//Why Public Dialogue now – in a time of Covid-19

Why Public Dialogue now – in a time of Covid-19

In early July we ran a webinar for policy makers to discuss why despite the challenges of Covid-19, government departments should be considering and certainly not delaying thinking about public dialogue.  It also highlighted that whilst social distancing will prevent face to face meetings for a while, Sciencewise can support online deliberation (see also here) and is actively working with commissioners and contractors to run public dialogue online. 

We will run a further session in September, if  you are interested in hearing more about it please get in touch at:  [email protected] 

What is public dialogue? 

Public dialogue provides in-depth insight into citizens’ views, concerns and aspirations on an issue.  It enables constructive conversations amongst diverse groups of citizens on topics which are often complex or controversial. These conversations happen alongside scientists, stakeholders and policy makers.  This provides a window into understanding people’s reasoning behind views, what they might agree on and where they diverge, where there are “red lines” and conditions, and if and how views change in response to information and discussion. 

Public dialogue can be used to help formulate and test policy options in the early stage of development. It can also provide evidence on what assurances and safeguards members of the public expect if a policy area is to be taken forward.

This improved understanding helps policy makers develop socially informed policy and mitigate potential risks.

Sciencewise specifically supports public dialogue commissioned by policy makers on science and technology.  

Why is Public Dialogue important now?

The Covid-19 pandemic has required governments around the world to respond at unprecedented speed to the Covid-19 crisis. Quite rightly the focus has been on protecting the health of citizens and the integrity of their health systems. Despite Covid-19 and the inevitable pause as priorities are redirected, public dialogue remains essential and may become more critical in these times. So why public dialogue now? 

    • Changing priorities and expectations? Covid-19 has brought to front of mind some of the key science and technology themes – e.g data use, pandemic planning, mobility, climate change and research priorities and other areas of the Industrial strategy. Public priorities, expectations, issues, hopes and fears may have also fundamentally shifted over the course of the last couple of months – assumptions previously made about public views will need to be revisited to ensure policies developed are done so with the right foundation of understanding.  
    • Deployment of science & technology: How science and technology innovation forms part of the Covid-19 recovery will come into larger and sharper focus at this time; as will public views on the issues and acceptability of how different science and technology is deployed in a way that balances key trade-offs.
    • Trust in science; trustworthiness of scientists and policy makers: Trust in science and scientists has been high for a number of years – signs are that it has increased in the pandemic.  However, how science is translated into policy may come under increased scrutiny.  Sciencewise was initiated as a programme at a point in the 2000s when trust in science was low but also when some key policy decisions had not fully taken account of public views and aspirations.  Public dialogue and engagement is a central plank of developing more socially informed policy. 
    • Understanding issues in uncertainty: Whilst redeployment of resources has happened in some departments, the policy issues will not go away and new ones have been added in a climate of uncertainty.  Public dialogue enables those policies to be shaped and de-risked by understanding what the public thinks. Public dialogue provides robust evidence on how the public view the tradeoffs inherent in many policies, how they make them, and what values and perspectives they prioritise as they do so. 
    • Cost effectiveness:  Public dialogue can appear costly, however policies developed without understanding of public views and the underlying reasons driving them can become extremely expensive (financially as well as in reputation and trust) if implementation is protracted or key elements have to be revisited.  In a time of economic constraint getting policies right first time is more important than ever.   

The Sciencewise programme and support to policy makers  

The Sciencewise programme enables policy makers to develop socially informed policy, with a particular emphasis on science and technology.  Since 2004 it has supported over 50 public dialogues across a range of issues.  The programme: 

  • Helps decision makers to formulate policy with a deeper understanding of public views, concerns and aspirations. 
  • Supports high quality, best practice public dialogue through advice and match funding 
  • Brings credibility and independence to government led public dialogue 

Find out more:  

Email:  [email protected]

Tel:  +44 (0) 20 3745 4334