Date
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time
Total Number of Participants
Formal Evaluation


'Risky Business' Youth Engagement on Climate Change

First Submitted By MartinKing

Most Recent Changes By Scott Fletcher, Participedia Team

Risky Business combines science and citizenship education with politics. It employs live theatre performances to inform young people aged 14-19 about climate change and to enable them to participate in meaningful dialogue about the policy options for addressing it.

Problems and Purpose

The main objectives of the project were to: 

  • Increase awareness in students aged fourteen and over of issues of risk and uncertainty related to climate change
  • Increase students’ ability to participate meaningfully in discussions about risk and uncertainty related to climate change
  • Appreciate how scientific evidence is used to inform policy decisions
  • Enable students to contribute to policy debate by presenting insightful argument on emerging understanding of climate change
  • Encourage innovative teaching practice [1]

Background History and Context

Know what events lead up to this initiative? Help us complete this section!

Organizing, Supporting and Funding Entities

Total cost: £128 000 (Sciencewise contribution £63 000) [2]

Risky Business was jointly funded by the DTI’s Sciencewise programme and NESTA (the National Endowments for Science, Technology and the Arts), with additional support from the Institute of Physics, with the aim of promoting public involvement in, and dialogue regarding, science policy issues. [3]

The project was delivered by the following organisations 

  • Sheffield Hallam University Centre for Science Education CSE
  • Isinglass Consultancy Ltd 
  • Y Touring Theatre Company  
  • Thin Air Productions Ltd
  • ThinkLab
  • People, Science and Policy Ltd [4]
  • Sciencewise-ERC

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

Total participants: 3,500

Ten schools from England and Scotland were selected to take part in the student evaluation. Baseline questionnaires were completed before the project commenced; follow up questionnaires were completed after the end of the final lesson 

Methods and Tools Used

The key elements of Risky Business were: 

1. A newly commissioned touring theatre production for 40+ performances in schools and science centres in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland;

2. A post-production workshop during which actors, in character, were interrogated by the audience, and where the audience were able to express their individual views, using electronic voting technology; 

3. Pre-theatre school-based educational stimulus material, used by teachers in preparation for the theatre visit, with a dual function of collecting attitudinal data both for the project and evaluation, and exploring questions about uncertainty and risk in decision-making; 

4. A post-theatre performance educational activity in which students were presented with policy options derived from manifestos of the main political parties, and through which they were able to discuss and then submit their views on policy options to combat climate change;

5. A post hoc questionnaire to explore attitudinal change following the interventions of the project; 

6. An opportunity to present approach and findings to key policymakers. [1]

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

The project centred around a play called ‘The Silencer’ which was performed by the Y Touring Theatre Company in 53 different schools for students aged 14-19. The project began in January 2006 with the identification of a writer and the recruitment of performers and some students to help the creative process. Publicity and marketing materials were developed and in March 2006, a creative workshop was held at which the writer and project team interviewed scientists, Government advisers and interest groups to further develop the play’s scientific themes. 

To maximise the experience, students took part in a discussion immediately after the play, which involved the actors remaining in character and being asked questions from the audience about the performance and about climate change in general. Students then voted on key questions using electronic voting handsets. Guidance notes and follow up materials designed with the national curriculum were provided for teachers. 

Schools and teachers were recruited to take part in the project and a professional course was developed for teachers to help them facilitate the dialogue with pupils. Rehearsals of ‘The Silencer’ began in February 2007 and school performances took place during March in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. A final special performance was held at Westminster, hosted by Defra. The data gathered was then analysed, a final report written and the project evaluated. [3]

Main Findings 

  • Over 90% of project participants felt that climate change is happening now, with the vast majority of the opinion that human activity is a major contributory cause; 
  • 83% of students felt that we must take action now, to reduce the impact of climate change, even if we don’t know whether what we do will be successful;  
  • Exposure to the programme increased the number of students supporting the use of taxation and legislation to combat climate change, from 62 percent to 72 percent;  
  • The risks of generating electricity by nuclear power were considered worth taking by around half of participants in the project. Exposure to the programme increased support by around 5 percent, mainly from those previously undecided. Just over 21 percent opposed the nuclear option throughout the project.  
  • There is uncertainty amongst young people about the role of science and technology in addressing issues surrounding climate change, though 67 percent believe we should invest more in science and technology to combat it;  
  • 64% of participants felt that it is the joint responsibility of Government and individuals to tackle climate change, as against 12 percent for Government or individuals alone; 
  • 72% feel that the UK should be at the forefront of international climate negotiations; 
  • The main reason that people choose not to change their lifestyle is that others are not changing theirs, according environmental action were considered as more likely than fines to encourage responsible behaviour;  
  • Conviction that “climate change is happening now” rather than “knowledge about what is taking place”, was shown to influence young people’s willingness for action to be taken. Participation in the Risky Business project increased this desire for action. [1]  

Influence Outcomes and Effects

The summary report identifies the following benefits and impacts

On Students

  • Most students clearly felt the performance and workshop were inclusive and engaging, and provided a positive experience of discussing climate change in a meaningful way. 
  • Students’ knowledge of the issues increased noticeably in some areas and the follow-up questionnaire filled in by students showed an increase in levels of concern about climate change and its reality. 
  • Students’ willingness to act on climate change also increased - they seemed happy for the Government to take action but were more wary about the potential impact of climate change on lifestyles. 

On Teachers

  • Many teachers were positive about using theatre and performance to engage young people with science issues and to find out their views on areas that are likely to have a direct impact on their lives. 
  • They valued aspects of the workshop and reported that the electronic voting handsets were particularly popular with students. However, some teachers felt that the play was too long and that having the actors in character during the workshop distracted students from the issues 

On Policy Makers

  • Risky Business has collected thousands of data sets from young people that will provide Government with an extensive analysis of young people’s views on climate change and what they might want to see done about it. 
  • The special performance to staff at Defra was very well received. Policy makers found it provided solid evidence of the issues young people find important, highlighted possible mechanisms for addressing the issues, and demonstrated the differences in response to key questions between young people and adults working in the climate change policy field. [2]

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The case study identifies the following lessons

The long delay before the project was able to start (due to the need to secure matched funding) was considered an inappropriate way to address national policy needs. Learning from this and other projects led to the programme altering its policy from providing funds through an open grants scheme to making resources available to commissioning agents to procure deliverers.

Funding issues also meant that the CPD course to help teachers get the most out of the theatre visit and embed it within the curriculum, turned out to be prohibitively expensive. When planning this type of activity, the costs and how they will be met, need to be considered. 

Once the CPD course had been abandoned, resources were put into providing high quality learning and guidance materials for teachers. This was a good use of the budget and would be recommended in similar circumstances.

What would be done differently

  • The project suffered through lack of an oversight panel or advisory group to help inform key decisions  
  • The project needed to be promoted more vigorously to teachers and policy makers  
  • Not enough time was available to develop and test multiple ideas  
  • The limited time for research and concept development, resulted in a play that was felt to be too long by some teachers  
  • The workshop could have focused more on factual information - having the actors in character distracted students from the issues. [3]  

See Also 



[1] CSE (2008) “Reduce, Recycle, Re-think: Young People’s Views on Climate Change- Risky Business Final Report” Centre for Science and Education, Sheffield Hallam University

[2] Sciencewise-ERC (2008) “Risky Business- Summary Report”, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

[3] Sciencewise-ERC (2008) “Risky Business- Case Study” Sciencewise ERC, 2008

[4] Sciencewise (2017) “Risky Business” [ONLINE] Available at:

External Links