Sciencewise aims to support better policy-making. It does this by fostering capacity in the public sector to commission and use public dialogue to inform policy decisions involving science and technology.

The programme is funded by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and managed, since April 2012, by AEA Technology in partnership with the British Science Association and the community participation charity, Involve. It is supported by the Sciencewise Steering Group, which provides strategic direction.

The previous phase of the programme developed a comprehensive online resource of information, advice and guidance together with a wide range of support services aimed at policy makers and all the different stakeholders concerned with policy involving science and technology.

This new phase maintains the core elements of the previous programme and adds significant new dimensions. It will see the development of a community of practice for policy-makers active in this area. Two advisory groups, the Citizens’ Group and the Business Insight Group, will be established. There will be a more proactive approach to identifying and tracking live and potential areas of policy interest. There will also be a more public-facing web presence through the British Science Association’s website (the Sciencewise website itself is aimed at the policy community).

Earlier and wider

The Sciencewise programme provides co-funding to government departments and agencies to develop and commission public dialogue projects, and helps build capacity among departments to carry out dialogue, through a team of dialogue and engagement specialists.

This team can help with identifying policy areas that would benefit from early dialogue with the public. The team will help to negotiate co-funding with the project host department or agency, and develop and commission dialogue projects. It will support project delivery and evaluate project outcomes and5 impacts.

Sciencewise supports deliberative processes that feed into policy-making. It aims to open up discussion, generally at early stages of policy development, about options, priorities, hopes and concerns. These discussions bring public values and knowledge to the heart of the process. They complement and enhance representative democracy and the professional and technical analysis of policy options. Likewise they complement but do not replace the formal consultation processes of government and public bodies, which tend to take place closer to practical implementation and to be responded to primarily by those with a strong stakeholder interest.

Focusing public discourse

In recent years, Sciencewise has conducted deliberative dialogues on policy areas including synthetic biology; energy; nanotechnology; wellbeing; geoengineering; brain science, addiction and drugs. More recent and current areas include ecosystems; open data; bioenergy; and stratified medicine. A full list and more extensive information about Sciencewise is available on its website.

Debate and discussion about these and other areas of science and technology that impinge upon our lives take place all the time and are part of our social and political discourse. These structured deliberative dialogues do not replace them, and in many ways help reflect and focus them. Indeed a challenge for Sciencewise is to keep abreast of public values and views on specific issues of policy interest outside these structured processes.

An extensive programme of evaluation runs alongside Sciencewise activities, both integral to the programme and externally commissioned. It has generated a substantial evidence base for the value and cost-effectiveness of public dialogue to inform policy-making which is summarised on the Sciencewise website.

In essence, Sciencewise is advocating and supporting co-creation of policy, in line with the government’s stated Civil Service Reform plan that ‘open policy making’ will become the default. We welcome ideas and partners who can help us achieve this.