The case for . . . Suggested a typlogy of possible publics that might play a role in PE for open policy-making, but in somewhat different ways. And Sujatha will discuss these.
In considering the case for looking beyond a representative sample of the ‘public’ to multiple ‘publics’, we draw on the example of the 2003 GM Nation? public debate commissioned by the UK government as one of three potential strands of ‘evidence’ (incl. a parallel economic study and a scientific review) into decision-making on the commercialisation of GM crops in UK. Jasanoff (2005), Designs on Nature.Public meetings were open and attracted a number of people from environmental NGOs, and other members of the public with an active interest in agriculture, wildlife, biodiversity, food and health (for example, bee-keepers, amateur ornithologists, allotment-holders, etc).
But, because of a dominant assumption within UK policy-making that PD events must constitute a representative sample of the wider population, GM Nation? was widely considered a failed experiment – a process ‘captured’ by a critical, self-selected sample of the public. The point was made, including by the official evaluators, that these people were disproportionately represented at the public meetings. Two national surveys conducted by MORI on behalf of the official evaluators have shown that the majority surveyed were less critical and ‘hard-line’ on the matter, with relatively little prior engagement or knowledge of the matter. From a statistical perspective, self-selection was seen as problematic as it distorted the meaning and weight of public opinion, tilting it towards those perspectives that were over-represented in the sample. Key questions raised . . . Yet, statistical representativeness, a seemingly obvious requirement by p-m for the fundamental legitimacy of dialogues, has been challenged, notably by social scientists responding to controversy over the representativeness of the public in GM Nation?So, a key question that we explore in our paper, drawing on the experience of a range of UK public dialogues over the past decade is, what is the value of involving publics other than as representative samples?
In the context of PE with science, representative sampling methods have known weaknesses when it comes to engaging (rather than studying) the public on ‘wicked problems’ where knowledge is still emerging and often contested, where future impacts are uncertain, and where multiple values and meanings of the central issue are still in play.First, representativeness assumes that ‘true’ public opinion refers only to a picture of the majority view. In the case of PD around SCT, this has been equated with a category of people who were considered neutral by virtue of not having any prior or particular interest or stake in the subject.Second, given the history of efforts to educate the public about science, it is ironic that lack of knowledge was seen as a key criterion of whether the public view was being represented in GM Nation?. The point here is not to suggest that lack of knowledge should disqualify people, but that these judgments of the quality and level of engagement tend to be assumed and taken as fixed, pre-given criteria, rather than aspects which are themselves subject to debate.A further weakness is that while representative sampling aims to capture a diversity of perspectives, in the process of translating this into a singular, majority view for the purposes of reporting and policy-making, diversity, is in fact, lost in practice. Thus majority opinion by itself is inadequate to sustain legitimacy of policy-making; as substantive arguments about the content of policy, assessments by experts, and how dissenting or minority views (of publics or experts) are handled in the policy-making process also help shape legitimacy.So, if the idea of a diffuse . . .
Hearing what we have said so far, you might assume we’re arguing ‘there’s no such thing as the public or a public in the singular’ [cf no such thing as society!!] or that one cannot talk about ‘the public interest’, this is simply illegitimate – there is only your definition of public interest versus mine, one NGO’s def versus a scientist’s [according to one meaning of ‘pluralism’]Of course, that would make the very idea of democratic government impossible where governing is supposed be in the public interest - so it would mean we’re saying it can’t happen, policy decisions can by definition only serve a narrow or specific group’s interest as opposed to othersBut that’s not what we are saying at all, so want to clarify what the idea of publics is meant to draw attention toIt is this: 1.) that what comes to be defined as the public view (public interest) is the outcome of a process of which dialogue is a part; 2.) that this def can still be challenged especially when it seems to reflect only certain narrow private or individual interests or, indeed when views of the collective interest that might not adequately acknowledge constraints, limits, alternative visions – ‘publics’ allows us to both recognise the need for public input into policymaking and understand that this input can be contradictory and diverse in ways that need to taken into account
Having explored some of the core themes of the report and looked at how some of these ideas play out in practice through the GM case, we wanted to spend a few minutes now considering what implications there might be for policy.So to start this section we want to look more closely at the idea of experimentation, and the role of experiment in dialogue is something we look at more closely in the report. We have started to make the case that involving more diverse publics and perhaps having different expectations of dialogue can actually deliver a more authentic result. However, realising these benefits requires an experimental approach, and reflecting on more recent dialogues that have taken place we ask how we can nurture dialogue practice that can build longer term relationships, involve more diverse publics, improve the quality of discussion and/or be able to work with topics for longer periods of time.So what would we ask policy-makers to ask themselves as they think about public dialogue?...........
The first question would be about the amount of flexibility in the dialogue process they are imagining. The purpose of involving different kinds of publics is that we can reasonably expect them to bring their own points of view and their own understanding of what this topic area consists of. We argue this has value, because it makes for a more inclusive, interactive and dialogic communication but in order to make the most of this new dynamic the process needs to be open in a number of senses.This is a significant challenge, and it may be difficult for example if public framings wander outside the policy remit of the sponsoring body. How can that be of use as an opportunity? Public participants may not react in the ways we have come to expect, particularly on topics they feel passionately about and are well-informed about. How can we manage this kind of input and make use of it?
