Latest News

Public attitudes literature review

Public attitudes literature reviews bring together information on the views of the public on a topic by compiling and analysing previously conducted research across a range of engagement methodologies and tools. The reports also provide policy makers with an introduction and explanation of existing public views on a topic, and can be used to identify areas where further dialogue would add value to the policy making process.

Public attitudes literature reviews require regular updating to cover current views of the public on new scientific developments. They are therefore able highlight trends in the public views as they change over time and with provision of new information.

Click here for details of the tool characteristics.

Best Practice Examples

Sciencewise have successfully used social intelligence reports to guide government policy making processes.

Guiding calls for policy making research

The Government’s Competition and Markets Authority utilised Sciencewise’s Public views on big data paper extensively during their assessment of the commercial use of consumer data.

Demonstrating increasing appetite for public engagement with science

Sciencewise’s Public views on robotics and autonomous systems was cited  as a cornerstone for future public engagement activities by previous government, and demonstrated that public curiosity in science is growing.

When to use and not use public attitudes literature reviews

Use public attitudes literature reviews:

•    When steering for future research within a given topic is desired
•    When a comprehensive snapshot of public opinion is desired
•    When data on trends in public views is required

Don’t use public attitudes literature reviews:

•    For novel or niche topic areas where previous research is lacking. Successful development of social intelligence reports is reliant on the existence of sufficient existing information. Previous Sciencewise social intelligence reports are typically based on at least ten substantial engagement involving at least 2,000 participants .   
•    If you would like public views after new developments in a topic area, as new research is likely required

How to

1  Define the Scope

Defining the scope of the review is of benefit to both the audience and author of the literature review. For the former, a clear definition of the topic is helpful to frame future research and policies. A scope broader than the range of literature reviewed may infer a gap in research where there isn’t one.

For the author, the scope guides the extent and direction of research. The scope must be sufficiently narrow to make summarising existing research feasible.  

To define the scope, it may be useful to set inclusion or exclusion criteria based on target demographics or topic. The scope of existing research can also be used as a basis or to refine the scope as the review progresses.

2  Provide a background and context

An introductory section should explain the relevance of the topic to industry, policymakers and public, and discuss the challenges and opportunities the topic presents to those stakeholders.  An overview of research funding and policies in the area is necessary to provide context for the policy maker.

3  Summarise Public views

The review of existing research should focus on several areas. Firstly, the level and nature of the public’s awareness of the topic should be analysed, to highlight assumptions, gaps in awareness and areas of confusion. This information can be used to plan future information initiatives. Further areas suitable for review include:

•    Perceptions of opportunities, risks and challenges
•    Ideas for maximising opportunities and safeguarding against challenges
•    Desire to engage with topic
•    Predictions for future outcomes
•    Media perspectives and focus
•    Confidence/trust in relevant government or industry
•    Perceptions of government’s role

4  Identify Trends and Gaps

If research into a topic has taken place over a suitable period of time, it may be possible to identify trends in the research. Trends may concern the nature of public opinion, or the level of engagement in general with a topic. It may also be possible to identify differences in opinion between demographics.

A gap analysis is also a useful means of identifying where future research would be most valuable to the policy maker. Gaps may exist in both the focus of existing literature and methodologies used. For the former, it may be helpful to consider if the factors discussed in point 3 have been covered. To identify gaps in methodologies, it is useful to consider what level of insight existing research provides. If existing research only covers the opinions of the public, there may be room for further dialogue to investigate the underlying values behind them.

5  Maximise the impact of the report

The communities involved in a topic area should become apparent during the research process. Using similar communication channels to these communities to share findings is therefore an efficient way of reaching target audiences.  

6  Keep an eye on developments and update where necessary

As public opinion literature reviews intend to give a snapshot of current public views, it is critical the reports are kept up to date. The review should be updated when there are new developments in a topic area or new research has been conducted.  


Public attitudes literature reviews:

•    Help to Identify influencers and specialists within a particular area. They reveal which stakeholders have conducted scientific research in the field and organisations that have experience of conducting public opinion research.
•    Provide an up-to-date assessment of the current state of a topic
•    Maximises the value of future research by identifying areas of biggest need
•    Help to avoid unnecessary duplication of research in the future
•    Are a cheap, cost-effective way of gathering large amounts of information

To be aware of

•    Literature reviews are susceptible to bias. Care should be taken to ensure there is no selective inclusion of studies, and that a wide range of sources are used
•    The quality of data can be difficult to determine, as the review authors may have had no involvement in the design or implementation of the included research

Other Resources

Public attitides literature review characteristics