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FAQ 1: What is public dialogue?

Public dialogue supported by Sciencewise brings together members of the public, policy makers, scientists and other expert stakeholders to deliberate, reflect and come to conclusions on national public policy issues. We specialise in helping the public discuss complex and controversial issues relating to science and technology.

There are other, broader approaches of public dialogue. The Sciencewise approach to public dialogue is described in The Government's Approach to Public Dialogue (the Guiding Principles).

Dialogue is at its heart about democracy and good governance.

It starts from the position that:

  • People should be able to influence the decisions that affect their lives.
  • Good policy making, especially on complex and controversial issues needs to go with the grain of the public’s views and values and be informed by a wide range of perspectives.

Compared to other forms of engagement, public dialogues typically engage a relatively small number of citizens directly, but generate deep and rich discussions that produce valuable insights into complex issues. Public dialogues often sit alongside other forms of public engagement, such as public meetings, written consultations, focus groups and surveys.

Public dialogue places particular emphasis on being:

Informed – Participants are provided with information and access to experts;

Two-way – Participants, policy makers and experts all give something to and take something away from the process; dialogue is neither solely about informing the public nor about extracting information from them;

Facilitated – The process is carefully structured to ensure that participants receive the right amount and detail of information, a diverse range of views is heard and taken into account, and discussion is not dominated by particular individuals or issues;

Deliberative – Participants develop their views on an issue through conversation with other participants, policy makers and experts;

Diverse – Participants tend to be recruited to ensure they represent a diverse range of backgrounds and views (participants are not self-selecting);

Purposeful – Dialogue engages the public at a stage in the policy making process where the policy can still be affected;

Impartial – Public dialogues are often convened, designed, delivered and facilitated by independent individuals or organisations to help ensure the process is not biased in favour of a particular outcome; and

Expansive – Public dialogue opens up conversations rather than closing them down.