Latest News

STFC public dialogue on space weather impacts Cabinet Office strategy and Lords inquiry

[Return to main menu]

The final report of the evaluation of the public dialogue on Space Weather was published in January 2016. The project was commissioned by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and supported by Sciencewise.

Space weather has been recognised as a significant natural hazard, with the potential to disrupt many
technologies critical to the functioning of modern society. Extreme space weather events are
characteristically low probability, but with the potential for a high level of impact. Understanding of the science of space weather is limited, and there are considerable uncertainties about how severe the impacts of such an event would be. The STFC felt that a better understanding of how members of the public understood space weather and perceive related risks and mitigation, as well as how to communicate the nature of these risks, was required.

The evaluation report concluded that the project met a defined policy need to fill a clear gap in the evidence base.

An immediate response to the dialogue findings was given by STFC, which led the development of a set of recommendations to facilitate action from government and members of the space weather community. This was undertaken with advice and encouragement from members of the Oversight Group for the dialogue project, and the resulting four recommendations were published in the dialogue report.

Following the public launch event for the dialogue results in February 2015 attended by 75 people including two of the public participants, the project has had a number of specific impacts (as identified in the evaluation report and subsequently, as covered in previous Sciencewise impact summaries):

•    The dialogue was fully acknowledged in the joint BIS / Cabinet Office Space Weather Preparedness Strategy, published in July 2015. The strategy refers to the dialogue as having informed the work on engaging the public on how to plan for the risk of severe space weather, and on building resilience to severe space weather. More generally, the strategy reflects the four recommendations from the dialogue report.

•    The dialogue findings were presented as evidence to, and recognised in the final report of the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee’s inquiry into the resilience of the electricity system, published in March 2015.

•    In February 2015, the dialogue was nominated for an engagement award and has been announced as one of the ‘Westbourne 100’: the top 100 best campaigns of 2014.

•    The STFC and others involved in the dialogue have undertaken extensive dissemination of the dialogue results, including:

•    Participation in space weather week in Washington. The dialogue report was spoken about at length during the US-UK Space Weather Workshop on power grids and public communications in Washington in February 2015.

•    STFC was invited to, and participated in, European Space weather week in November 2015 in Belgium – for the session on space weather communication and dialogue across Europe.

•    Mike Hapgood, Chair of the project Oversight Group, contributed an article to Room, the Space Journal, in March 2015. The article provided a detailed summary of how the dialogue project worked, and of the key insights from the public. The article concludes:

"The Space Weather Public Dialogue has proved to be a very useful exercise in exploring (a) public attitudes to space weather and its mitigation, (b) how to communicate the risk to the wider public, and (c) how personal and community resilience can complement official efforts.” Mike Hapgood, Chair of the Oversight Group.

More generally, the dialogue stimulated significant levels of collaboration between stakeholders and cross-agency working, including with Cabinet Office and also local community resilience officers. The outcomes of the dialogue were anticipated to feed into the policies and strategies of these organisation. The dialogue results are being used and are expected to feed into further policies and strategies of several organisations. The evaluation report quotes specialist stakeholders involved in the dialogue:

“There’s nothing else out there on public attitudes. So for a practitioner like me it’s worth its weight in gold.”

“It was interesting and innovative in that it [the dialogue] was so public facing. Everything else I work with is from a technocratic process.”

The wider stakeholder support for the project was very strong throughout. Initially, the project was developed with a wide range of funding support in addition to core STFC and Sciencewise support, with additional funding from STFC’s RAL Space, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), National Grid, and Lloyd’s of London. The evaluation report identifies that

“the partnership with Lloyd’s has been effective and allows the disseminated outputs to reach a different audience and network of contacts.”

There was also a strong Oversight Group of 15 members which was set up early (before contractors were appointed), and participation levels from Group members were high. As a result of the early development of these relationships, the evaluation report identifies that:

“One of the key overarching strengths of the dialogue was the level of collaboration and cross agency working it has stimulated. Primarily this has been across academic partners, although clearly extended to other groups, most notably Government departments such as Cabinet Office and also local community resilience officers. Indeed, the outcomes of the dialogue are anticipated to feed into the policies and strategies of these organisations.”

It also concludes that:

“Indeed, and as an overarching comment, one of the key successes of the dialogue (aside from the insights that have been generated in terms of public attitudes to space weather) has been the impact on cross-agency working and the linkages that have been established between academia and policy. The project team have been very successful in engaging a wider stakeholder audience.”

The evaluation reports stakeholders involved in support of these findings:

“It’s good to have more collaboration in the sector, and the public forums gave stakeholders a good reason to come together.”

“As a community we’ve realised we have to work closely together and have a central point to put all the material.”

Evaluation of the Space Weather Public Dialogue. Report for Sciencewise and the Science & Technology Facilities Council. Icaro Consulting.

House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, 1st Report of Session 2014-15. The Resilience of the Electricity System, published 12 March 2015.

‘Space Weather: the public and policy’, by Mike Hapgood, in Room, March 2015.

See related project page: Space weather dialogue