Data

General Issues
Science & Technology
Specific Topics
Regulation
Collections
Sciencewise
Location
United Kingdom
Scope of Influence
National
Parent of this Case
Sciencewise
Files
Shared Practice - Evaluation of Sciencehorizons
Dialogue By Design - Sciencehorizons' Facilitated Public Events: Report
Evaluation of Sciencehorizons Final report (2008)
Dialogue by Design - sciencehorizons Strands 1-3: Summary Report
Dialogue by Design - sciencehorizons Small group discussions: Report
Dialogue by Design - sciencehorizons Deliberative Panel: Report
Sciencewise case study: Sciencehorizons
Links
Sciencehorizons archived page
Start Date
End Date
Ongoing
No
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time
Purpose/Goal
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
Approach
Consultation
Spectrum of Public Participation
Consult
Open to All or Limited to Some?
mixed
General Types of Methods
Deliberative and dialogic process
Participant-led meetings
General Types of Tools/Techniques
Facilitate dialogue, discussion, and/or deliberation
Inform, educate and/or raise awareness
Specific Methods, Tools & Techniques
Q&A Session
Legality
Yes
Facilitators
Yes
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Both
Types of Interaction Among Participants
Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
Ask & Answer Questions
Information & Learning Resources
Expert Presentations
Decision Methods
Opinion Survey
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
Public Report
Type of Organizer/Manager
National Government
Type of Funder
National Government
Evidence of Impact
Yes
Types of Change
Changes in people’s knowledge, attitudes, and behavior
Changes in how institutions operate
Implementers of Change
Appointed Public Servants
Formal Evaluation
Yes
Evaluation Report Documents
Evaluation of Sciencehorizons Final report (2008)

CASE

Sciencehorizons

General Issues
Science & Technology
Specific Topics
Regulation
Collections
Sciencewise
Location
United Kingdom
Scope of Influence
National
Parent of this Case
Sciencewise
Files
Shared Practice - Evaluation of Sciencehorizons
Dialogue By Design - Sciencehorizons' Facilitated Public Events: Report
Evaluation of Sciencehorizons Final report (2008)
Dialogue by Design - sciencehorizons Strands 1-3: Summary Report
Dialogue by Design - sciencehorizons Small group discussions: Report
Dialogue by Design - sciencehorizons Deliberative Panel: Report
Sciencewise case study: Sciencehorizons
Links
Sciencehorizons archived page
Start Date
End Date
Ongoing
No
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time
Purpose/Goal
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
Approach
Consultation
Spectrum of Public Participation
Consult
Open to All or Limited to Some?
mixed
General Types of Methods
Deliberative and dialogic process
Participant-led meetings
General Types of Tools/Techniques
Facilitate dialogue, discussion, and/or deliberation
Inform, educate and/or raise awareness
Specific Methods, Tools & Techniques
Q&A Session
Legality
Yes
Facilitators
Yes
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Both
Types of Interaction Among Participants
Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
Ask & Answer Questions
Information & Learning Resources
Expert Presentations
Decision Methods
Opinion Survey
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
Public Report
Type of Organizer/Manager
National Government
Type of Funder
National Government
Evidence of Impact
Yes
Types of Change
Changes in people’s knowledge, attitudes, and behavior
Changes in how institutions operate
Implementers of Change
Appointed Public Servants
Formal Evaluation
Yes
Evaluation Report Documents
Evaluation of Sciencehorizons Final report (2008)

In May 2006, the Sciencewise programme commissioned the Sciencehorizons project to explore the public’s views on the science and technology themes that had emerged from strategic work by the UK Government’s Horizon Scanning Centre.

