Problems and Purpose

Sciencewise is a programme funded by the UK Government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). It helps the government engage with the public on policy issues involving science and technology, providing co-funding, guidance, advice, training and mentoring on projects to bring in the public voice and help policy makers carry out public dialogues.

The programme’s main aims and objectives are to help those that are involved in policy so that:

  • Policies are evidence-based and informed by an understanding of attitudes and behaviours from the public.
  • There is an increased awareness and understanding by policy makers of the value and role of public dialogue.
  • Public dialogue experience and expertise is embedded within public bodies with responsibility for policy which involves science and technology.
  • There is recognition of Sciencewise as a value-for-money centre of excellence in providing resources to the wider public sector and as a leader in shaping best practice in deliberative public dialogue.

Sciencewise has established a wealth of evidence on the value of public dialogue in policy involving science and technology. Its aim is to ensure that this expertise is available across the UK Government and its agencies ensuring best practice in the commissioning and implementation of dialogues.


The original Sciencewise Programme was set up in response to the House of Lords 2000 Science and Technology Committee report ‘Science and Society’. The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament. The Science and Technology Select Committee’s role is to scrutinise Government policy and undertake inquiries into activities such as public policy which ought to be informed by scientific research, technological challenges and opportunities, and public policy towards science itself. The committee’s report highlighted the importance of public input into challenging areas of new and emerging science and called for much more meaningful engagement between scientists, policy makers and the public.

The ten-year Science and Innovation Investment Framework, published in 2004, subsequently recommended a more systematic approach to public dialogue to address the impact on citizens of rapid scientific developments. In 2004, the Sciencewise Programme was set up to fund public dialogue projects that facilitated ‘upstream engagement’ i.e., finding out people’s attitudes and aspirations before major policy decisions are made.

In 2005, the UK Government’s Council for Science and Technology (CST) report recommended that public dialogue projects should be more effectively embedded into policy making structures and processes. The CST called for an explicit framework for the use of public dialogue to inform science and technology and related policies. In December 2006, the Government announced its intention to set up a new Expert Resource Centre (ERC) for Public Dialogue in Science and Innovation and this led to the establishment of the Sciencewise-ERC in May 2007 . This ran until 2012.

The consultancy organisation Ricardo Energy and Environment (EAE), in partnership with the charities, Involve and the British Science Association, were awarded the contract for the delivery of Sciencewise from April 2012 to March 2016. The overall agreed objective of the contract was:

"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 [to ensure public views are considered as part of the evidence base]".

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) selected Involve to run the Sciencewise programme from 2017 to 2019.

Originating Entities and Funding

The Sciencewise Programme is funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The delivery of each dialogue project involves different organisations, with Sciencewise providing up to 50% of the funding. Ricardo Energy and Environment (EAE), in partnership with Involve and the British Science Association (BSA) were awarded the contract for the delivery of Sciencewise from 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2016. Ricardo (EAE) are described as a global strategic engineering and environmental consultancy. Invovle  is a charity specialising in public participation. The BSA is a charity whose aim is to support public engagement and involvement with science. In 2017 the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy selected Involve to run the Sciencewise programme from 2017-2019. Sciencewise provides up to 50% of the funding for individual dialogue projects, the delivery of each project involves other organisations.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

Sciencewise supports public dialogue projects engaging the general public. To ensure participants are representative of a diverse range of backgrounds and views, public dialogues tend to recruit participants using demographic and attitudinal criteria, rather than self-selecting. 

Methods and Tools Used

Sciencewise is described as the UK’s national centre for public dialogue in policy making involving science and technology issues. The Sciencewise-ERC briefing paper describes how the majority of public dialogues use mixed or bespoke methods designed by the facilitators, but also lists off the shelf approaches (e.g citizen juries, citizen summits, and citizen advisory groups). Deliberative dialogues can be combined with other qualitative and quantitative tools to generate data from a wider sample of the public in combination with in-depth engagement. Sciencewise has developed a Public Views Toolkit to provide support in understanding tools and techniques used in dialogue projects. Methods covered by the toolkit are listed below:

  • Citizens’ jury
  • Citizens’ panel
  • Consensus conference
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Deliberative dialogue
  • Deliberative video conference
  • Focus group
  • Open public workshop
  • Opinion poll
  • Public attitudes literature review
  • Social media engagement
  • Social media monitoring

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

Sciencewise co-funds and supports a wide range of public dialogue projects to support policy making in issues involving science and technology. Current and Completed Dialogue Projects are listed below:



Current Dialogue Projects

John Innes Centre Science Strategy (2017- 2022)

