According to the authors, these [participation] processes are advantageous in a number of ways. For example:
The public gets to have a greater say, thanks to increased opportunities for social and political participation; citizens also gain a greater understanding of social and political structures and processes, and are encouraged to become more involved in political and social developments even beyond the effort to indentify new indicators.
Policymakers find it easier to do their jobs, since an open, participatory debate on the issues at hand and on goals, conflicts and costs mean public-sector actors no longer need to find solutions on their own and then explain them to the general public.
Governance systems are strengthened by the process as they become more flexible and begin communicating information in a more open manner; social and technological innovations also develop and the public adopts new ways of engaging with social issues.
"Science communication gives you the chance to find out about other fields and helps put your research into context. It may even, as has happened with me, lead to new insights that only come with a broader, even interdisciplinary, way of thinking."
"...it was clear that they [researchers] had taken a variety of things away from the day, ‘sharpening up their ideas’"
Researcher: "I think the group discussions, the discussions, we got a lot out of…we got lots and lots of notes and we got lots of ideas, we certainly got a sense of what people felt and a lot of it did actually help reinforce that the approach we were taking was right, so that was good."
"Impacts on scientists, experts and other stakeholders involved in the dialogue projects included having enabled them to develop new skills, experience and confidence in communicating with the public, provided opportunities to learn about public views, fears and questions first hand, increased their respect for the quality of the potential public contribution to science and technology, and enabled them to gain a higher personal profile and build new relationships and networks."
This example comes out of a poet-in-residence scheme as part of a campus-wide engagement programme exploring the issues around the personal genome and society. The programme aimed to involve everyone working at the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus so included Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute staff and also staff from the European Bioinformatics Institute.
The poet in residence was Fiona Sampson and she visited campus several times and was commissioned to write eleven poems. Anyway, one of the Sanger Institute researchers and also the engagement project committee's chair, Dr Jeff Barrett, said the following about his encounters with Fiona:
"The idea of inviting a poet to campus had raised many eyebrows, and I also wondered what inspiration an artist wielding abstract words would find in our concrete world. Almost as soon as we started talking, however, I found myself off my familiar script of explaining what research I do, and instead talking about why I do it. That one conversation changed how I view my own science."
Neither Jeff or Fiona were the intended audience; the project was meant to engage campus staff and they were really just the people facilitating this engagement through their involvement in the poet-in-residence part of the wider project. Also, the result wasn't a change in research perspective, it was a change of script as Jeff says - a new way of thinking about how he presents what he does. “
"Done well, public dialogue opens up and informs political debate about alternatives. It points to the many possible ways in which we might proceed and make lock-ins and other forms of closure less likely. Dialogue is one of many ways (others include collaborative research and interdisciplinarity) of broadening research agendas and increasing diversity."
"The challenge is to make scientists conscious that science is embedded in society, and that dialogue with the wider public is a prerequisite for scientific responsibility. In fact, it is the role of the public to make scientists responsible. Scientists have to learn this... Responsible Research and Innovation must become an integral part of the scientific process... The benefit is more responsible science and less regulation, including fewer control mechanisms"
"Despite the many different forms, roles, and perspectives around public engagement, then, it is clear that (in bioscience governance, as elsewhere), the real value of more inclusive participation lies in opening up—rather than closing down—a healthy, mature, accountable democratic politics of technology choice.
So, the challenge lies not so much in procedural design, as in the creation of a dynamic new political arena—in which reasoned scepticism is as valued in public debates about technology as it is in science itself. In this way, we may hope to renew and recombine two strangely sundered aspects of the Enlightenment: science and democracy. Far from presenting obstacles (as often implied), it is the emergence of a diverse vibrant new “fifth estate” of practices and institutions around public engagement that best embodies a true Enlightenment vision of progress. Indeed, in bioscience as elsewhere, this exercise of greater social agency over the directions for knowledge and innovation moves beyond enlightenment over the mere possibility of social advance, towards real enablement of a greater diversity of directions for human progress."
"...What I found was that both groups (scientists and patients), benefited from this event. The patients got a glimpse of what goes on behind closed doors, how the scientists do their work, what it is they are focusing on. The scientists got to hear the patient stories, and benefited from the amazement that the patients had in their skills and abilities."
"We find that, contrary to what is often suggested, scientists active in dissemination are also more active academically. However, their dissemination activities have almost no impact (positive or negative) on their career."
"...There are, of course, notable exceptions to learn from in our quest to meaningfully improve our public engagement. One such example is the California Gold Rush shipwreck Frolic, lost along the rugged northern California coast in 1849..."
This paper covers a lot of ground including the benefits (and constraints) of public engagement, e.g.:
"I have personally found that a lot of times, that good questions that you get from people outside your own field can really make you examine some of your assumptions…it’s regions that you wouldn’t have explored intellectually because of your sort of academic history."
"Stirling University's Professor David Goulson was the winner of Social Innovator of the Year award. His innovation was increasing the impact of his academic work by founding of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
Goulson says that the Bumblebee Conservation Trust came out of frustration that scientific research, even when published in the best journals, is very often only read by other scientists, not by people who might put this knowledge into practice. "You can publish experiments in high quality journals again and again but they are only read by a few dozen scientists who work in your field. It achieves little or nothing in the real world"
"I do think there's a general problem in the UK, and perhaps elsewhere, that there is no obvious mechanism for scientists to translate applied research to get it to policy makers and the general public and so on," he says, citing three extinctions from Britain's 25 bumblebee species as a reason for immediate action. "For bumblebees, we now understand enough about them to have a pretty good idea how to conserve them, but we need to get that knowledge put into practise."
That is where the Bumblebee Conservation Trust comes in. The formal aims of the trust are to conserve bumblebee populations, prevent species extinctions, and promote conservation of bees and wider biodiversity to the public. "Bumblebees pollinate crops which we need to eat. It's really easy to explain the importance of bumblebees to people with no interest in biodiversity or polar bears or pandas," says Goulson. "Without bees food would be more expensive, and there would be less of it and less variety. For economic reasons alone it's worth doing without all the other reasons.""
This page has some short audio from Professor Nancy Rothwell and Dr Erinma Ochu reflecting on the Manchester Beacon for Public Engagement and touching on some of the benefits of public engagement - skills, new knowledge, the potnetial to be promoted for doing public engagement.
"In 2009, my concern for young people, especially the vulnerable and at risk, led me to initiate conversations with local executive directors and program staff of agencies serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and intersex (LGBTQI) youth. Over the course of approximately nine months, I attained a wealth of knowledge from these leaders and their staff relative to the plight of youth who seek their services, and who often are segmented from family and unable to take care of themselves. Our commitment to at-risk youth fostered the development of a consortium that collaboratively developed and submitted an R21 grant proposal"
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