The Living with Environmental Change partnership launched a Citizens' Advisory Forum to bring public attitudes and values into its strategic decision making processes. The Forum addressed flooding, climate change adaptation and governance in relation to climate change. .
Problems and Purpose
Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) is a ten-year Partnership, which seeks to link policy with research in the area of environmental change. The Partnership consists of 22 different organisations, eight of which are from policy developing bodies. Their collective aim is to connect world-leading natural, engineering, economic, social, medical, cultural, arts and humanities researchers with policy makers, business, the public and other key stakeholders in the area of environmental change.
In July 2010, the LWEC partnership commissioned OPM to run a Citizens’ Advisory Forum to ensure that the public voice is considered within LWEC’s strategic decision making processes around research into environmental change . The forum was an experiment to pilot an in-depth, while cost effective, approach to public engagement that could feed public attitudes and values into the LWEC strategic decision-making process.
The aim of the Citizens’ Advisory Forum was to bring public attitudes and values into LWEC’s strategic decision-making processes. The Forum was intended to demonstrate not just that the public voice is important and should be heard alongside the voices of other stakeholders, but also how the public voice could be included. The Forum was also designed to provide a space in which members of the public could deliberate on some of the issues that the LWEC Partnership is seeking to address. The forum was sponsored and supported by the Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre, funded by Department for Business, Innovation and Skills - BIS. 
The specific objectives of the Forum were to:
- Inform the strategic developments of the LWEC Partners’ research by helping to identify research priorities and comment on strategic aims for the Partnership
- Identify areas of particular public concern about environmental change, so that the commissioning and communication of research by the LWEC Partnership, and the Partners, can take account of the needs and concerns of society. 
Background History and Context
LWEC consists of 22 different funding partners, eight of which are from policy developing bodies. The partners include the Research Councils, national, devolved and local government bodies and government agencies. Knowledge exchange and public engagement are priorities for LWEC, to ensure that the questions being researched take into account the public's and other users’ views, and research outputs are disseminated to these groups. 
LWEC established a Public Engagement Strategic Advisory Group (PE SAG) to advise on how public engagement should be embedded into its strategic decision-making processes. During 2010, the PE SAG looked at different models for public engagement as a basis for an experiment to pilot a new approach. They agreed that a small-scale panel that would allow in depth discussions was a good starting point and it was this approach that was developed into the Citizens Advisory Forum. OPM were appointed in July 2010 as the contractors to deliver the Forum . The Forum was intended to provide for the involvement of a broad cross section of individuals within a small group. Eighteen Forum members were recruited from the Bristol area according to a recruitment specification designed to ensure that the membership was inclusive of key social groups rather than being fully demographically representative of the general public.
The expectation was that the Forum would pass its observations to the different LWEC governance groups so that public views would reach the highest levels within LWEC and its partner organisations, enabling a two-way method of information sharing and dissemination. 
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Cost of project:
£30,450 (total Sciencewise-ERC funding = £17,625) 
Commissioning body: LWEC Partnership (through the Economic and Social Research Council)
The LWEC Partnership commissioned OPM to deliver the project and Shared Practice as an independent evaluator, following an open call. The Sciencewise programme is providing further funding and support for the project.
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.
Delivery contractor: OPM
OPM group is a research and consultancy organisation. It is described as helping organisations dealing with complex and controversial issues to understand what the communities and people affected think about their projects and proposals.
Evaluation contractor: Shared Practice
Shared Practice is an independent partnership dedicated to sustainable development, participatory democracy and creative endeavour. Their website describes its aim to innovate, question and consolidate through work involving research, evaluation and writing, design, music and higher education.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Public Participants: 18 Forum Members
Experts/Stakeholders: 7 
The Forum consists of 18 members of the public. Members were recruited from Bristol and the surrounding area, against a range of demographic criteria, to form an inclusive rather than accurately representative sample. The Final report explains that this forum size allows for the involvement of a broad cross section of individuals whilst also being small enough for a positive group dynamic to emerge relatively quickly. This was important, given the range and complexity of the issues to be addressed. The Forum size also meant there was time for all members to engage with the topics, ask questions of experts, and discuss and develop their views. 
