Published on April 5, 2012

Citizens at the heart of the new Sciencewise programme


By Simon Burall

Simon Burall is a Senior Associate of Involve. He has extensive experience in the fields of democratic reform, governance, public participation, stakeholder engagement, and accountability and transparency.

This post is drawn from involve’s newsletter. You can sign up to the newsletter on the homepage. 

I wrote a couple of weeks ago announcing that we are joining forces with AEA Technology and the British Science Association to deliver the Sciencewise-ERC programme. Rather than reprise that post and outline the key elements of the next phase, I now want to highlight a new element of the programme that we are really excited about – the development of a Citizen Group.

A short article on the Sciencewise website from last year notes the potential benefits from involving citizens in the co-regulation of science and science policy. At the same time it highlights the distinct lack of examples of where this has happened in practice. As we were developing our proposal we felt that the next phase of Sciencewise presented an opportunity to pilot an approach to bring the voices of citizens into the heart of the programme. The idea of the Citizen Group was born.

For this next phase of Sciencewise, its Steering Group will be reformed with a revitalised membership drawn from a similar range of stakeholder groups. The Group will provide strategic guidance and advice to the Sciencewise programme and BIS, the government department responsible for its direction.

A significant difference, however, will be the addition of the Citizen Group.

This is no peripheral add on. Those involved in the strategic direction of the programme will hear the views of citizens directly through the deliberations that take place between the Group’s members. In addition, two people from the Citizen Group will sit on the Steering Group to represent members’ views. We are aiming for the Citizen Group to be at the heart of the Steering Group’s work.

The Citizen Group will be made-up of members of the public who are not experts in the fields of science or public dialogue. The aim is that it reflects the diversity of the people who took part in previous Sciencewise dialogues, as far as is feasible. As more dialogues take place, membership will be renewed.

Because members of the Citizen Group have taken part in previous dialogues, they have valuable contextual knowledge which will be important in informing the development of new dialogues. The Citizen Group will act as a critical friend, testing the soundness of the proposals, reality checking key decisions and asking questions that may not have been considered by the experts. We hope that the Citizen Group will bring a fresh perspective to the programme which will help to encourage innovation.

This is a pilot. While we are excited about it, we are also aware that there are many things we are going to have to get right. Before we establish the exact form and process of the Group we are looking for examples of where groups like this have been used effectively (or not) before. Can you point us to any examples, lessons we must learn or people we should speak to?

If the pilot is successful, we expect it to become a powerful case study of how citizens can be involved in an on-going basis in the development and running of government programmes dealing with complex and controversial topic areas.

Image by Minneapolis Institute of Arts

One Response to “Citizens at the heart of the new Sciencewise programme”

  1. April 18, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    Hello, this looks like a great development, well done. We had a plan to do a similar thing, with trustees, a steering group and what we were calling a Citizen’s Advisory Panel. However (apart from the fact that no-one would fund it!) the issue which was raised time and again was that a ‘lay panel’, soon became not very ‘lay’, and we discussed the need to ‘refresh’ the panel every couple of years, which I thought was tricky. I took the view that this would be a bridge we could cross when we came to it, but certainly revisit and evaluate every two years to see where the value for both parties was being gained. Making it ‘worth it’ for them was also something we discussed.

    Good luck, I am looking forward to seeing how it goes!

Leave a Reply