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Dialogue with the Public: Practical guidelines

In recent years there has been a shift away from the simple promotion of science through attempting to improve public understanding of science and a move towards recognition that science’s relationship with society is complex and dynamic. The concerns about the science world’s ability to communicate effectively and interactively with "outsiders" were described most notably in the "Science and Society" report published by the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology in February 2000.

One of the most often quoted recommendations within that report was:

"That direct dialogue with the public should move from being an optional add-on to science-based policy making and to the activities of research organisations and learned institutions, and should become a normal and integral part of the process."

The House of Lords report stopped short of describing how this might be practically achieved. These guidelines have been produced by People Science & Policy Ltd for the Research Councils UK and the Office of Science and Technology, with the express purpose of addressing this outstanding issue, as the introduction by Lord Patrick Jenkin (who chaired the Science and Society inquiry) makes clear.

The guide is intended primarily for those relatively new to communicating science or who are making the first steps to move from a monologue approach to a dialogue style. Thus some more experienced communicators may find that sections in this guide cover ground they already know. It is intended that the "Guidelines" and "Organiser’s Checklist" in each chapter, will provide a useful aide memoire for all practising communicators seeking to increase opportunities for dialogue and exchanges of ideas and views.

The guide covers the issues that any activity organiser might expect to encounter. Each chapter follows a similar format with a brief discussion followed by some guidelines on issues to think about, some examples and an organiser’s checklist. The intention is always to help maximise the audience reached and the interaction with that audience.

The chapters in the guide address: setting objectives; understanding audiences; attracting audiences; encouraging dialogue within traditional formats; identifying appropriate techniques to facilitate dialogue; and evaluation.

A copy of the report is available here , the report's appendixes can be accessed here

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