Science and Society

News and views around the Science for All Group

Public engagement for science and society – a conversational tool

Thursday 23 September 2010 | 8:10am

Public Engagement for Science and Society – a conversational tool

The Science for All report highlighted a need to ‘create a wider understanding of why, when and how the public engages with the sciences’ and included an action to ‘develop a common framework to describe types/purposes of public engagement’.

To this end, a tool has been created by the follow-on group in order to spark conversations about public engagement and help define and inspire the approaches and methods of effectively engaging the public.

You can dowload the tool here:  UPDATED: Public Engagement for Science and Society – a conversational tool

Development of this tool was led by Lindsey Colbourne (Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre) for the Science for All Follow up group and we are grateful to all those who contributed to a workshop and on an earlier version online


  • when promoting (public) engagement needs or benefits (matching purposes to types of engagement)
  • to broaden awareness (and use) of full range of (public) engagement available
  • to help design engagement/ clarify what type engagement is sought
  • undertaking a skills (or training needs) audit for individuals or organisations
  • in evaluating engagement, including what is being delivered against what is being promised (myth debunking)
  • mapping different engagement activities or volume of activity

Feedback – in practice

We would now like to invite you, as a public engagement brokers to have a go with the tool. We’d welcome your feedback on your experience of trying it and how it could be used and improved. Although this is the latest version of the tool, we hope that it will evolve and improve to better meet your needs.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions do please get in touch with us at Alternatively you can leave comments/thoughts on the tool at the bottom of this webpage.

Comments left below up until 3 November 2010 refer to a draft version of the tool. These comments have been taken on board in the development of the final version.



  1. Karen Bultitude says:

    For me the most interesting aspect of this ‘tool’ was the triangular diagram on p3 – this seems to me to be a creative way of recognising both the similarities and differences between the different purposes. I think it is particularly useful in assisting people to avoid the ‘silo effect’ whereby one approach is often considered in isolation, e.g. from other learning that has occurred or alternative possible perceptions. This will be particularly helpful when it is populated with examples – and a great tool to visualise / comprehend how different elements of PE fit together.

    With regards to the document more broadly, I wonder if it is possible to introduce the triangle diagram earlier? I realise this is risky in terms of not putting it into an appropriate context, however I would be a little worried that the full import and practical nature of the ‘tool’ might be missed otherwise – whilst necessary, some of the earlier stuff may come across as more institutional / bureaucratic than practical. In particular, the bulk of the text seeks to separate the three ‘corners’ of the triangle back into ‘silos’ (e.g. tables 2.1* – 2.5), so if the emphasis is on recognising an overlap or relationship between different axes then perhaps it would be better to indicate where that overlap is possible, rather than presenting them as separate each time. Can other triangles be drawn to represent terms, audiences, approaches etc. to assist here?

    Karen Bultitude
    Science Communication Unit
    University of the West of England, Bristol

    * A minor point: there are currently two tables labelled ‘2.2’ but I presume the first is supposed to be Table 2.1.

  2. Kay Yeoman says:

    This has the potential to be an interesting approach to considering the purpose and direction of engagement. I really liked the transmit, collaborate and recieve grouping of types of engagement activity. This would be very useful in training. I still see engagement, dialogue and participation as useful terms, but I take the point about multiple meanings.
    I would have added ‘public’ to the transmit column, in the how people might be characterised table, I thought visitor was a little vague.
    Table 2.5 those with expertise, I wasn’t clear whether this was ‘public’ expertise or ‘expertise’ of the people delivering, although all these groups are public too! The thing I felt here was that the scientist was missing.

    Kay Yeoman
    Senior Lecturer
    School of Biological Sciences, UEA

  3. abdul hamed says:

    I have spent my working life as an engineer, so I have an interest in science beyond the casual. All around I see a public apparently uninvolved in understanding the world around them. The media pressing any sensational button it can find or fabricate. The need for science to become part of the normal discourse of public life and activities is very important not just for Science but for Society. So it worries me when I come across a tool for science engagement that sounds as if the authors have spent too much time with power point wizards and psychological types than applying scientific methods to the problem.

    My experience is that people are captivated by stories, that’s why myths have more resonance than ‘facts’ or statistics. If you seriously want to engage the public in a conversation about science then tell them stories about science. The history of science has some wonderful stories. These can inspire and excite the imagination like nothing else including all that abstract stuff that the ‘creative s’ call art. And has nobody heard that a list with more than three items is far too long. Does it matter that reads like old fashioned and thankfully discredited management speak!

