National government

How can the public inform science and technology policy?

British Science Association, National Coordinating Centre for Public Involvement
Current phase: 2020-2023

Emerging areas of science, technology and innovation provide major public benefits and potential risks, the public need to be involved in the development of policy and legislation in these areas. Sciencewise provides evidence of public views on emerging areas of science and technology by supporting government departments to design, commission and run deliberative public dialogues.

Policy makers, scientists and innovators are concerned that the public are anti-science and will reject many innovations which will bring significant benefit, including economic benefit, to the UK and world. This misunderstands and mischaracterises public attitudes to innovation. Sciencewise supports government departments to engage effectively with and understand a broader range of public perspectives on scientific and technological innovation. From this, they can develop policy and legislation which take into consideration informed public perspectives on the trade-offs between the potential benefits and risks arising from scientific and technological innovation.

What we did: 

Sciencewise has supported socially informed and transparent policy making across a range of topic areas and departments through deliberative public dialogues since 2004. There have been a number of phases of its work during this time. After being represented on the Steering Group in earlier iterations, we have been responsible for the running of the programme, and providing independent assurance that the dialogue projects commissioned meet the Sciencewise principles since April 2012. We now lead a consortium involving the British Science Association and the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement, contracted to continue to identify opportunities for the public to inform science and technology innovation policy, and to support UKRI to embed the programme within its wider public engagement portfolio. 

Over the course of its life, the Sciencewise programme has supported government departments, agencies, non-governmental public bodies and devolved administrations to commission and run over 70 public dialogues on a wide range of topics in areas such as biosciences, energy and climate change, healthcare, and data use and management.

Who's involved?

Partner and funders: Sciencewise is funded by UKRI. Sciencewise has supported government departments, agencies, non-governmental public bodies and devolved administrations including the Cabinet Office, Department of Health, Department for Transport, NHS Health Research Authority and Scottish Government.

Participants: Members of the public, policymakers and industry experts.

What was achieved? 

Sciencewise dialogues have informed policy development in a broad variety important areas of science and technology. For example, the Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy public dialogue which was run with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority led to certain treatments could be made available in the UK for the first time to help prevent serious mitochondrial disease in the UK. Similarly, when drafting their new guidance on linking patient data and human tissue, the Health Research Authority identified the value of the Sciencewise dialogue informing their policy. Finally, after commissioning a public dialogue on public use of Drones, the Department for Transport then updated their safety regulations in line with outputs of the Sciencewise public dialogue.

The programme website provides information about each of the more recent dialogue projects, including the evaluation reports. National Archives has in-depth information about all past projects.


More up-to-date examples of the programme’s impact can be found below:

The Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy public evaluation project report can be found here.

The Consent to use Human Tissue and Linked Health Data in Research evaluation report can be found here.

The Drones public dialogue project report can be found here.


Photo by Diz Play on Unsplash