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FAQ 4: Does public dialogue make a difference?

Public dialogues have made an important difference to both policy making and participants; changing how decisions are informed, made and communicated, increasing public awareness and knowledge of issues, and increasing trust in policy-making.

Public dialogue has been found to have influenced policy in a number of ways, including directly impacting policy outcomes, increasing the robustness and credibility of policy decisions, influencing plans for wider public engagement and influencing debates. For an overview of the impacts of dialogue, see an evaluation of Sciencewise work (2011) here.

Examples of the ways in which dialogue has contributed to policy include:

  • The Big Energy Shift dialogue contributed to the development of the Low Carbon Communities Challenge, which invested £12million in 22 pilot projects in communities over two years.
  • Public caveats from the Hybrid and chimera embryos for research dialogue were included in the HFEA’s decision to allow research under certain conditions.
  • Findings from the Trustguide dialogue contributed to policy and parliamentary enquiries, including investigations by the House of Lords Science and Technology select committee and Constitution committee.
  • The Drugsfutures dialogue influenced the Academy of Medical Science’s priorities and led to £8million of new funding being allocated to research on addiction as a disease and a Home Office review of the safety and regulation of cognitive enhancers.
  • Public endorsement of specific projects in the Nanotechnology Engagement Group and Nanodialogues were influential in shaping the UK nanotechnology policy.

Public dialogue has also been found to have significant impacts on participants, including:

  • Increasing their knowledge of a subject;
  • Making them interested and enthusiastic about a subject, and talking to friends and family about it;
  • Increasing their levels of trust in the policy making process and bodies; and,
  • Changing their views on an issue.

I feel more involved, knowledgeable and informed on where to find information.” (Public participant, on Sciencehorizons dialogue)

“[I spoke to] friends, family, my work colleagues, because I came away after the very first visit and I was really really enthusiastic about it. I really was and I’m not just saying that!” (Public participant, on Big Energy Shift dialogue)

“[My] views did develop as hadn’t thought about it before. [I] came away with more nuanced views…made me aware of different options. Felt a bit more enthusiastic about geothermal energy.” (Public participant, on Energy 2050 Pathways dialogue)