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Achieving public dialogue

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There are a wide range of interactions between 'science' and 'the public'. Examples range from visiting a museum, or indulging in a science-related hobby, to reading a newspaper article about a breakthrough in the techniques of therapeutic cloning. Many of these interactions could be said to be 'passive'. This free course, Achieving public dialogue, explores the practicalities of the public becoming more 'active' in the direction of science practice by 'two-way' interactions, with dialogue taking place between science and some part of 'the public'.

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • demonstrate a greater awareness of science-based issues of public importance
  • demonstrate a greater insight into the phrase ‘the public understanding of science’
  • demonstrate a raised awareness of the ways in which the public can be consulted in relation to science policy issues
  • think of ways in which the public might in future become more engaged in decision-making about science that has social impact.

By: The Open University

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Achieving public dialogue


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There are a wide range of different interactions between ‘science and the public’. Examples range from visiting a museum, or indulging in a science-related hobby, to reading a newspaper article about a breakthrough in the technique of therapeutic cloning, to attending a protest meeting about plans to build a waste disposal unit near to a residential area. Some such interactions are largely one-way; being a member of the audience for a ‘go-hear’ lecture, visiting a museum or‘‘listening-in’ on the workings of a policy-making committee. However revealing an experience, such events very often the public as a largely passive recipient of information. This course looks at more active forms of involvement by the public; how is the public voice heard and understood? What is public involvement of this type for and is the outcome in some way ‘better’ than traditional methods of policy making?

Our interest therefore is with ‘two-way’ interactions – dialogues between science and some part of ‘the public’, particularly in the context of imminent policy making. Dialogue in this sense is closely allied to what is called public consultation. Indeed, a great many such terms (engagement is another) are used rather loosely to describe interactions of this type and there’ll be more to say about terminology later in the course.

This OpenLearn course provides a sample of Postgraduate study in Science [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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