Published on May 4, 2016

ScienceWise Sounding Board Report – Low-carbon Heating Technologies

Citizens & science Sciencewise

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.


Sciencewise logoIn February 2016 ScienceWise undertook a public dialogue project for the Committee on Climate Change to help them gain a better understanding of public views and concerns relating to low-carbon heating technologies.

The dialogue was delivered using ScienceWise’s new on-line engagement tool the Sounding Board.
This is a tool is designed to bring small groups of participants together in verbal, real-time web forums to facilitate deliberative input from the public on challenging science and technology issues.  As one of a range of tools being developed and tested through the ScienceWise programme Sounding Boards are being shown to have particular value when time, resource constraints and other practical considerations mean that a wider, more in-depth public engagement process would be neither feasible or proportionate.

This Sounding Board involved 17 members of the public, recruited to provide a sample of homeowners and renters from urban, suburban or metropolitan areas across the UK, in discussions about the non-financial barriers to choosing low-carbon heat technologies, such as heat pumps and heat networks. ScienceWise circulated background materials and topic information to them in advance, and then facilitated 2 online discussions between policymakers and participants. Using a range of scenarios, polls and group reflections on the polling results the Sounding Board supported those involved to engage in informed discussion and deliberation about:

  • the potential for uptake of low-carbon heating technologies (including heat networks and heat pumps);
  • any barriers to uptake; and
  • what potential solutions to those barriers might be.

The findings from this Sounding Board will now form part of the Committee on Climate Change’s evidence base for advice to the UK government on low-carbon heating

While the small numbers involved in a Sounding Board means that the results of the engagement cannot be seen as representative of public opinion at large, this method can still play a valuable role in opening up the policy making process.  When used early in the process a Sounding Board can give policy makers insight into the range of public views, experiences and perspectives on an issue and identify concerns which may need to be tackled. At a later stage this method can also be used to cross-check whether policy makers have correctly understood the scope of issues the public consider relevant to the matter at hand and ensure key questions have been addressed.

Staff from Involve were part of the ScienceWise team that designed, facilitated and reported on this project and a full report, covering both the outcomes of the engagement and a detailed description of the Sounding Board method, is now available on the ScienceWise website.


Leave a Reply