Sciencewise dialogue projects used to support case for public engagement in strategic infrastructure developments
The Democratic Audit website reported in June and July 2015 on two aspects of a seminar held at the UCL Transport Institute on 23 March 2015 on public engagement and major infrastructure developments.
The first article, published on 29 June 2015, considers 'Depoliticising infrastructure: can a strategic approach enhance public engagement?'. The article considers the challenges of involving the public at a strategic level in the light of "The prevailing trend is for further devolution of decision-making, rather than towards greater centralisation. ... some of our participants were sceptical as to whether there was great appetite among the public for strategic engagement, across modes of transport, for example."
However, Dr Diane Beddoes (Chief Executive of Dialogue by Design - which has delivered and evaluated numerous Sciencewise projects) and Dr Jack Stilgoe (a member of the Sciencewise Steering Group):
"put forward a contrasting view, drawing on their experience of projects with Sciencewise , the UK’s national centre for public dialogue in policy making involving science and technology, where they had discovered public appetite and aptitude for the most complex and technical of subject matters when approached and explained skilfully (and – it should be said – when citizens were properly recompensed for their time)."
The article concludes that "Government departments can – and some do – involve the public at a more strategic level than is current common practice."
Similarly, the second article, published on 6 July 2015, summarises the same two speakers (Diane Beddoes and Jack Stilgoe) who:
"spoke of how to improve the quality of engagement on infrastructure generally, and the need to move beyond an approach based purely on compliance with legal requirements that characterises many such projects. Both these speakers referred to dialogue projects run by Sciencewise, the UK’s national centre for public dialogue in policy making involving science and technology, which uses innovative methods to engage the public on complex and controversial issues."
The article continues by stating:
"we could see a potential application of more dialogue-based processes here: the use of more deliberative methods, unrestricted by the linear process of formalised consultation could help to explore the relationship between views on strategic issues and concerns about local impacts."
It is also interesting to note that:
"Will Bridges from National Grid’s North West Coasts Connection project asserted in his presentation that engagement and consultation, if done properly, actually reduce the overall timescale of the project as well as improving the final proposals for the scheme. This recognition was reiterated in table discussions."
Diane Beddoes also drew attention to another Sciencewise-supported dialogue that created the My 2050 tool. The article states:
"Another participant suggested that consultation was often too serious and ‘stuffy’ and that presenting issues in a more fun way would make them more accessible and engaging. They mentioned a government consultation on parks which made use of a video game to encourage participation. These examples have a similar rationale to the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC) online 2050 simulation tool which Dr Diane Beddoes referred to in her presentation, encouraging people to engage with the trade-offs involved in strategic policy – a form of deliberation."
The future development of the use of dialogue in major infrastructure projects is described in the concluding paragraph to the article:
"As we’ve seen, there is potential for dialogue approaches to be used alongside the formal statutory consultation process, helping views to be explored in greater depth. Moreover, at a more strategic level – in the development of national infrastructure policy, for example, it is far easier to see the possibilities of a Sciencewise-style public dialogue."