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FAQ 6: Is public dialogue worth the cost?

The costs of public dialogues are small in comparison to the money spent on the issue areas they cover, and a little upfront investment in public dialogue can save lots of time and money in the long term.

Public opposition to new technologies can delay or prevent any further development or innovation, resulting in large costs managing conflict, not to mention the opportunity costs of developments being delayed that the public might otherwise have supported. Public dialogue gives policy makers direct experience of the hopes and fears, and views and values of the public, enabling them to ‘find ways forward that go with the grain of public views, and avoid the conflicts and entrenched positions that can result in the complete rejection of new technologies.’

For example, the Stem Cell Dialogue in 2007 cost £300,000, but the dialogue helped policy makers to find a way forward that enabled the UK to take a leading position in regenerative medicine – an industry worth £500 million per annum in 2009.

Adequate and appropriate resources are needed to enable dialogue to be effective and for its benefits to be fully realised, but that does not mean it always has to be expensive – cheaper methods can sometimes be equally effective.

The cost of Sciencewise-ERC dialogue projects so far have ranged from £30,450 to £788,000, though the majority lie in the £100,000 to £300,000 bracket. It is worth highlighting that the cost of a public dialogue is a very small proportion of an overall budget for science and technology development. For example, the Nanodialogues project in 2006 cost £240,000, while the value of nano research in 2007 was estimated to be about $12 billion and the value of nano-enabled products $50 billion.

The view of public participants is that public dialogue is worth the cost, but only if their views are listened to and the process makes a difference.

“It saves you a lot of difficulty further down the line if you do public dialogue early on.” (Policy maker)

“[It] might seem an unnecessary expense in this age of austerity but not doing it can have larger costs further on.” (Practitioner)

“One thing we have learned from our ongoing activities on stem cell research is that the way in which you become a leader in stem cell research is by being responsive to public opinion.” (Public affairs manager, Medical Research Council)

“Not making policy mistakes avoids risks such as time lost correcting mistakes (and dealing with public concerns about actual and potential policy mistakes), delaying implementation of the parts of the policy that could have been taken forward without problems, as well as major financial, legal, reputational and regulatory costs.” (Sciencewise-ERC evaluation)

'There was a general feeling that this consultation (and consultation in general) was money well spent if, and often only if, Government listened, took notice and what the public said made a difference.’ (NUC Deliberative Public Event Evaluation)