Opening up policymaking in the ways we have described within the report requires that the purposes of public dialogue be revisited. For exampleIs dialogue extractive or interactive? If dialogue is extractive – aimed at uncovering a point of view why not just conduct a survey? On the other hand if dialogue is interactive, how do we keep the process open enough for that interactivity to actually matter?In dialogue is it important to be demographically representative or discursively diverse? If demographically representativeness is of high importance, how do we deal with the problems this raises of important perspectives being lost? On the other hand, when we accept the importance of incorporating different points of view, how can we ensure they are preserved for best use in policy-making? Multiple irreconcilable voices may make writing conclusions difficult. How can we reflect all of these voices in a dialogue write-up? And finally, in dialogue how important is it for the process to be flexible in order to be more inclusive? How can we ensure we have an open process where unexpected points of view are heard?In opening up the question of what dialogue is for, we are asking how can we better recognise that a majority view is not the decisive input some may suggest it is?WRAP-UP: In discussingsome of the challenges of opening up policymaking through experimental dialogue processes, we hope to have put out a few questions for a lively discussion both today and on an ongoing basis, so we’ll now hand back to Ed to facilitate this. Thankyou.
Sciencewise "Which Publics" webinar slides
A L I S O N M O H R , S UJAT H A R A M A N , B E V E R L E Y G I B B S
Which Publics? When?
Exploring the policy potential of involving different
publics in dialogue around science and technology
The case for looking beyond a representative sample of the ‘public’ to
multiple ‘publics’ (10 min)
Q&A (10 min)
Key themes from the report (10 min)
Q&A (10 min)
Lessons and some questions for policy-makers to consider (5 min)
Forum to discuss the policy and practical implications of engaging
‘publics’ (15 min)
GM Nation? The public debate (2003)
A remarkable experiment in constructing novel forms of citizen deliberation
around an emerging technology (Jasanoff, 2005)
How GM Nation? revealed contested ways of thinking about
Participants were self-selected because the dialogue was open to all
Picture that emerged of attitudes critical of GM was considered unrepresentative of the
disengaged attitude of the ‘general public’ that emerged from MORI surveys (Horlick-
Jones et al., 2007)
Questions for public dialogue that followed the experience of GM Nation:
Can self-selected participants with an interest/stake in the issue claim to speak on behalf of (represent)
Shouldn’t public dialogue be conducted with a statistically representative sample to be legitimate?
Yet, the idea that we do public dialogue to capture majority public opinion has been
challenged (e.g., Lezaun & Soneryd, 2007; Reynolds & Szerszynski, 2006)
Why has the criterion of ‘representative sampling’ as the gold
standard for public dialogue been challenged?
The purpose of public dialogue is to engage the public on ‘wicked
problems’ rather than to study them
Key facts and value judgments are not settled when it comes to ‘wicked
Public dialogue aims to elicit diverse perspectives through a process of
engagement (Brown, 2004; Burgess and Chilvers, 2006)
Applied without awareness of the purpose of dialogue, representative
sampling methods can give a distorted picture focusing on:
Majority public opinion (rather than diversity of perspectives)
‘Neutral’ views (rather than multiple views incl. those informed by prior knowledge)
Translating diversity into a majority view (so that diversity is, in fact, lost in practice)
Key challenges posed by GM Nation?
Is majority opinion sufficient to sustain the legitimacy of
Can the idea of a diffuse, general public with fixed, pre-
given, ‘neutral’ views and preferences sustain good policy
where issues are complex and still emerging?
If not, how then should we think about the public?
Make themselves known at some point and in some
space(s) around the issue in question
But, may not always be visible to policy makers – depending
on size, access, contacts (e.g., Greenpeace vs. No Leith
Put forward particular visions of the public and the public
Raise new questions and bring in forms of knowledge not
Civil society publics
Organised and active in different spaces, but not
around the issue in question
Vary in size, access, visibility
E.g., Women’s Institute vs. Mumsnet vs. ‘low profile’ or
Potential to engage around the big policy issues that we
have to collectively confront
Democratic imperative of reaching out to them to meet
the criterion of inclusivity
May be characterised as ‘disengaged’
But, may well be articulate about their priorities
Cannot be predicted in advance of the process of
Health warning on labels!
Our aim is to draw attention to how the public might make
itself known, remain in the shadows or be revealed by
Sensitizing device for public dialogue and its use in policy-
The categories of publics are issue-specific, time-specific –
and subject to change
Not meant for segmenting people into fixed categories –
people may move across categories
Does not mean ‘there is no such thing as the public’ or ‘the public interest’
What comes to be defined as the public view (public interest) is the
outcome of a process of which dialogue is a part
Can still be challenged especially when it seems to reflect only certain
narrow private or individual interests
Or challenged when some embodiments of the collective interest do not
adequately acknowledge constraints, limits, alternative visions
‘Publics’ allows us to both recognise the need for public input into policy-
making and understand that this input can be contradictory and diverse in
ways that need to be taken into account
Core lesson for policy-making
Dialogue processes have the potential and capacity to
keep policy-making open to the unexpected by
experimenting. . .
With different ways of thinking about the public
With different ways of engaging with the public
With different ways of understanding the public view
With different ways, therefore, of making policy
The value of experimenting can only be captured if the
policy-making process remains open to different ways of
framing the policy problem by asking different questions
that haven’t been posed or considered before
Given the way the policy-making system is structured
and organised, does it have the capacity to keep these
(framing) questions open for public input?
Keeping policy-making open to unexpected public inputs
means we have to consider different ways of
experimenting with multiple publics in dialogue
Is the lack of ‘representativeness’ or of a majority view
a problem for policy makers? What value can multiple
publics and diverse perspectives have in the policy-
Public dialogue stakeholders who participated in our
workshop and interviews
Leverhulme Trust Research Programme (2012-17)
“Making Science Public: Opportunities and Challenges”