Newsletter, September 2007
Contents this month
Britain looks to the future with sciencehorizons
Today, 12 September 2007, we are publishing the results of the sciencehorizons
programme at the BA Festival of Science in York. This has been a major project in which we worked as the
lead partner of a consortium. The sciencehorizons programme was the first public engagement
exercise in the UK to focus on the potential future uses for
science and technology, using a set of fictitious potential scenarios
set from 2025.
Many people would not mind strangers knowing what was in their
fridge, if it meant that supermarkets could help them plan meals
and automatically restock it to make grocery shopping a thing of
While light-hearted issues such as the future of fridges were
on the table for discussion, more serious subjects such as climate
change, health, genetics and the loss of the ‘human’ touch
in an increasingly technological world were debated.
Participants were broadly excited about the future for science
and technology, particularly its capacity to help improve our
health, environment and lifestyle.
However, this was tempered by concerns about over dependence
on technology, potential risks and worries that some technology
might not be distributed equally to benefit ordinary people.
Minister for Science and Innovation, Ian Pearson, said:
"I spend a lot of time thinking about what the world will be like in
2025 and how we will live our everyday lives. It helps with thinking about how
policy needs to move forward. For instance, I can't believe most homes won't
have smart meters and energy management systems by then - and probably intelligent
fridges too. This public discussion represents a new, different way of talking
with the public about science and technology - finding out people's hopes, fears
and ideas on a range of topics.
"It's also a test model for evaluating how effectively different styles
of public engagement might work. This will help us to further develop our method
of public dialogue and consultations for Government policy or legislation."
The sciencehorizons project has been a large engagement exercise
with three strands. A deliberative panel of 30 members met for
extended discussions and presentations from expert speakers;
public meetings were held in community spaces and science centres; community
bodies including schools and faith groups ran self-managed discussions. To
give substance to the discussions, a specially designed pack
was produced showing how life in 2025 could differ from today,
based on a series of papers written by expert scientists mapping
potential future technological developments.
An interactive website was also developed to stimulate discussion
and debate. The stories that were used to stimulate discussion
and the results of all three strands of the project can be seen
This has been a fascinating project, which demonstrates
how different engagement mechanisms can be used together very
effectively to enable people to have discussions about issues that are new and unfamiliar. It was run by a consortium of Dialogue
by Design, the Graphic Science Unit, BBC Worldwide Interactive
Learning, Think-lab and Shared Practice and funded by the Department of
Innovation, Universities and Skills' (DIUS) Sciencewise programme.