Background

The social, ethical and legal implications which advances in biomedical science bring mean that fostering greater understanding of, and engagement with, scientific knowedge is critical if research and development are to take place.

Currently, within the UK there is no systematic mechanism to help organisations identify where they would get greatest value and impact from public engagement with biomedical science. Rather, attention focuses on areas that the media and/or politicians deem to be contentious, or areas in which science communicators have an interest. Current public engagement projects and funding decisions are made in a top‐down way in terms of selection of topic, language, scope, and medium. We intend to complement this top‐down approach with a bottom‐up view from the ‘publics’ themselves enabling a more proactive and targeted engagement/education strategy based on the public’s identified interests and concerns, and using the communication and engagement formats in the most effective ways.

Objective

The objective of the project (‘The organisations name Monitor’) is to contribute to and build over time a unique evidence base of adults’ and young people’s awareness of, knowledge about, and attitudes to biomedical science. The data collected will enable a more proactive and targeted approach to our (and other organisations) work in education and public engagement. The data will allow strategic development to be increasingly evidence‐based, drawing as it will upon the public’s identified interests and concerns. Further the data would inform policy and advocacy work and be used as necessary in consultation responses and evidence sessions, in order to include public views.

We feel that there are a number of problems with available data:
• Firstly, attitudinal surveys have tended to use generic terms and attitudinal statements that do not differentiate between attitudes to different areas or applications of science;
• Secondly, issue specific surveys are commissioned on an irregular basis. The ad hoc nature of these surveys and the different issues and questions on which they have focused means that no cumulative knowledge base exists in this area;
• Thirdly, there is a dearth of studies that explore attitudes of young people toward biomedical science; and
• Fourthly, surveys have tended to be reactive and focus predominantly on contentious issues.

Methods

In order to develop the survey a number of developmental research projects were conducted to inform our approach:
• Two international reviews of research conducted to date to highlight what is known and unknown about adults’ and young people’s awareness, knowledge, interests and attitudes in relation to the biosciences;
• A formal consultation with potential audiences for the data, including: scientists, policy makers, educators, public engagement practitioners and social scientists;

• An initial qualitative scoping study of both adults and young people to inform the foci of the Monitor, and to offer a set of practical recommendations for the construction of the survey.

The survey will be flexible and responsive in nature so that data remains policy‐relevant. It will include both core tracking questions (i.e. questions which would be repeated on each wave of the survey) and a number of topical, application specific questions of policy relevance at the time of the survey. The Monitor will evolve over time so that as new issues and areas emerge questions can be incorporated.

Results/ Conclusions

Data will not be available at the time of the conference. Data from the first wave of the survey will be delivered in late‐Summer 2008. The focus of this presentation will be:
• the rationale for the project;
• benefits for public engagement of the evidence base;
• the developmental work conducted to inform the approach and focus of the survey;
• examples of where the data may be applied to inform the organisations work;
• the approach we are utilising; and
• the question areas which will be included.

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PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Focusing and targeting public engagement ‐ building an evidence base

Sara Candy   Wellcome Trust

Background

The social, ethical and legal implications which advances in biomedical science bring mean that fostering greater understanding of, and engagement with, scientific knowedge is critical if research and development are to take place.

Currently, within the UK there is no systematic mechanism to help organisations identify where they would get greatest value and impact from public engagement with biomedical science. Rather, attention focuses on areas that the media and/or politicians deem to be contentious, or areas in which science communicators have an interest. Current public engagement projects and funding decisions are made in a top‐down way in terms of selection of topic, language, scope, and medium. We intend to complement this top‐down approach with a bottom‐up view from the ‘publics’ themselves enabling a more proactive and targeted engagement/education strategy based on the public’s identified interests and concerns, and using the communication and engagement formats in the most effective ways.

Objective

The objective of the project (‘The organisations name Monitor’) is to contribute to and build over time a unique evidence base of adults’ and young people’s awareness of, knowledge about, and attitudes to biomedical science. The data collected will enable a more proactive and targeted approach to our (and other organisations) work in education and public engagement. The data will allow strategic development to be increasingly evidence‐based, drawing as it will upon the public’s identified interests and concerns. Further the data would inform policy and advocacy work and be used as necessary in consultation responses and evidence sessions, in order to include public views.

We feel that there are a number of problems with available data:
• Firstly, attitudinal surveys have tended to use generic terms and attitudinal statements that do not differentiate between attitudes to different areas or applications of science;
• Secondly, issue specific surveys are commissioned on an irregular basis. The ad hoc nature of these surveys and the different issues and questions on which they have focused means that no cumulative knowledge base exists in this area;
• Thirdly, there is a dearth of studies that explore attitudes of young people toward biomedical science; and
• Fourthly, surveys have tended to be reactive and focus predominantly on contentious issues.

Methods

In order to develop the survey a number of developmental research projects were conducted to inform our approach:
• Two international reviews of research conducted to date to highlight what is known and unknown about adults’ and young people’s awareness, knowledge, interests and attitudes in relation to the biosciences;
• A formal consultation with potential audiences for the data, including: scientists, policy makers, educators, public engagement practitioners and social scientists;

• An initial qualitative scoping study of both adults and young people to inform the foci of the Monitor, and to offer a set of practical recommendations for the construction of the survey.

The survey will be flexible and responsive in nature so that data remains policy‐relevant. It will include both core tracking questions (i.e. questions which would be repeated on each wave of the survey) and a number of topical, application specific questions of policy relevance at the time of the survey. The Monitor will evolve over time so that as new issues and areas emerge questions can be incorporated.

Results/ Conclusions

Data will not be available at the time of the conference. Data from the first wave of the survey will be delivered in late‐Summer 2008. The focus of this presentation will be:
• the rationale for the project;
• benefits for public engagement of the evidence base;
• the developmental work conducted to inform the approach and focus of the survey;
• examples of where the data may be applied to inform the organisations work;
• the approach we are utilising; and
• the question areas which will be included.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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