Background:The need for better public engagement in policy decisions is widely acknowledged. The 'hardware' required for engaging with publics 'citizens' juries, focus groups, consensus conferences ‐ is well known. Through an innovative project called the community x‐ change, the BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) has been focussing on trying to change the 'software' ‐ the attitudes, values and principles within policy‐ making circles. Public engagement is now de rigeur in the field of science communication, yet many questions remain. Do policy‐makers have the capacity to engage effectively with participatory processes? Who defines the opportunities, subjects and framing of the issues the public are allowed to discuss? Do scientists get the chance to discuss science issues with their local community?

We wanted to provide opportunities for scientists and the public to engage through dialogue. We wanted to provide opportunities for citizens to discuss issues involving science. As well as this, we hoped to improve dialogue practices, particularly those allowing excluded voices to inform policy; and to improve the way communities and decision‐makers become involved with each other. We also wanted to develop policy makers’ capacity to engage with participatory processes. Objective/Hypotheses:

The workshops applied a 'two way street' approach, pioneered by our partners at PEALS (Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Research Institute), Newcastle University, where participants could identify issues of local concern as well as discussing issues that were pre‐determined. Methods:

The community x‐change process was designed to include voices that are rarely heard. With this in mind, many of the participants were invited by linking up with local community and school groups. Alongside this, we used conventional approaches including direct mailing using electoral roll data. A cohort of scientists also actively contributed to the process, as citizens. However, we excluded scientists with expertise in the area of climate change so there was less risk that citizens felt that the professional researchers knew all the answers. Over the summer of 2006, the group met up 4 times in a local centre in Norwich, England and discussed their environment as well as other local issues that the group felt strongly about.

Results:The main issues to emerge from discussions were: improving public transport, encouraging schools to run eco‐friendly initiatives, creating a space for the community to meet and reducing crime. Policy‐makers and key stakeholders have been involved and informed throughout the scheme. The outputs of the process have been shaped to fit the remit of those creating and contributing to policy, as well as providing the chance for policy‐makers to hear the views of the panel face‐to‐face.

Conclusions:We have created a space for traditionally excluded voices to be listened to. We have engaged a number of members of the community on scientific issues, and increased understanding of the kind of things that the panel may be able to do as individuals.

The results of the x‐changes are being shared at a variety of levels. A DVD of the project, along with diaries of participants, was presented at the BA Festival of Science. We have also designed a resource for the 33 BA branches across the UK, as well as looking at how to press for the outcomes to be acted on in their region.

Sharing the results of the process with policy‐makers has, unsurprisingly, proved to be difficult. Dialogue activities seem most popular among policy‐makers when they own them exclusively, rather than having to be answerable to the results of an independent process. Even though relevant policy‐makers were engaged early in the process it is hard, at this stage, to say whether this first phase of the community x‐change will result in concrete changes. Through Sciencewise, a number of policy ‘hooks’ have been identified and there have been a number of fruitful discussions. The national roll out events, and our follow‐up work with participants in East Anglia, provides a longer time‐frame within which to embed our group’s views and experiences within policy.

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 [PCST]
PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

The community x‐change
Are policy‐makers interested in public engagement?

Alice Taylor‐Gee   The British Association for the Advancement of Science

Nigel Eady   The British Association for the Advancement of Science

Background:The need for better public engagement in policy decisions is widely acknowledged. The 'hardware' required for engaging with publics 'citizens' juries, focus groups, consensus conferences ‐ is well known. Through an innovative project called the community x‐ change, the BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) has been focussing on trying to change the 'software' ‐ the attitudes, values and principles within policy‐ making circles. Public engagement is now de rigeur in the field of science communication, yet many questions remain. Do policy‐makers have the capacity to engage effectively with participatory processes? Who defines the opportunities, subjects and framing of the issues the public are allowed to discuss? Do scientists get the chance to discuss science issues with their local community?

We wanted to provide opportunities for scientists and the public to engage through dialogue. We wanted to provide opportunities for citizens to discuss issues involving science. As well as this, we hoped to improve dialogue practices, particularly those allowing excluded voices to inform policy; and to improve the way communities and decision‐makers become involved with each other. We also wanted to develop policy makers’ capacity to engage with participatory processes. Objective/Hypotheses:

The workshops applied a 'two way street' approach, pioneered by our partners at PEALS (Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Research Institute), Newcastle University, where participants could identify issues of local concern as well as discussing issues that were pre‐determined. Methods:

The community x‐change process was designed to include voices that are rarely heard. With this in mind, many of the participants were invited by linking up with local community and school groups. Alongside this, we used conventional approaches including direct mailing using electoral roll data. A cohort of scientists also actively contributed to the process, as citizens. However, we excluded scientists with expertise in the area of climate change so there was less risk that citizens felt that the professional researchers knew all the answers. Over the summer of 2006, the group met up 4 times in a local centre in Norwich, England and discussed their environment as well as other local issues that the group felt strongly about.

Results:The main issues to emerge from discussions were: improving public transport, encouraging schools to run eco‐friendly initiatives, creating a space for the community to meet and reducing crime. Policy‐makers and key stakeholders have been involved and informed throughout the scheme. The outputs of the process have been shaped to fit the remit of those creating and contributing to policy, as well as providing the chance for policy‐makers to hear the views of the panel face‐to‐face.

Conclusions:We have created a space for traditionally excluded voices to be listened to. We have engaged a number of members of the community on scientific issues, and increased understanding of the kind of things that the panel may be able to do as individuals.

The results of the x‐changes are being shared at a variety of levels. A DVD of the project, along with diaries of participants, was presented at the BA Festival of Science. We have also designed a resource for the 33 BA branches across the UK, as well as looking at how to press for the outcomes to be acted on in their region.

Sharing the results of the process with policy‐makers has, unsurprisingly, proved to be difficult. Dialogue activities seem most popular among policy‐makers when they own them exclusively, rather than having to be answerable to the results of an independent process. Even though relevant policy‐makers were engaged early in the process it is hard, at this stage, to say whether this first phase of the community x‐change will result in concrete changes. Through Sciencewise, a number of policy ‘hooks’ have been identified and there have been a number of fruitful discussions. The national roll out events, and our follow‐up work with participants in East Anglia, provides a longer time‐frame within which to embed our group’s views and experiences within policy.

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

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