Background: Much science research is funded by the taxpayer, and public perceptions of research priorities impact funding decisions. This raises a number of questions: should the public be meaningfully involved in selecting what research should be funded?; does the public have the capacity and interest to be involved?; and if involved, how should such involvement happen?

The concept of public engagement in science policy making has become popular over recent years (e.g. Irwin, 2001; Joss and Bellucci, 2002).This is due to public scepticism of traditional policy making practices, in which policy makers and expert advisers make decisions and then communicate these to the public. This model assumes the public will believe, understand and accept policy messages. However public trust in policy makers is not assured, so their messages may not be accepted (e.g. De Marchi and Ravetz, 1999; Funtowicz and Ravetz 1993; Laird, 1989). ‘Public engagement’ has emerged as a potential solution: its proponents suggest that involving the public in decision‐making will improve trust, democracy and the political process (e.g. Fishkin, 1991; Wynne, 2006). Objective/Hypotheses: — to trial and evaluate a method of engaging with the public about science;

— to study the factors used by the public in making funding allocation decisions. In this study, I am particularly interested in investigating:

— how scientists’ personalities and presentation styles affect public support;

— whether proximity to a science hub or other geographical factors affect public support of science;

— whether there are cultural differences: if Australian and English participants report notably different priorities in their funding allocation decisions;

— how to engage genuine laypeople rather than people with an above‐average understanding of science research and policy;

— how this methodology could be used to enhance public engagement with science and agriculture projects in the developing world (with a view to further research in this area).

Methods: In 2007 I have been working in science communication in the UK, where I participated in a public engagement study at the Institute for Food Research (IFR), in Norwich. In this study members of the public were asked to listen to presentations by four scientists on different research topics, then choose which they would most like to be funded. Participant views were collected through questionnaires filled in at the start and end of the event. Results from the study are currently being analysed.

I am using the same public engagement methodology with the support of the IFR in Norwich in a series of public engagement events at a comparable location in Australia, the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG).I am involved in engaging the public in dialogue about plant science through the ACPFG headquarters in Adelaide. There are similarities in research programs at the Norwich Research Park and Adelaide’s Waite Campus, so Adelaide is an ideal place for a comparative study with Norwich. ANU’s Centre for the Public Awareness of Science in Canberra is my academic home for the Australian research project.

Results and conclusions can be presented at the conference but are not yet available.

">
 [PCST]
PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Involving the public in research funding decisions

Cobi Smith   Australian National University

Background: Much science research is funded by the taxpayer, and public perceptions of research priorities impact funding decisions. This raises a number of questions: should the public be meaningfully involved in selecting what research should be funded?; does the public have the capacity and interest to be involved?; and if involved, how should such involvement happen?

The concept of public engagement in science policy making has become popular over recent years (e.g. Irwin, 2001; Joss and Bellucci, 2002).This is due to public scepticism of traditional policy making practices, in which policy makers and expert advisers make decisions and then communicate these to the public. This model assumes the public will believe, understand and accept policy messages. However public trust in policy makers is not assured, so their messages may not be accepted (e.g. De Marchi and Ravetz, 1999; Funtowicz and Ravetz 1993; Laird, 1989). ‘Public engagement’ has emerged as a potential solution: its proponents suggest that involving the public in decision‐making will improve trust, democracy and the political process (e.g. Fishkin, 1991; Wynne, 2006). Objective/Hypotheses: — to trial and evaluate a method of engaging with the public about science;

— to study the factors used by the public in making funding allocation decisions. In this study, I am particularly interested in investigating:

— how scientists’ personalities and presentation styles affect public support;

— whether proximity to a science hub or other geographical factors affect public support of science;

— whether there are cultural differences: if Australian and English participants report notably different priorities in their funding allocation decisions;

— how to engage genuine laypeople rather than people with an above‐average understanding of science research and policy;

— how this methodology could be used to enhance public engagement with science and agriculture projects in the developing world (with a view to further research in this area).

Methods: In 2007 I have been working in science communication in the UK, where I participated in a public engagement study at the Institute for Food Research (IFR), in Norwich. In this study members of the public were asked to listen to presentations by four scientists on different research topics, then choose which they would most like to be funded. Participant views were collected through questionnaires filled in at the start and end of the event. Results from the study are currently being analysed.

I am using the same public engagement methodology with the support of the IFR in Norwich in a series of public engagement events at a comparable location in Australia, the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG).I am involved in engaging the public in dialogue about plant science through the ACPFG headquarters in Adelaide. There are similarities in research programs at the Norwich Research Park and Adelaide’s Waite Campus, so Adelaide is an ideal place for a comparative study with Norwich. ANU’s Centre for the Public Awareness of Science in Canberra is my academic home for the Australian research project.

Results and conclusions can be presented at the conference but are not yet available.

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

BACK TO TOP