Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills
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Government launches new expert resource centre to help policy makers talk to the public
Engaging with the public about the potential impacts of new and emerging science and technologies will be made easier from now on with the launch of the new Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre for Public Dialogue in Science and Innovation (ERC).
The new centre - a virtual information hub together with a range of offline support services - was unveiled today (Thursday 29 May) by Baroness Delyth Morgan, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.
She said the resource would be an invaluable tool in helping Ministers and officials understand public views and concerns on complex and potentially controversial scientific issues.
Baroness Delyth Morgan said:
"Science is constantly revealing challenging new areas for research and it's vitally important that we find out what people think about these before we commit to one policy direction or another. The creation of the ERC is therefore an important step in our pledge to involve the public much more directly in the decision-making process.
"For the first time a wide range of information, advice and guidance will be available from the same source and we will be able to gather and share valuable learning in how to best interact with all sections of society. A recent example of this is the Sciencewise public dialogue project on hybrid and chimera embryos carried out by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which took full account of the views expressed when it made its decision last September to licence this type of research in principle".
Baroness Delyth Morgan also announced that respected UK scientist, TV and radio broadcaster, Lord Robert Winston, would be taking on a leading role in 'championing' the new service. She said:
"As an advocate of public engagement and with the confidence of the public, politicians and scientists alike, Lord Winston will play an exciting part in promoting the benefits of public dialogue through the new Sciencewise-ERC."
The services available through the Sciencewise-ERC will be targeted primarily at all those who have a responsibility for national policy making in science and technology across government - including Government departments and agencies and Non-Departmental Public Bodies. In addition, it will interact with other stakeholders, including scientists, businesses, dialogue and engagement delivery organisations and the science communication community and will provide information to the public in how they can become involved in dialogue activities.
The Sciencewise-ERC will also provide co-funding to Government departments and agencies to conduct dialogue projects linked to specific live policy issues. A number of potential areas, for example synthetic biology and aviation, are being discussed with a view to commissioning projects in the next few months.
Ian Pearson, the Minister for Science and Innovation, welcomed the new Sciencewise-ERC. He said:
"Our aim is for a society which is scientifically literate, where people can talk to and question scientists on equal terms and can have their views taken into account. We want people to have confidence that the policies being developed on their behalf will benefit society as a whole".
A Steering Group headed by science communicator and broadcaster, Kathy Sykes, Professor of Sciences and Society at the University of Bristol, will guide the Sciencewise-ERC. She said:
"Our experience gained through Sciencewise over the last four years has shown us some of the potential power of public dialogue in helping policy-makers think issues through more broadly, and understand public hopes and concerns better. The public involved have felt empowered by increasing their understanding of the issues, discussing them and being heard.
"I am delighted that the ERC will increase the scale and impact of this kind of work - right across government, so that good practice in public dialogue is used when handling the biggest issues around science and society that face us."
Notes to Editors
1. The Sciencewise-ERC is funded by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) and is part of the overall Science and Society strategy being developed by the new department. It is being managed on behalf of DIUS by AEA Momenta, part of the AEA Group.
2. The Sciencewise-ERC has a budget of £1.27m over the next 12 months. Up to a further £1.15m pounds will be available in grants to government departments and agencies to co-fund dialogue projects linked to specific live policy issues.
3. Public dialogue as an aid to policy-making was recognised in the 10-year Science Investment Framework published in 2004 and given further impetus by a recommendation from the Council for Science and Technology in 2005, that the Government should develop a "corporate memory" for carrying out dialogue.
4. The decision to create the Expert Resource Centre for Public Dialogue in Science and Innovation (ERC) was announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in his last pre-Budget report to Parliament as chancellor in December 2006.
5. Lord Robert Winston is Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College, London and was recently appointed the university's first Professor of Sciences and Society. He is a Labour peer who speaks regularly in debates in the House of Lords on scientific issues.
6. The Sciencewise-ERC website is http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk.
7. For more information on Sciencewise ERC please contact Beth Chesney- Evans, Sciencewise ERC Programme Manager, email Beth.Chesney-Evans@aeat.co.uk, tel 0870 190 6072.