Engaging wisdom from Sciencewise

The engagement of the public with the tricky debates around science and technology is now a common occurrence. Ten years ago that wasn't the case. Fresh from the BSE crisis, and the (still) ongoing controversy about genetically modified crops the Government took a bold step, the creation of an organisation to help Government engage in public dialogue. So Sciencewise was born, and is now celebrating its tenth birthday.

To mark the event a fascinating summary[pdf] of Sciencewise's thought leadership role has been published this week. For any policy-maker thinking about public engagement as part of their policy development work this slim volume represents an excellent, and easily digestible, introduction to a complex field.

The paper is structured around summaries of the key contributions to the development of ideas around public dialogue from recent years. These summaries are an excellent starting point, but are also accompanied by a well-thought through annotated bibliography. Written with the busy policy-maker in mind you can take three routes through the document. The ten-minute version is a skim of colour-highlighted summaries, with an hour to spare you can easily read the whole document, and then there is an invitation to delve into the bibliography, spending half a day or more.

The coverage is broad – even though I have been around the public engagement world for a while I found new material – but not so comprehensive as to be overwhelming. With just a small commitment of time someone new to public engagement can discover the key ideas that are currently debated in the field, and easily learn enough to begin a public engagement project, perhaps with the support of a practitioner from Sciencewise. Overall this is an excellent and recommended contribution.