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FAQ 3: Is public dialogue useful?

Public dialogue has been found to have a number of benefits for policy makers. They report the value of having ‘direct access to the knowledge, experience, views, priorities and values of the public’, which helps them to understand why the public hold the views they do. For an overview of the benefits of dialogue, see an evaluation of Sciencewise work (2011) here.

Policy makers have reported that policy is better as the result of dialogue because:

  • Policy is more socially informed;
  • Policy is more publicly acceptable; and
  • Policy is more cost effective in the long term.

Policy makers have also reported benefits beyond policy making, including:

  • Developing better relationships with stakeholders;
  • Developing better relationships with public participants;
  • Enhanced their profile and reputation; and
  • Improved their future communications.

Experts also cite a number of benefits from public dialogue. They have:

  • Developed new skills, experience and confidence; and
  • Enriched their work and research.

It is proof that this sort of thing can work … It has been shown to some key high-level people … who were sceptical, but willing to see what it can do. I think it has started to show them what it can do.” (LWEC partner, on Living with Environmental Change dialogue)

I felt that it successfully dissected the strands of opinion, highlighting the differences between informed opinion and instinctive responses in the general public.” (HFEA member, on Hybrid and Chimera Embryos for Research)

Public dialogue can be particularly valuable on controversial issues like drug use, where tabloids can have huge influence and there can be greater difficulties and quite trouble political waters. This is where it is essential to get public engagement.” (Policy maker, on Nanodialogues)

It definitely helped the Authority come to a robust decision as it gave in-depth knowledge of public opinion and the reasoning behind it. With questionnaires you don’t get the rationale behind it.” (Policy maker, on Hybrid and Chimera Embryos for Research dialogue)

It helped me test my views and adjust them. I took notes all the time.” (Expert, on Drugsfutures dialogue)

There are strong arguments that public deliberation and interaction can lead to more robust science policy, particularly in areas that are intrinsically interdisciplinary and explicitly coupled to societal good.” (Expert, on Nanodialogues)