Quota were set for demographic factors (e.g. age, gender, urban/ rural location, ethnic background, family situation, housing tenure, working status) and environmental attitudes. Incentives of £150 in total were given to participants (one third after each event), plus travel expenses. 
OPM and LWEC worked together to identify the expertise required, and LWEC drew on the resources of their many partners. According to the final report, they looked for experts who had in-depth knowledge of the specific topics being discussed and an interest in and/or experience of public dialogue. 
Methods and Tools Used
Each of the three Forum meetings was slightly different in design, but all were supported by OPM facilitators and input from expert speakers. The Forum sessions were designed to be deliberative, enabling members to engage with the information provided in writing and by experts, and to discuss the issues in-depth among themselves. Although the overall issues for each session were identified by the LWEC Partnership, the detailed content for the sessions was developed in discussion with the expert speakers .
A collaborative approach to programme design was adopted. The agenda and all supporting materials were prepared by OPM, working with the LWEC project lead and the topic experts. Prior to final sign-off, all materials were reviewed by the Sciencewise-ERC dialogue and engagement specialist (DES) working with LWEC on this project. All materials used in the Forum have been made available to LWEC and Sciencewise-ERC.
The Forum sessions were designed to be deliberative, enabling members to engage with information provided by experts, by the OPM team and by each other, through discussion and the exchange of views. By using a variety of presentational modes, whole- and small- group sessions, and ensuring Forum members had sufficient time to develop and interrogate their own views and those of other members and experts we supported an increasingly rich and varied dialogue over the three sessions.
Role of Experts
Experts were involved in the design, helping to shape the principal themes and issues for deliberation and the supporting materials. This ensured that information was accurate, and that the design and content of each session were complementary.
Experts were also involved in the Forum meetings, giving presentations, engaging in discussion with facilitators, taking part in question and answer sessions and supporting participants’ discussions with additional information, but not leading the direction of discussion or any decisions or agreements reached. All experts were briefed in advance of the session in which they were involved and provided with written information about the Citizens’ Advisory Forum and their expected role in the process. 
In addition to straightforward facilitated discussion and the expert involvement mentioned above, the following tools were used to support different activities.
- Briefing sheets on a range of topics, to provide participants with straightforward information to which they could refer throughout each session
- Ranking exercise: used in session 1 and 2, to help people rank different types of research in order of priority.
- Scenarios: these were designed to help participants with the more abstract discussions about governance and decision-making in session 3
- Mapping power and influence: this tool helped people to visualise and hence consider the respective influence of markets and regulation on access to resources and to decide what balance was most appropriate (session 3). 
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The three Forum sessions were as follows:
- 16 October 2010: research into flood risk management, with speakers from the Environment Agency
- 27 November 2010: research into adaption to environmental change, with speakers from the UK Climate Impacts Programme
- 5 February 2011: governance and decision-making in response to major environmental change challenges, with input from the ESRC.
Each session was held on a Saturday usually from 11am to 4pm. Reports summarising the Forum discussions were circulated to participants, and communications between the contractors and Forum participants were continued between sessions by email and post, including answering questions and requests for more information from participants. A final report summarised the underlying drivers and values that emerged from the public discussions across all three Forum meetings. All reports were also circulated to relevant LWEC Partners .
The Forum met three times (October 2010, November 2010 and February 2011), with attendance remaining fairly steady but decreasing slightly (from 18 at the first session, 15 at the second and 13 at the last one). Each session was held in central Bristol and ran from 11am to either 3pm or 4pm, on a Saturday . Sessions 1 and 2 were designed to understand where Forum members believe that LWEC should be prioritising research capacity and resources. They were introduced to two distinct areas for research and asked to prioritise specific types of research within these two areas (Flood risk management in Session 1, adaptation to climate change in Session 2) .
