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Public engagement progresses

Karen Folkes charts developments

Willetts praises public engagement in science

Visiting this year’s British Science Festival, Science Minister David Willetts stressed the importance of public engagement in realising the benefits of science.

He highlighted the important historic role of the British Science Association in bringing science to the public and indicated his government’s future support for the organisation.

Commenting on the Festival, he said:

‘Every year this festival conveys the wonder and importance of science and engineering in a different part of the country. The UK has a thriving science festival scene which leads the way in entertaining and engaging the widest possible audience with these issues.’

Mr Willetts said that as well as engaging with science it was vital that public views on scientific issues such as genetic modification (GM) were fully understood and taken on board.  

He announced in his speech that the present GM dialogue project will not continue in its current format. The details of the government’s policy on the use of GM technology in food and agriculture are still being worked through, but all policies will be based on strong evidence. Working out how best to engage with the public should be part of this.

Mr Willetts also announced that he and the Chief Scientific Advisor Professor Sir John Beddington have launched a consultation to enable the science community to have their say on the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees.

The consultation is looking at how the Code should be updated so that government continues to receive expert scientific advice that is high quality and also relevant to today’s world.  See more at

Science & Society expert groups

The Science for Careers expert group will hold a conference on 10-11 January 2011 at the National STEM Centre in York. It will bring together careers advisors, industry and academia, to discuss STEM careers advice, information and guidance.

Science and Trust expert group. As part of its response to this group, BIS are currently commissioning a learning project entitled Science, Trust and Public Engagement – exploring future pathways to good governance. The project will review, explore and test improved governance, transparency, trust and public engagement mechanisms for policy involving science and emerging technology.

The Science for All follow-up group launches its ‘conversational tool’. The Science for All expert group report highlighted a need to ‘create a wider understanding of why, when and how the public engages with the sciences’ and included an action to ‘develop a common framework to describe types/purposes of public engagement’. In response, the follow-up group have developed a practical tool to help people working in public engagement to have constructive conversations about what type of engagement is appropriate for different aims/situations.

They now have a final version of the tool which they want to share with the wider public engagement community to gather feedback from people who could use the tool as part of their roles. See


Sciencewise are co-funding a public engagement capacity building programme within the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Sciencewise Dialogue and Engagement specialists will work with six units from across DECC and its agencies in order to enhance engagement skills.

2011 public attitudes to science survey launched

BIS has commissioned the 2011 public attitudes to science survey, which combines a quantitative survey with deliberative workshops and will report in Spring 2011. It looks at key attitudes to science education, science careers, trust in science and scientists, and regulation.

Ipsos MORI in collaboration with the British Science Association launched the quantitative survey in early October and workshops have been held in London and Yorkshire.

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Karen Folkes
Karen Folkes is Deputy Head of the Science and Society team at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)
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