People & Science

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21/11/2014

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Correspondence: Ethical engagement

... and that includes P&S, reflects Tom Wakeford   

As a columnist for People & Science’s predecessor in the 1990s, I found it encouraging to read a recent copy and find you are still sustaining a critical debate about public engagement.

... and that includes P&S, reflects Tom Wakeford   

As a columnist for People & Science’s predecessor in the 1990s, I found it encouraging to read a recent copy and find you are still sustaining a critical debate about public engagement.

Whether or not one agreed with it, Landström’s review  of the ‘breathtakingly naïve’ account of global citizen participation by Rask et al. pulled no punches. Involve, one of the groups that organised the deliberation process described in the book, is now in a multi-million pound public engagement consortium with your host organisation – the British Science Association - and Sciencewise.  So it is all the more important for your perceived independence that her analysis has been published.

New ideas

Although often seen as a branch of marketing by most senior managers in UK academia, much of the science communication community and almost all of Whitehall, I still believe proper public engagement can be part of a democratic process to ensure science serves humanity.

New ideas on what is meant by ‘proper’ will be encapsulated in a Manifesto for Democracy and Sustainable Development which is currently receiving open-sourced input.

Improving dialogue

Given the various humanitarian and environmental crises we face – not least in the UK - there is a welcome renewed interest among university researchers, such as Bradford’s International Centre for Participation Studies in improving public dialogue. At Edinburgh we have a new Community Participation in Professional Practice course that specifically aims to help researchers undertake public engagement that is ethical and leads to positive change.

The first book I’m asking course members to read is Myles Horton’s The Long Haul. Pioneer of participatory action research and tutor to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Horton reminds us that we need to form a community of critical learning if we are to succeed in the long term. I look forward to People & Science remaining part of this endeavour.

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Tom Wakeford
Tom Wakeford is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh
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