Session 3 had a distinct focus. It was designed to explore Forum members’ views on the decision-making and governance arrangements appropriate to the challenges we will face because of climate change. This was a more conceptual question than those addressed in the first two sessions, and so specific scenarios were developed to help the Forum deliberate upon the issues raised. The scenarios looked at governance and decision making in the context of scarce resources, i.e. food and water, and also in the response to the need to reduce carbon emissions arising from transport.
The final report provides the following details on the Citizen Advisory Forum sessions 1- 3
- Rationale for the Focus
- Key lines of inquiry
- Strategic role in LWEC
Session 1 (October 2010): Research into flood risks management
- The risk and impact of flooding in the UK is affected by the impacts of climate change, making this a very important topic for LWEC.
- LWEC is currently consulting amongst the academic community on UK Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Strategy, to encourage collaboration and co-ordination of research providers, funders and users on the topic of flood risk management.
- Which types of research into flood risk management do the public believe are most important for LWEC and partners to prioritise?
- What criteria inform the public’s choices aout priorities in terms of research spend on flood risk management?
- Public response to key questions within consultation, to which LWEC was contributing
Session 2 (November 2010): Research into adaptation to climate change
- The LWEC Directorate is considering a more coordinated approach to research into adaptation to climate change, and would welcome greater understanding fo the public’s concerns around adaptation to climate change
- LWEC is to produce a climate change research strategy in 2011, of which adaptation will be a major part
- What is the public’s understanding of adaptation to climate change?
- Which spheres of research into adaptation to climate change do the public believe are most important for LWEC and partners to prioritise?
- Public input into strategic direction for large topic area for research- public potentially influencing key areas needing to be addressed
Session 3 (February): Decision making and governance in response to climate change challenges
- The directorate has identified a potential need for new programmes of social research into questions of governance around sustainable behaviours. LWEC and partners are considering this as an area of future funding, and would welcome public input at this early stage of thinking
- Where should we locate responsibility for responding to the challenge of increasingly limited resources due to the impacts of climate change?
- Where should we locate responsibility for ensuring we respond to need to reduce carbon emissions?
- What criteria should inform society’s access to and usage of limited resources?
- What approaches to behaviour change are most appropriate in ensuring a response to climate change challenges?
- Upstream engagement, with public opinion on a specific potential research funding call
Key Issues Raised by the Public
- The majority of Forum members became more convinced that environmental change was a real problem to which serious attention needed to be given
- Research into environmental change should be part of the solution to problems caused by climate change. That research needs to be action- orientated and value for money, creating new information and cost-effective new solutions
- The priority for research should be on prevention, particularly on preventing disasters caused by climate and environmental change
- It was crucial for the findings from environmental research to be properly considered by those who have the power to take decisions that will impact on environmental change
- There is a desire from the public for more information and engagement about environmental change with researchers and Government bodies. 
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Early observations of the Case Study
Some LWEC Partners had already used the results of the Forum discussions in their work or had clear plans to do so . In fact, there were several specific areas identified where LWEC Partners expected there to be influence on future research policies, such as around governance and regulation, the Water Strategy and flooding. Some LWEC Partners suggested that the influence of the Forum was less direct, influencing the broader context for research rather than having direct influence on specific decisions.
The Forum was also expected to have an impact on the development of LWEC’s public engagement strategy by showcasing the value of engaging with the public.
Overall Impacts according to the Evaluation Report
The Forum was a cost-effective approach to public dialogue. It demonstrated that valuable public dialogue on complex technical issues could be undertaken on a small scale and with a small budget. The Forum was completed quickly and effectively, the public participants were satisfied, it addressed all its objectives and provided valuable results to LWEC. These achievements were particularly impressive given the tight timescale, LWEC’s complex organisational context and the complexity of the issues being discussed.
