What do citizens think about the exit strategies from COVID-19?

Rapid online deliberation on COVID-19 technologies

Over the summer of 2020, we collaborated with Traverse, the Ada Lovelace Institute and Bang the Table to trial a rapid, online deliberation with 25-30 members of the public to talk about COVID-19 exit strategies.

Based on the principles of good deliberative practice we tested a new engagement methodology that we hoped would prove beneficial when traditional methods for public deliberation are not possible. 

In this trial, we looked at the most topical subject matter – how COVID-19 exit strategies shape or change the way the public thinks and feels about areas such as privacy, trust, solidarity and human rights. The focus was on citizens' changing relationship with these norms as a result of the deployment of data and digital technologies in the pandemic response.

We ran the process as openly as we could; it is essential that researchers, policymakers, and the public share lessons and learn from each other. We ran this independently; the process wasn't commissioned by the government or the NHS. It was funded and supported by the organisations involved who believe in the importance of the work.

Each week published a short piece on the lessons we were learning. You'll find these write-ups here and the final report here

If you are interested in finding out more about this work, drop Simon a note at [email protected]

Principles of deliberative practice

1) A learning experience, and concerned with evidence: Participants learn in some depth about the topic under consideration, and interrogate the evidence from different perspectives before reaching a conclusion.

  • We presented information about COVID-19, proposed exit strategies and related technology to ensure a shared understanding among the participants. We also invited a range of experts to present to the mini-public, and then be questioned as part of a deliberation.

2) Long-form and reflective: It’s important that participants have time to develop their views over a period of time, rather be called on to give initial, surface reactions. In face-to-face events, this is often done over a day, or a series of full-day events.

  • For this pilot, we spread our activities over three-and-a-half weeks, and incorporating reflective journaling activities to give participants time to gather their thoughts over the period.

3) Hearing a diversity of voices: Participants are usually selected through stratified random sampling or quota sampling so that the group reflect the diversity of the general UK population. This is not for generalising the findings (as in quantitative work) but rather to ensure that a range of views are present, and that participants hear a variety of perspectives, enabling them to challenge their own, and each other’s views. This supports the development of more rounded, considered opinions.

  • We created a simple sample for our group of participants, based on rural and urban location, and a mix of ages and other key demographics.

4) Embracing complexity, while exploring consensus: Deliberation is most helpful when navigating complex and controversial topics as it provides space for participants to consider difficult trade-off, and weigh the long-term consequences of issues or decisions. Deliberation may seek consensus, but acknowledges that full consensus may not be reached, focusing instead on understanding the values and belief that drive irreconcilable differences.

  • We used a range of tools and facilitation techniques, as in face-to-face methods to support participants in thinking through these topics, and testing out their shared and divergent views.

Image credit: Photo by Cory Checketts on Unsplash