Problems and Purpose

Sciencehorizons was initiated to explore the public’s views on the science and technology themes that had emerged from previous work by the UK Government’s Horizon Scanning Centre. Sciencehorizon's primary objectives were to: 

  • Discover and assess views towards the issues raised by possible future directions of science and technological research from a broad set of public participants  
  • Inform policy and decision-making on the direction of research and the regulation of science and technology  
  • Help identify priorities for further public engagement on areas of science and technology  

There were also secondary objectives for the project, which related to the overall objectives of the Sciencewise-ERC programme. These were to:

  • Widen public awareness of the role of science and technology in shaping the future of the UK 
  • Improve public confidence in the Government’s approach to considering the wider implications of science and technology 
  • Increase understanding of the value of public dialogue in shaping policy and decision-making in science and other policy areas 
  • Improve understanding of how to engage large numbers of people in discussions and dialogue on science and technology-related issues, particularly issues arising from new and emerging areas of science and technology 
  • Strengthen coherence and collaboration among science engagement practitioners. [1]

Background History and Context

In 2006, a project was commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to explore public views on possible future directions for science and technology, and to identify priorities for future public engagement on areas of science and technology. 

The project considered topics emerging from two ‘horizon scans’ of future directions of science and technology published in 2006 by the Government’s Foresight Programme’s Horizon Scanning Centre (HSC). It offered a public- facing engagement process to add to the continuing work of the HSC’s Wider Implications of Science and Technology (WIST) programme, which provides for expert and stakeholder appraisal. 

The HSC scans identified issues that could contribute to the delivery of public services, challenge society, and/or affect wealth creation, the nation’s security and vital interests over the period to around 2015-2020. This timescale and set of issues formed the context for the Sciencehorizons project. 

The Sciencehorizons project was a highly innovative public-facing programme of activities designed to complement and strengthen the findings from the ongoing stakeholder consultation through the WIST programme carried out by the Government Office for Science’s HSC. The aim of Sciencehorizons was to explore public views on future applications of science and technology that emerged from two Horizon Scans – Delta and Sigma- in which scientists and other experts identified new thinking about future science and technology. 

Sciencehorizons provided the opportunity for citizens to respond to possible future scenarios, and share their hopes and fears about specific technologies and general trends. 

The project’s overarching aim was to develop a range of public engagement activities, including an informed, deliberative dialogue process, bringing together citizens, scientists, policy makers and other stakeholders, in a working partnership with the broader science engagement community. [1]

Organizing, Supporting and Funding Entities

Total cost of project: £306 000 (all funded by Sciencewise)

The project was commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Sciencewise-ERC. Following an open call, Dialogue by Design were commissioned to deliver the project, Shared Practice were commissioned as independent evaluators.

Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS)  

The commissioning agent is the Horizon Scanning Centre of the Government Office for Science as part of its programme on Wider Implications of Science and Technology (WIST)

Dialogue by Design

The lead dialogue contractor, Dialogue by Design specialises in running public and stakeholder engagement processes using online, paper-based and face-to-face methods.

Graphic Science

The dialogue contractor, the Science Communication Unit (formerly the Graphic Science Unit) of the University of the West of England is internationally renowned for its diverse and innovative activities, designed to engage the public with science.

BBC Worldwide Interactive Learning

Website partner. BBC Worldwide Interactive Learning provides multimedia blended and e-learning solutions to institutional, government and commercial organisations around the world.

Shared Practice 

Evaluation contractor. Shared Practice is an interdisciplinary practice, with expertise including public participation and community engagement, design practice and education, research and evaluation, social anthropology and music. [2]

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

Strand 1: The deliberative panel

31 participants were recruited to join the Panel: 31 attended the first day and 27 of the original group attended the second day.  

A diverse mix of individuals was recruited to ensure good coverage of both men and women (13 men and 18 women took part), different ages (from 16 to over 70), a range of socio-economic backgrounds, black and minority ethnic backgrounds (24 participants classed themselves as White, six Black, and one Asian), disabilities (five participants said they had a disability), and urban and rural locations (all from the Bristol area: two from the village of Chipping Sodbury, 13 from the town of Yate, and 16 from various parts of Bristol city. The sampling and recruitment was thorough and the group that attended did provide a good diverse mix of the general public. [3] 

Strand 2: Facilitated public events 

36 Strand 2 events were held across the UK, reaching an estimated 842 participants. 97 responses were made to the Sciencehorizons project nationally (some were made by Strand 2 organisers and some by individual participants in Strand 2 events). The events were run by 18 different organisations: some ran only one event; others ran up to four events. [3]

Evaluation questionnaires were sent to all organisers, asking them to specify how many people attended their event, what sort of people attended and how many scientists attended. Not all respondents provided this information and the only data provided in sufficient detail for analysis was on age, as below: 

  • 6 groups were mainly school students  
  • 12 groups were adults  
  • 4 respondents mentioned that the participants were aged over 50.  