The Forum model had particular strengths. A group of the public working together over a period of time gets to know each other and gets used to the process, and so becomes able to grapple quickly and effectively with new issues.
Impacts on LWEC and its partner organisations
Getting information on public views and values through in-depth discussions meant that the LWEC Partnership had first-hand exposure to the issues from members of the public. Historically, LWEC had gained public views through intermediaries such as local authorities
Furthermore, LWEC Partners felt the Forum had increased understanding and awareness of the potential for future public engagement activities. Partners were pleasantly surprised at the levels of interest, capability and pragmatism of the public participants.
Impacts on public participants
The most valuable impact for the Forum members was the learning. Almost all agreed that they had learnt something new and that the Forum had helped them think more clearly about some new issues for the first time. For example, participants reported that taking part had affected their views and their behaviour in relation to tackling environmental change.
Almost all the respondents said they were more likely to get involved in public engagement activities in the future as a result of taking part in the Forum. This suggests their experience had been a positive one and could lead to greater enthusiasm for future engagement.
All respondents believed the Forum would (and should) in influence LWEC’s future priorities for research, suggesting trust in the process and the organisations involved. 
Analysis and Lessons Learned
In both sessions 1 and 2, participants found the ranking exercise difficult, but for different reasons: In session 1, participants found this quite hard, because they felt they lacked the expertise to make decisions about whether one type of research was more valuable than another. In session 2, participants found this even harder, because they felt that adaptation was too complex, particularly in the face of uncertainty about nature of future changes, in relation to climate change but also food supplies and the economy. 
Lessons for future practice identified in the case study include:
- A little additional budget could have solved many of the practical problems that arose including time for initial planning, more facilitators at meetings and fees to expert speakers. Also, slightly longer Forum sessions and one additional Forum meeting could have enabled Forum members to more fully explore priorities and agendas for environmental research.
- Longer term monitoring of the dissemination, and use and impacts of the results of the Forum will more fully demonstrate the effectiveness and value of the Forum to LWEC Partners and other funders, the Forum members and other interested parties.
- There needs to be clarity about the purpose and potential of a public dialogue project to get early buy-in to the process (including commitment from Partners to contribute) and to the use of the results by decision makers.
- There needs to be clarity about how the project fits into the wider context and longer term, so that it is clear how it relates to future planning.
- Close links need to be established between the design of the Forum sessions and the potential for influence on future decision-making on research policies. The people who will use the results of public dialogue must be involved in the identification and framing of topics for the Forum to discuss, and in the design and drafting of questions for the public, from the start and extensively throughout. Planning needs to bring together those with knowledge of the subject areas to be covered (‘content’), and knowledge and experience of public engagement (‘process’) so that an effective process can be designed to answer the questions that need to be addressed.
- Information provision, through written materials and expert speakers, needs to be carefully managed so that the appropriate information is provided in ways that enable public participants to use it. Managing input from expert speakers is always challenging especially when they are not employed by the commissioning body.
- Governance arrangements need to be clear from the start, with clear lines of decision-making on planning. Ideally, a small project team is established at the start and continues throughout the project to be responsible for detailed design and delivery of the project, plus an oversight or steering group that focuses on content priorities and on the implications and targets for influencing research policies.
- The credibility of the results can be undermined if those using them feel the number of public participants is too small. However, if the aim of the process is to provide information and inspiration to decision makers, rather than detailed research evidence, small numbers appear to be less of a barrier.
- It is far more effective if those using the results of public dialogue can attend and observe public discussions first hand, as well as receiving reports of results. Public participants also value meeting decision makers face to face. 
 Warburton, Diane (2011) Evaluation of the Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) Citizens’ Advisory forum, Shared Practice (July 2011)
 Holloway, S and Salter, R (2011) Citizens’ Advisory Forum: Living with Environmental Change and the Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre, Office for Public Management Final Report (March 2011)
 Sciencewise-ERC (2011) Case Study: Living with Environmental Change, A Citizens’ Advisory Forum