Completed Dialogue Projects

Future strategy of the Babraham Institute

Bioenergy Distributed Dialogue

Public Perception of Industrial Biotechnology

Forensic Use of DNA Citizens Enquiry

Synthetic Biology

Data Management and Use

Current Dialogue Projects

Data Science Ethics

Completed Dialogue Projects

Public dialogue on data openness, data re-use and data management

Energy and Climate Change

Current Dialogue Projects

Implementing Geological Disposal- working with communities

Sounding Board: Committee on Climate Change- public views on decarbonising heat

Sounding Board: Environment Agency research needs for onshore oil and gas (shale gas)

Completed Dialogue Projects

Big Energy Shift

Citizens Advisory Forum for Living with Environmental Change (LWEC)

Energy 2050 Pathways: a public dialogue


Low Carbon Communities Challenge

Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) Siting process

New nuclear power stations – reviewing how to engage with members of the public in reactor design assessments (known as the Generic Design Assessment or GDA)

Planet under Pressure Conference – Youth Voice

Shale gas and oil developments

Trajectories for carbon emission reductions


Current Dialogue Projects

Planning Scotland’s Seas- Joint Consultation

Completed Dialogue Projects

Citizen Dialogue on Bovine TB

Cambrian Mountains Natural Wealth - Landscape and Ecosystems Futures and Perceptions across a transitional landscape in the Cambrian Mountains

Nature Improvement Areas

Public dialogue for the UK National Ecosystem Assessment

Public engagement on landscape & ecosystem futures in England, Scotland and Wales


East of England


Evaluation and learning

Significant Water Management Issues: Engaging the public on the big issues affecting the water environment

Water Quality and Sustainability


Current Dialogue Projects

Global Food Security Public Panel

The Future of our Food: A Public Dialogue

Completed Dialogue Projects

UK food system challenges and the role of innovative production technologies and other approaches in meeting these


Current Dialogue Projects

Integrated Urban System Futures

Completed Dialogue Projects


Governing Science and Technology

Completed Dialogue Projects

Community X-Change

Risky Business


Completed Dialogue Projects

Animals Containing Human Material


HRA health research policy public dialogue

HRA Patient and Public Views

Hybrids and Chimeras

Mitochondria Replacement

Openness in Animal Research Dialogue

Stem Cell Dialogue

Developing Stratified Medicine


Completed Dialogue Projects


Nanotechnology Engagement Group

Public Engagement and Practice

Completed Dialogue Projects


The Science Communication Working Lunches

Science, Policy-making and Public Dialogue: New and emerging issues in the UK

Regulation and Governance

Current Dialogue Projects

Use and Development of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) and Small Drones in the United Kingdom

Completed Dialogue Projects

Longitude 2014

Rothamsted Research

Science, Trust and Public Engagement – exploring future pathways to good governance

Science, Trust and Public Engagement

Genomics, Genetics and redesign of the Human Genetics Commission

Open Data and Climate Science transparency

Review of Research Councils UK Public Dialogues

Risk, Resilience and Adaptation

Completed Dialogue Projects 

Leap Seconds

Public communication and engagement on flood risk

Space Weather Dialogue



Current Dialogue Projects

Public “well-being” dialogues to engage WWCW users around three policy themes

Completed Dialogue Projects

Embedding wellbeing science in decision-making

Ways to Wellbeing

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Sciencewise evaluates all its activities to identify impacts, share good practice and demonstrate the value of public dialogue. The evaluation reports of individual public dialogue projects are all published (and will appear on the Participedia platform), and there have been regular evaluations of the Sciencewise programme overall. Sciencewise shares its experiences with dialogues and has also had wider impacts, for example public engagement policy on nuclear energy in Japan.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

During 2013, it was agreed that it would be appropriate for a full independent evaluation to be undertaken of the Sciencewise programme 2012 - 2015. The aim of this evaluation was to examine the programme's activities, achievements and impacts, and to draw out lessons and opportunities for the future.  Risk and Policy Analysts (RPA) were commissioned, through competitive tender, to undertake the evaluation and their final report was published in March 2015.

The first evaluation of the Sciencewise programme as a whole (projects and programme activities) was undertaken in 2009 - 2010, primarily to review the activities of the programme from 2008 to 2010. However, as this was the first major review of the programme, it also covered the history and early activities of Sciencewise from its original launch in 2004, particularly in relation to the public dialogue projects funded by Sciencewise from the beginning.
 This report was published in May 2011.

A second programme evaluation was undertaken during 2011 - 2012, focused largely on the impacts and lessons from the projects completed since the previous evaluation report. That report was published in March 2013, together with a separate annex analysing the longer term impacts of the projects that had been identified during the course of this evaluation research.

A third internal programme evaluation was completed during 2013 - 2014. The report covers the impacts and lessons from projects completed since the previous evaluation report, and a summary of wider programme activities.


Secondary Sources


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Case Data


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