Public Consultation

Social scientists at Edinburgh University (led by Dr Gill Haddow and Prof Sarah Cunningham-Burley) conducted a programme of public consultation for Generation Scotland.

Social and political context

Scientific advances such as nanotechnology, DNA databases, and stem cells are generating new controversies.  This is at a time when public trust in science and medicine is supposedly decreasing due to ‘scares’ such as BSE, foot and mouth, GM crops, Alder Hey, and MMR.  So, the government has stressed the importance of dialogue or consultation with the public:

“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.” (House of Lords Report (2000) Science and Society paragraph 5.48)

What is public dialogue or engagement?

It can:

1.  be about education and information that includes the uncertainty of the science.
2.  be interactive and dynamic and incorporate 2-way talk or dialogue.
3.  engage participants very early on in the development of the organisation.
4.  often involve new research methods such as citizen juries, consensus conferences, re-convened focus groups and stakeholder dialogue.
5.  ask ‘big questions’ such as how and whether funding should be given.
6.  come with a commitment to feedback and response by the organisation.
7.  have dialogue or talk with the public is not just a one-off and people are allowed the time to consider the issues
8.  be about making serious attempts to reach those marginalised in society.

But:

1.  Whose views do you listen to?  Is it the majority or the minority?
2.  There is no one thing called THE PUBLIC as people are very different to one another and have very different social values, interests and identities.
3.  Participation is not always about being included.
4.  It is important to allow people time to consider the issues but it is also important to get a representative opinion.
5.  Sometimes it is difficult to consider issues when there are only vague ideas.

We did some research before the launch of Generation Scotland (February 2006).

1st Stage (2002-2004) 2nd Stage (2004 – 2007) 3rd Stage (2007 – 2009)
Expert reviews of legal, ethical & engagement issues
On-going talks with interested citizen groups Interviews with non-participants
Full day public event Family interviews Hard-to-reach groups
17 “specialist” in-depth interviews Public Survey Re-interview scientists and others involved in GS
10 focus groups Exit questionnaires

Independent social scientist observation of meeting

Currently, comments were made about the GS Participant Information Leaflet and consent form, which were then re-worked and will shortly be reviewed by the Campaign for Plain English.  Queries and concerns that were raised were used as the basis for the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ page of this website.  In February, 2006, we organised a one-day workshop in Dundee when GS nurses, social/scientists, IT managers, GPs, etc met and discussed some of the early findings.  We think that people have important experiences and views that can help inform how GS is communicated, organised and governed.  GS has made a promise to listen, discuss and respond to the findings; not just around ideas about study materials, recruitment or participation but also on more difficult social, legal and ethical issues.

Click here to view the new public consulation publication by Dr Gill Haddow and Professor Sarah Cunningham-Burley.

For more information contact: Gill Haddow at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it