Creating a national citizen engagement process for energy policy

December 06, 2016 by Nick Pidgeona, Christina Demski, Catherine Butler, Karen Parkhill, Alexa Spence

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This paper examines some of the science communication challenges involved when designing and conducting public deliberation processes on issues of national importance. We take as our illustrative case study a recent research project investigating public values and attitudes toward future energy system change for the United Kingdom. National-level issues such as this are often particularly difficult to engage the public with because of their inherent complexity, derived from multiple interconnected elements and policy frames, extended scales of analysis, and different manifestations of uncertainty. With reference to the energy system project, we discuss ways of meeting a series of science communication challenges arising when engaging the public with national topics, including the need to articulate systems thinking and problem scale, to provide balanced information and policy framings in ways that open up spaces for reflection and deliberation, and the need for varied methods of facilitation and data synthesis that permit access to participants’ broader values. Although resource intensive, national-level deliberation is possible and can produce useful insights both for participants and for science policy.