  4. Wonderful site, where did you found this information in this posting? I am lucky that I found it. i’m going to be checking out back again quickly to find out what other posts you have.

  5. Nicky Buckley says:

    Hi, the conversational tool is looking useful. The reference on page 1 should be given as: The Open University (2006) ‘S802 Science and the Public: Science Promotion, Investigating Science Outreach’, pp. 7-10. It refers to material written for the OU MSc in Science and Society by Julia Garritt.

  6. Catherine Reynolds, Dee Rawsthorne and Sian Astley says:

    First some minor quibbles – 2nd table labelled 2.2 is muddled – we agree with Kay Yeoman’s point. This is how the three sectors around the traingle view the process. Table 2.5 – scientists should be in the transmit column. Communicators and scientists should be in the receive column.

    Does the absence of 2-way dialogue in this concept indicate a shift of emphasis back towards the much-criticised deficit model – which has its place in your ‘transmit’ silo?

    We are going to try to use the triangle in our thinking. And thankyou for writing it in English (not meant to be sarcastic, it is practitioner-friendly!)

  7. I agree with the comment above from Catherine Reynolds, Dee Rawsthorne and Sian Astley – Table 2.5 – scientists should be in the transmit column. Communicators and scientists should also be in the receive column.

    My recollection from the discussions about this conversational tool was that some terms like ’2-way dialogue’ had been used for so many purposes that they were in danger of losing clear meaning. ‘Dialogue’ can be used to cover so many things: from more ‘informal’ events like discussions between the public and scientists at the Dana centre (I’m thinking of Sarah Davies’ evaluations of these) to more formal dialogue when Government and others are consulting the public on their views on areas of scientific research, with a view to such views perhaps informing policy.

    I think there was also a view that some the value of some forms of science communication had been thrown out with the deficit bathwater, as it were. This tool was a way of visually representing a spectrum of science communication activities which included inspiring interest in science through to involving people in collaborative research to consulting people on their views.

    I think that communication is almost always a 2-way process: effective communication requires checking what the ‘receiver’ hears, thinks, understands. This can be seen in public comments on science stories in the media; or the question and answer session after a popular science talk.

  8. I have found that there is a very useful tension between the triangle version (which allows blended purposes and methods) and using the silo version (which forces distinctions between the three types).

    Last week i ran induction workshops for six policy teams across a government department, and we started off with discussing the three types, and then went on to map different methods and techniques on the triangle.

    it went very well, and drew out some useful myths as well as illustrating that what was important was clarity of purpose, to which the method/technique was moulded. One team went on to map different stakeholders across the map, to illustrate the type of relationship that they wanted to build with them.

  9. Penny Walker says:

    Thanks for putting this up for us to look at. I particularly like the transmit / receive / collaborate typology, and the notion of putting these in a triangular relationship so that things can be more or less close to all three.

    Someone mentioned 2-way dialogue being absent. I don’t read it this way: I see collaborate as being the purpose where you might find multi-directional dialogue being used.

    Very useful conceptual framework when working with people who are planning engagement, and need to first get clarity about their purposes.


  10. I really like this. I’ve been using various typologies/spectra of dialogue, engagement, participation etc etc for years, and this actually works much better I think because it starts from the purpose(s) of the process rather than from the nature or methodology. I also agree that terms such as ‘dialogue’ and ‘engagement’ are of increasingly little use when they mean such different things to different people. Even better you have managed to include processes such as mediation and regulatory negotiation which are massively under-used in this country. Congratulations to all involved.

  11. I really like what the tool is setting out to do. In my experience when we engage we are generally trying to inform people, or to get some input from people, or to get people together to share with and learn from each other. Other models such as IAP2′s Spectrum of Public Participation describe the level of influence stakeholders are to have over a decision in a way that this tool doesn’t quite do.

  12. Hello – Is it possible to make the triangle diagram and the labels at its three corners a single image which can be copied into powerpoint presentations and similar? It could come with attribution information embedded as well, including the link to the full document. The diagram is useful in briefing colleagues about the full spectrum of public engagement activity. Recreating the triangle and its shading is challenging my powerpoint design skills :) Thank you.

Add a comment