There are some issues that deserve
public discussion and debate before decisions are made. But
such issues tend, by their nature, to be complex - and
this can lead to experts saying that public discussion of them
is therefore impossible.
We have disproved this. In recent years we have enabled discussion
on issues as complex as the disposal of nuclear waste and the
ethics of advanced genetics.
This is how we do it.
1. We develop a ‘discussion guide’ that describes
the issues as objectively as possible and sets out the range
of evidence in support of different opinions. We use language
that communicates clearly and concisely, with pictures and
diagrams to help wherever possible. We produce this information
in several forms - paper, CD Rom and websites - so that
people can use the medium with which they feel most comfortable.
2. We develop a sequence of questions carefully designed to
draw people into the key issues without ‘leading’ their
thinking, and which also allows them to explore related issues
or contradictory evidence.
3. We provide briefing materials and instructions for those
leading or facilitating discussions, and hints on how to help
people focus what they believe and either build a consensus
or a range of conclusions.
4. Finally we provide paper or online feedback forms on which
groups or individuals can report their conclusions. These are
then posted on a website so that all those who participate
can see what others are saying.
The cumulative result of many individual and group opinions
is a serious and reflective response to difficult issues.