At a glance

Policy stage: 
Level of involvement: 
Cost: 
£80,000 - £500,000
Length of process: 
At least two weekends, whole process takes at least 8 months
Number of participants: 
30 - hundreds
Participant selection: 
purposive or sortition
Online / Offline: 
Traditionally offline, can be online

Public dialogue provides in-depth insight into the views, concerns and aspirations of citizens. In the UK it is a methodology that is primarily used in relation to science and technology.

Description

Public dialogue is a process during which members of the public interact with subject matter specialists, stakeholders and policy makers to deliberate over a relatively extended period of time on issues which are often complex or controversial. Its aim is usually to feed into future policy decisions. It supports constructive conversations between a group of citizens which has been recruited to be broadly reflective of the demographics of the wider society.

Public dialogue is mainly conducted through a series of workshops over the course of at least two days. Often workshops are held in different parts of the country. They normally follow the same broad outline. They start by providing participants with an opportunity to learn from and engage with specialists and policy makers about the key issues under discussion. Participants then have an opportunity to deliberate about the implications of what they have heard, before deliberating over the key policy implications of this discussion. Unlike other mini-publics such as Citizens' Assemblies and Juries, participants normally aren't asked to deliver specific recommentations, but rather invited to explore their informed reactions to the questions which are posed to them. 

Participants

  • Participants are drawn from the public, recruited to create a sample which is broadly reflective of the wider population. 
  • The smallest dialogues involve at least 30 participants, but can involve hundreds.
  • Every dialogue also has scientists, policy makers and other specialists to inform the participants deliberations. Ideally these specialists will observe the full dialogue workshop to hear the participants deliberations in depth. 

Costs

financial costs are medium to high:

  • Public dialogues require independent expert facilitation, and incur significant costs to support public participants from diverse backgrounds and with different needs. 

Approximate time expense is medium:

  • Effective public dialogue projects require significant input of time before the process starts to ensure that it feeds effectively into policy decisions. They will normally takeat least 6-8 months from commissioning to the final report
  • Involving key stakeholders in an oversight group is an important part of the robustness of the process but can take time.

Strengths

  • Brings public voice effectively into decision making.
  • Enables policy makers and scientists (and other experts) to hear directly public concerns and aspirations around an issue, bringing insight to new issues and different dimensions to others.
  • Helps build confidence for policy makers about difficult policy areas and directions to take
  • Flags areas that may require further public or stakeholder dialogue.
  • Is highly flexible and can be applied at all levels of government.
  • Can be used effectively with other public engagement methodologies to provide richer data.

Weaknesses

  • Extremely reliant on the skills of facilitators.
  • May also be time consuming.
  • The need to ensure participation by all significant stakeholders in an oversight group can slow progress.

Origin

Evolved from conflict resolution and mediation approaches in the US and UKand stakeholder dialogue approaches as well as social science research.  It is predominantly used in the UK in the area of scientific and technological innovation, such as Sciencewise.

 

Photo credit: Involve