"Which Publics? When?" Sciencewise Webinar
Thursday, July 25, 2013 from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM (BST)
San Francisco, California
London, United Kingdom
How should we understand ‘the public’ in public dialogue? In policy-making, there seems to be a widespread assumption that the people brought together in dialogue events must constitute a representative sample of the wider population. To clarify what public dialogue can contribute to good governance and policy-making, our report explores ‘who or what is the public’ to make better sense of why and when public dialogue is carried out.
We begin by drawing on the lessons learnt from prominent public dialogue activities, emphasising how the publics involved in dialogue might differ from the publics the organisers thought they were engaging with. For example, apparently neutral publics may become more engaged in the issues being discussed and develop a ‘stake’ in the matter. Alternatively, they may already come to the table with established views or, at the opposite end, feel disenfranchised and unable to articulate their perspectives. Thus, it is important that dialogue processes remain open to the unexpected inputs which arise because publics act or respond in different ways to the particular circumstances of a dialogue.
To pursue democratic qualities such as interactivity, diversity and inclusivity in the practice of public dialogue, we highlight the importance of the idea of plural, dynamic ‘publics’ capable of mobilising around shared interests. Some publics may be well-organised with a clear voice on the issue at stake (campaigning publics). Others may come together as registered charities, community groups or internet-based collectives, though not specifically engaged with the same issue (civil society publics). Still others may be atomised and lacking the resources to become an organised public, though could be mobilised by civil society groups or organisers of public dialogues (latent publics). Our report highlights ways in which each of these publics might play a role in public engagement for good governance.
We conclude by proposing a number of questions policy makers should consider when trying to understand which publics to engage in public dalogue and when.
- Edward Andersson, Sciencewise (Chair)
- Alison Mohr, University of Nottingham
- Sujatha Raman, University of Nottingham
- Beverley Gibbs, University of Nottingham