Strand 3: Self-Managed Small Group Events

Overall, 392 separate responses to the Sciencehorizons questions were received from 78 separate groups. 253 responses were made on paper forms and 139 responses were made online. Analysis of these responses by the Sciencehorizons team suggests that an estimated 2,400 people participated in this strand. 

The evaluation questionnaires asked organisers to specify how many people attended the event they organised, what sort of people attended and how many of those taking part had a science or technology background. This information was not complete on some questionnaires, but the findings do give an indication of the variety of the size and nature of the groups taking part. 

In terms of the size of the groups meeting for discussions, Strand 3 events were generally smaller than Strand 2 events, with more involving groups of under 10 people than over 10, and only 2 involving more than 30. There were: 

  • 5 events of up to 5 participants  
  • 11 events of 6 - 10 participants  
  • 7 events of 11 - 20 participants  
  • 6 events of 21 - 30 participants  
  • 2 events of over 30 participants.  

There is questionnaire data on the types of people in the Strand 3 group discussions, and on the types of groups (see the evaluation report Annex 3). However, this data covers less than half the groups taking part in strand 3 activities and so cannot be relied up for an accurate overall picture.

Methods and Tools Used

Sciencehorizons used three strands of engagement, which reached a total of about 3,300 public participants. Each strand involved scientists and other experts, and used the same information materials (an information pack and DVD) covering four themes: mind and bodies, homes and communities, work and leisure, and people and the planet. The materials described 16 scenarios showing potential future uses of science and technology. The three strands of engagement were:

Strand 1: deliberative panel 

A narrow, but deep, public dialogue with 31 specifically recruited individuals with no previous interest in science and technology. The panel met twice in Bristol for a full day each time and the discussions were facilitated, recorded and reported by the core project team.

Strand 2: facilitated public events 

Shorter, two-hour sessions in science centres and community spaces throughout the UK. 18 organisations ran 36 events involving around 842 people. These wider and less deep events were designed and delivered by organisers including science communicators. This Strand reached the ‘interested public’ who already had links with science and technology. 

Strand 3: self-managed, small group discussions 

These were run by community bodies throughout the UK, including schools, Women’s Institutes, and environmental and faith groups. This was the widest engagement, comprising 78 group events involving around 2,400 individuals. Strand 3 reached the ‘active public’ who were already linked together, mostly through being in existing local and school groups. These individuals generally had no particular prior interest in science and technology. 

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

Strand 1: The Deliberative Panel

The process for the first day: Saturday 14 April 2007. Before the first set of discussions began, there were warm-up plenary sessions to introduce the Sciencehorizons project and the format for the day; to allow people to introduce themselves; and to invite reflection on how far people had noticed science and technology issues arising in news broadcasts and other media in the previous week.  

The Panel was divided into four equal-sized mixed groups to discuss the Sciencehorizons stories and issues arising from each theme (based on the generic information pack). These groups held 30 - 40 minute discussions, led by a facilitator, in a ‘carousel’ process, so that each group could cover each of the four themes. 

After lunch, four new sub-groups were assembled to discuss one theme each in greater depth. Each group then identified what they felt to be the particularly important issues. Plenary discussions then reflected on the materials and on the views expressed the earlier carousel. Finally, there was a brief plenary review of the day. 

The organisers took the list of issues, questions and suggestions from this final plenary and invited four experts to come to the next meeting and discuss particular topics with the Panel (as above). 

The process for the second day: Saturday 12 May 12 2007. The aims of the second day, which took place one month after the first, were: 

  1. To see what effect more reflection and information (from expert witnesses) would have on people’s views about science and technology; and  
  2. To see whether there were issues that cut across different areas of science and technology for the participants.

