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Deliberative video conference


Deliberative video conferences bring together a demographically balanced group of 8-12 citizens in a verbal, real-time online conversation. You can circulate materials to the group in advance, and then engage in a facilitated discussion to gather an understanding of public views on the topic in question. If desired, it is possible to run several sessions on the same issue to increase the sample size.

Click here for details of the tool characteristics.

Best practice examples

This is a relatively new tool. However, Sciencewise has completed an initial pilot of this approach with policymakers at the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an independent statutory body tasked with advising the government on how to reduce carbon emissions. Sciencewise engaged 17 members of the public from across the UK in an online conversation with analysts at the CCC. Participants were asked about the non-financial barriers that may affect the uptake of low-carbon heat technologies, such as heat pumps and heat networks, as well as what they thought some of the solutions to those barriers might be. This was explored through the use of scenarios, participant polling and reflection upon participant polling. Findings from the Sounding Board project will form part of the Committee on Climate Change’s evidence base for advice to the UK government on low-carbon heating. More information about this project is available here.

When to use and not use a deliberative video conference

Use deliberative video conferences when:

•    You are seeking the considered views of members of the public (rather than ‘top of head’ responses) and want to take a deliberative approach
•    You want to reach a demographically diverse group of members of the public
•    You face time and resourcing constraints (that rule out more in depth and face to face deliberative engagement)

Don’t use deliberative video conferences when:

•    You require in depth engagement with the public. The online format only allows for a relatively short (up to 90 minutes) conversation with the public.
•    You need to cover a wide range of issues. The limited time frame of the digital panel means you need to focus discussion on a small number of issues.
•    You need to engage members of the public without access to the internet.

How to run a deliberative video conference


From commissioning to write-up, the process will take approximately 8 weeks.


Framing the question

Policy-makers first need to frame the issues for discussion with the public, ensuring that the scope of the engagement is sufficiently limited that it can be adequately covered in the online format.

Selecting participants

Citizens are selected for the panel based on their demographic characteristics.  Participants can be selected either to obtain a group that is representative of the public at large, or to allow for discussion with targeted population groups. This can be done by working with Sciencewise, or an external provider.

Briefing participants

You will need to prepare and circulate briefing information for participants in advance of the online discussion.

Hosting deliberative video conferences

The online discussion can be structured in many ways. It will usually involve a policy-maker or specialist presenting information to participants, an opportunity for members of the public to ask questions, and a facilitated discussion of the issues at hand. The panel can be hosted on a range of videoconferencing software platforms. We recommend working with Sciencewise or a public engagement specialist to run the sessions.


The discussion will be written up into a short paper on key messages and public views for policy makers. We also recommend undertaking a light-touch evaluation of the process and impacts.

What’s required of policy makers?

Policy-makers will be asked to:

•    Help design the framing of the questions for the discussion.
•    Work with the public engagement specialists to assist in producing information to send to citizens.
•    Send a representative to the deliberative sessions to introduce the issues and respond to questions.
•    Input into evaluation, feedback and learning following the events.


Deliberative video conferences are a relatively low cost and rapid way of obtaining considered public input on policy issues, and allows policy makers to reach out to a demographically diverse group of members of the public. It is a valuable tool to deploy in many different circumstances. As well as being effective as a one-off tool, it is also suitable for use when policymakers need iterative input for an issue that is changing and developing quickly.

Deliberative video conference characteristics