Priorities for public insight in research and innovation policy

An overview of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Sciencewise public dialogue programme priorities for 2024.

Listening to a diverse range of voices improves both policy and research. For evidence of this you only have to speak to policymakers and research funders who take part in our dialogues, who are almost universally convinced that public insight improves their work.

For example, UKRI colleagues who commissioned a public dialogue on UKRI’s future flight programme found public insight invaluable:

Our public dialogue work, about technologies that are not yet in the public consciousness, gave us real insights. This…helps us design an ecosystem that the public will want rather than later persuading them to accept technology.

Public dialogue

Public dialogue helps improve policy and research because it allows you to see your work from perspectives and angles that you often can’t see when only speaking to professional stakeholders, whether they are universities, businesses, government or other funders.

As we say in UKRI’s strategy:

Fully embedding a range of insights, expertise and perspectives makes research and innovation outcomes more relevant, impactful and trustworthy.

We invite you to see the value of public dialogue yourself through exploring our report: How can public dialogue deliver better outcomes? (PDF, 4.8MB)

Priorities for public insight in 2024

UKRI’s Sciencewise public dialogue programme is busier than ever and we wanted to share an update on our plans for 2024.

Public input into decision making and research prioritisation

We are supporting the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to help them work with the public to develop a decision-making framework for the work that they do.

A report will be published in the spring and will have useful lessons for research and innovation (R&I) stakeholders on how to involve the public in decision making processes about policy and investment choices.

Climate adaptation

In 2022 the UKRI public engagement team supported the world’s first public dialogue on climate adaptation.

The dialogue found an almost complete lack of awareness about the seriousness and immediacy of climate change risks and strong support for urgent action.

Building on a current public dialogue that we are running with the Climate Change Committee on identifying an attractive vision from a household perspective for delivering net zero, we are exploring opportunities to collaborate with them and other public bodies to further build public engagement into climate adaptation research prioritisation and policy.

Data and artificial intelligence (AI)

The Sciencewise programme has deep expertise in data and AI, having conducted many dialogues on related topics over two decades.

We recently ran a public dialogue with Department for Science, Innovation and Technology on digital identities to help the UK government involve the public in the development of governance and standards for digital identity services and technologies.

Alongside this, we are developing plans with UKRI’s Responsible AI UK programme to help shape the development of AI to benefit communities and society.

Supporting UKRI teams to involve the public in their work

A key shift in the focus of the Sciencewise programme over the last two years has been to support more UKRI-led public dialogues.

As the largest public sector funder of R&I in the UK, it is important that our work is informed by diverse perspectives.

We’re currently supporting colleagues working on the Industrial Strategy Grand Challenge at Innovate UK to build public perspectives into the development and regulation of future flight technologies.

We’re also working closely with strategic theme leads to explore opportunities to involve diverse voices in the development of future priorities for the themes.

What should we focus on next?

What other areas of R&I policy and practice are most in need of public perspectives?

Some priorities we are picking up in discussions with stakeholders, scoping work and listening to expert debates that do not yet include public voices include:

  • deep sea mining
  • AI and the future of work
  • nuclear fusion
  • ultra processed foods

A more formal approach we take to identifying priorities involves our social intelligence reports – deep dives into areas of research where we think public insight and perspectives are most needed.

We will publish these regularly throughout 2024.

Here is our latest report which looks at the health applications of engineering biology.

Supporting public sector organisations

For public sector organisations working in R&I, UKRI’s Sciencewise public dialogue programme could potentially help you build public insights and perspectives into you work.

Not only do we have a dedicated team of experts who can advise you on how to set up a dialogue – such as helping you develop questions for discussion with the public and advising on formats – the programme can also fund up to 50% of the dialogue costs.

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss opportunities to work together.

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