What is public dialogue?
Public dialogue provides in-depth insight into citizens’ views, concerns and aspirations on issues relating to science and technology.
As defined in the Sciencewise Guiding Principles, public dialogue is a process during which members of the public interact with scientists, stakeholders and policy makers to deliberate on issues relevant to future policy decisions.
Public dialogue enables constructive conversations amongst diverse groups of citizens on topics which are often complex or controversial.
Not only does it provide an indepth insight into public opinion, it also offers a window into understanding people’s reasoning.
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 to mitigate potential risks.
Although Sciencewise focuses on issues relating to science and technology, public dialogue can be used to inform other policy areas. For example, a citizens’ assembly, which is a form of public dialogue, was held to inform the long-term funding of social care.
The section below explains the typical components of a public dialogue funded by the Sciencewise programme.
Typical components of a dialogue project
Public dialogue and other engagement methods
What makes dialogue stand out from other public engagement methods is the high degree of in-depth discussion and outputs that it generates.
Public dialogue shares some features in common with social research and other engagement methods. However, Sciencewise public dialogues place a particular emphasis on the following:
- Independent oversight, ensuring a diverse range of views and interests inform the project framing, the questions asked and the information provided
- Publics and experts (both scientific and policy) deliberating together on the ethical and social issues raised by the science
- Publics being involved in problem solving and balancing the tensions and trade-offs posed by controversial innovations
- Building scope into the design for adapting the framing, and questions asked, in response to participants’ interests
- Providing experts with insight into the range of perspectives held by the public: these can then be tested by social research
- Giving participants tailored feedback about the report findings and impact
- Independent evaluation, providing assurance of a robust process and the credibility of the findings
More about public dialogue
For more details see “What is public dialogue? Frequently asked questions”
“[Its] strength came from the depth of the discussion – it seemed to open up the deep and personal views of attendees who had, through exposure to the issues, begun to explore what the issues meant to them.”
Stakeholder, Living with Environmental Change dialogue