The event began with welcoming the group and reminding them of the aims of the Sciencehorizons project and the four themes discussed last time; discussion was invited about issues that had stuck in participants' minds from the last meeting. Expert speakers addressed the group as a whole on the four issues that had been considered especially problematic and interesting at the first meeting and on which participants wanted expert input.

The speakers were:  

  • Steve Crane of Hewlett-Packard on cyber-security  
  • Simon Roberts of the Centre for Sustainable Energy on climate change and carbon credits  
  • Hilary Newiss of the Human Genetics Commission on genetic testing and information, and  
  • Alan Winfield of the University of the West of England on robotics.  

After each presentation and plenary question-and-answer session, participants split into small groups to discuss the in-depth information provided. The questions they addressed were: 

  • Having heard the speaker, how do you now feel about the technologies discussed?  
  • What concerns you?  
  • What do you feel positive about?  
  • On balance, would you support the government putting public money into developing and using this technology?  

In the afternoon, plenary discussion resumed, focusing on how far people’s minds had been changed, how and why; on the question of trust in government and other authorities on science and technology; and on what people now found most worrying and most exciting. The event concluded with a debriefing session. 

Strand 2: Facilitated group events

Strand 2 of the Sciencehorizons project consisted of facilitated events, usually open to the public, that were held at science centres, museums, Café Scientifiques and other community spaces. Organisations were invited to run group discussion events using the Sciencehorizons pack, and were offered advice and support to enable this.  

BA working lunches

To promote and increase understanding of the Sciencehorizons project, the project team worked with the BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) to run four working lunch sessions to enable individuals and organisations who were interested in the project to find out more and discuss how they could go about running a Sciencehorizons event. 59 people attended the four lunches, representing 49 different organisations.  

Starting from the informal launch of the Sciencehorizons project at the BA Festival of Science in Norwich in September 2006, the Sciencehorizons project team continued to build relationships with many science and other organisations to develop and support interest in those organisations for running Strand 2 events using Sciencehorizons materials. The team contacted all science centres, science communication and engagement organisations and science festivals individually to inform them of the project and offer the materials. Contact was also developed individually with some universities. A set of briefing notes for facilitators of events was made available at the Working Lunches and on the Sciencehorizons website which included advice on: 

  • how to use the Sciencehorizons pack  
  • organising an event, venue, layout etc  
  • the role of scientists / experts  
  • marketing the event  
  • facilitation and suggested timetable for an event  
  • applying to the enabling fund  

Strand 3: Self-Managed Groups

The Sciencehorizons project team wrote to 7,808 individuals and organisations such as community groups, environment groups, health groups, adult learning groups, discussion / debating societies, libraries and faith groups. Groups were invited to request Sciencehorizons packs and run their own small discussions using the materials provided. Information about the project was also posted on online discussion lists / boards, blogs etc. 

In order to encourage schools to participate, a set of teachers’ notes was produced and a letter was sent to every secondary school in the UK, announcing the project and the availability of free information materials. 

747 requests for packs were received, and over 4,000 packs were distributed in total. 1,320 copies of the teachers’ notes were distributed. [3]

Key messages from the public 

Broadly, people were likely to be positive, with important qualifications, about developments in science and technology that seemed to promise gains in choice, quality of life, longevity, convenience, time-saving and environmental impact.

However, potential impacts on social equity, freedom, privacy, and human autonomy and skills were regarded with considerable suspicion or hostility. Trust in expert authorities in the abstract tended to be low, sometimes surprisingly so. There was pervasive anxiety about the potential abuse of technologies 

The Deliberative Panel process was very well received by the participants: people liked the engagement they had with issues and the expert speakers. There was a widespread view that the deliberative process ought to be used more and that this would be healthy for public life and policy development. However, people needed reassurance that their views really would be taken seriously and would inform policy discussions 

Exposure to approachable and articulate expert witnesses in person in the Deliberative Panel process tended to reduce initial fears, negative preconceptions and anxieties about new technologies. [1]

Influence Outcomes and Effects

Policy influence 

  • The project contributed to the development of an evidence base that fed into the new Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre in 2008, providing a set of priority topics for future public dialogue projects.  
  • The project, together with the findings from the WIST programme, provided the necessary information to support a workshop of 50 Government policy makers from 25 different departments to come together and agree priorities for future public engagement on science and technology.  

