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31 March 2016

Public views to inform policy - toolkit

— Posted by @ 6:00pm

By James Tweed, Sciencewise Programme Manager

When policymakers are in the process of making policies on science and technology, they may wish to take account of the views and values of the public. To help out with knowing where to start, we have developed a public views toolkit to point to a range to tools and approaches that policymakers can use to take account of public views and values.
 
The toolkit does not aim to present all the tools that could be used to find out about or understand the views and values of the public. We have included a range of specially selected tools, and a way to work out which one would suit a policymaking issue best. We have provided links to where more information can be found on individual tools and on related tools.
 
The structure of the toolkit has been informed by that of the Open policy making (OPM) toolkit developed by the Cabinet Office. The current public views toolkit is intended to complement the OPM toolkit. The OPM toolkit is in the form of a manual that includes information about Open Policy Making as well as the tools and techniques policy makers can use to create more open and user led policy. Some tools for public views and values are also in the open policy making toolkit. In these cases, a short description of the tool is given in the Public views toolkit, together with a link through to the description in the Open policy making toolkit.
 
We have designed it so that when considering which tool to use and when, policy makers start with the question ‘What am I trying to achieve by bringing public views into this specific policy making process?’. The answer to this question is dependent on many factors, including:
 
•    Who they wish to engage: the general public; those that have an interest in the policy area already; those representing key interests?
•    What they wish to achieve: find out about the views of the public; understand why they hold those views; work with them to co-create solutions?
•    What kind of evidence is sought: richly qualitative: largely quantitative?
The available timescale and resource will also influence choice of tools.
 
Considering the purpose is a first step in drawing up a shortlist of suitable tools, which can then be compared on their individual characteristics in the context of the policy issue.
 
Our research shows that when seeking to take account of the views and values of the public, policy makers find it valuable to use a mix of tools, to provide a range of forms of evidence. As an example, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in considering mitochondria replacement used deliberative dialogue, opinion poll, open meetings, focus groups and written consultation to obtain public views and values. The advice provided to government drew on evidence from those five methods. Reports of all strands of evidence on mitochondria replacement together with a summary of the evidence and advice for Government are at www.hfea.gov.uk/9359.html
 
We hope that the public views toolkit will provide a good starting point for policy makers to consider the options available to them for taking account of the views and values of the public

Sciencewise recognises that processes designed to inform and influence public policy and decision-making – including public dialogue - need to be rigorous and impartial, relevant, accessible, legal and ethical, and that all such processes need to be assessed against agreed standards. At the most basic level, rigour and impartiality require quality assurance of these processes to guarantee the quality of the outputs[1].

 

A new edition of the Sciencewise Quality in Public Dialogue Framework, published in March 2016, is designed to provide an improved approach to a quality assurance process for public dialogue.

 

The Framework has been developed on the basis of learning from Sciencewise project evaluations over recent years. This new edition of the Framework takes into account experience of using the framework since the launch of the initial working paper published in March 2015. It also builds on new input from a range of academics, government departments and practitioners.

 

The Framework provides a set of questions on the context, scope and design, delivery, impact and evaluation of public dialogue practice, designed to stimulate thinking and open up design options. It is not intended to be prescriptive, limiting or bureaucratic but to provide ways of addressing the basic questions that are very often asked of public dialogue including:

 

       How many is 'enough' participants or locations?

       Should the role of scientists and other specialists involved in dialogue events primarily be to provide information, or should they also be participants in the dialogue?

       What makes a dialogue 'deliberative' and how much time needs to be given to providing information to participants compared to time for discussion?

       To what extent should dialogue processes include non-deliberative techniques such as polling techniques, and attempt quantitative analysis to present what is inherently a qualitative process (e.g. measures of scale to demonstrate strength of feeling)?

       What forms of analysis and reporting are appropriate and what role do participants have in reporting dialogue results (e.g. reports based on agreements reached collectively among or with participants)?

       What will count as sufficiently robust processes to enable decision makers to be able to know how and when to use dialogue results with confidence in decision making alongside other forms of evidence?

 

We hope the Framework will be of use as initial briefing on what public dialogue involves, as a checklist for those designing and delivering public dialogue – and for those who want to test the robustness of a dialogue project at all stages of planning, design, delivery and evaluation.


[1] Government Social Researchers (GSR) Code. See http://www.civilservice.gov.uk/networks/gsr/gsr-code

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