Guest post by Karen Folkes from the Digital and Policy Working Group.
Stakeholders and partners can help your digital engagement so you don’t have to do it all yourself
I'm really lucky that I've always had programmes delivered by contractors or stakeholders that I can influence to be more digital. I've also been lucky to have enthusiastic teams and an innovative environment. I have to give credit to DIUS, a new young team with digital knowledge, and Marilyn Booth for embracing and encouraging digital and social media during our first Science and Society consultation in 2009. She really embraced it and even supported one of our programmes to do an event in Second Life. Look where it’s taken her.
Recently we’ve launched our Charter for Science and Society through a new gov blog, an associated grant call and the latest in our series of Public Attitudes to Science surveys. The Charter was the result of an open review of our programme, conducted on- and off-line with stakeholders. We re-used the interactive microsite set up for the first consultation so that we practice what we preach about open policy making. And as the Charter idea came from our stakeholders out of this process, we’ve been able to get them to support it with case studies. And as we upload and tweet them, they do the same.
For a few years now I’ve had a regular column in the British Science Association’s People & Science magazine, to help us to engage with the sector we’re working in. For the Public Attitudes to Science 2014, the BSA partnered with Ipsos Mori to bid for #PAS2014 and part of that was to host a blog – it’s better for us to go where our audience is than expect them to come to us. I wrote the first post and then we others populated it during the year, including members of the Steering Group, scientists, social science researchers and commentators. To launch the results, I reprised my blog. We’ve also adopted infographics for this year’s report which has gone down really well and enables all our stakeholders to easily see the implications for their work and amplify our messages – and it really lends itself to use on social media.
We use funded programmes to deliver our policies and as the delivery partners all have a digital presence we’ve not had much trouble encouraging them to do more. Our STEM skills engagement efforts like STEMNET, the National Science and Engineering Competition and Big Bang Fair all have pretty interactive web sites, and most have Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and all are on Twitter. It’s apt that I’m writing this now, in the middle of National Science and Engineering Week, that we also fund, as they’ve taken to digital in a big way, collaborating with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on the national flu survey.
One of our more interesting programmes to dabble with digital is Sciencewise. Partly because we’re asking a more difficult question and one more related to this group. Sciencewise helps policy makers make better policies by understanding what the public think about them. The programme encourages public bodies to consider when deliberative public dialogue might be appropriate to get deeper insights into why people think in a particular way about something, e.g. synthetic biology or fracking, and then helps them to commission dialogue projects if appropriate. But traditionally these have all been face to face activities. We’ve given them a challenge to see how digital techniques can play a part in this. Anthony Zacharzewski from the Democratic Society co-wrote a paper on it that started a conversation on the Sciencewise blog, we’ve committed to exploring it more in the Open Government Partnership’s National Action Plan and Sciencewise itself is exploring how to test different forms of dialogue, including digital, through the projects. It’s early days yet, but this is where we could see some interesting developments. Sciencewise has also set up a Community of Practice for interested policy makers with a Yammer account so we can have frank and honest discussions about how to effectively get the public voice into policy making.
Despite all this, I've only recently started on the Blog and Twitter road, encouraged by Marilyn - tentatively at first, just listening, then retweeting from my programmes and stakeholders (who are very active), and more recently (in the last week) actually writing blogs and initiating Twitter conversations and joining in a bit more. And as a result of all the launches in the last week, a few other members of the team have now taken their first steps into the digital world, blogging or joining twitter and we’re all learning how to monitor and measure what goes on.
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