Policy makers felt the process had also helped to: 

  • Start public dialogue on what may be controversial future decisions at a very early stage  
  • Fill a gap in the WIST exercise by bringing in ‘public’ views, thus strengthening the WIST process in identifying the key safety, health, environmental, ethical, regulatory and social (SHEERS) issues relating to emerging developments in science and technology  
  • Challenge expert assumptions about what public views might be  
  • Demonstrate Government’s willingness to engage with the public on these issues. [1] 

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Summary of good practice and innovation

During the project, significant effort went into outreach and publicity. There were four working lunches organised in partnership with the British Science Association that were very effective in promoting the project. Results showed that around 40% of the organisations that ran Strand 2 activities had attended the lunches.

A discussion paper was published for the launch of the project (with the Science Minister) at the Royal College of Art in January 2007. The paper provided background to some of the contentious issues and policy implications of the project. It also provided a valuable back-up to the media campaign that was designed to gain interest and encourage involvement. 

Advice was provided on the website to support Strands 2 and 3 groups, such as how to organise an event, facilitation and suggested timetables. This enabled those not experienced in interactive public engagement to develop their skills and experiment with new techniques.

Separate reports were produced on the conclusions for each strand, so similarities and differences could be identified.

A common, national framework was created to enable the public to engage with the project in a variety of ways. This allowed for a broad range of views to be included and a common ‘sense of purpose’ in participating in national policy issues. 

After the conclusion of the project, a workshop was held to present findings from the project to Government policy makers. The workshop attracted around 50 central Government policy makers from 25 different departments. This resulted in an agreed set of priority issues for future public engagement. [1]

Lessons for future practice

Different approaches to public engagement may generate similar information on hopes and fears towards innovation. However, only Strand 1 (deliberative dialogue) provided insights into the deeper values underpinning public views and priorities. 

Different approaches may be more effective for different types of objective and content: Strand 1 worked well in addressing contentious issues with scientific uncertainly. Strands 2 and 3 worked well to generate wider public awareness and interest. 

Diversity of participants is important where the aim of the project is public engagement, but fuller demographic representation of the UK population may be more important if the project has specific research and/or policy aims. If participants are not recruited for demographic representation, sufficient statistics need to be gathered about the participants to demonstrate diversity and broad representation that will help to validate the results of the engagement process in terms of research sample. 

The six months available between the launch and the deadline for sending in feedback to the project was felt, by some organisers in Strands 2 and 3, to be too short to find out about the project, plan and publicise events, recruit participants, deliver events and return feedback to the project. There was a sense that momentum was just starting to really build up as the project closed. 

Most of the participants were satisfied with the information pack provided, but the materials did not work equally well for all. Some participants found the information to be good and prompted discussion, but others found it too simplistic.

Feedback from Strand 2 organisers suggests it can be difficult to attract the public (without financial incentives) on science and technology issues that are so far upstream that it is not clear where controversy may exist and there are no policy developments currently planned. 

Topicality and being able to potentially influence policy were seen as likely to help achieve good attendance at events. Direct links to national policy development are important to participants.

Ideally, all public dialogue projects should include planning for feedback to participants about the impact of their input on policy as well as continuity of contact after the end of the project. [1]

See Also

Sciencewise

References

[1] Sciencewise (2008) “Case Study: Sciencewise” 

[2] Sciencewise (2017) Sciencehorizons [ONLINE] Available at: https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20170110132708/http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/sciencehorizons/

[3] Warburton, D (2008) “Evaluation of Sciencehorizons”, Shared Practice, December 2008

External Links

https://sciencewise.org.uk/ 

Notes