The use of public engagement for technological innovation. Literature review and case studies. BEIS Research Paper Number 2021/003. January 2021.
The report was commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) from the UK, and written by the following researchers from RAND Europe: Camilla d’Angelo, Advait Deshpande, Emily Ryen Gloinson, Joe Francombe, Cagla Stevenson, Mann Virdee, and Salil Gunashekar
The aim of this report is to bring together evidence on the current use of public engagement in policy development and regulation of technological innovation. The findings from this study are mainly targeted at policy makers and regulators. The analysis and results, however, are also likely to be of relevance to other stakeholders interested and involved in technological innovation such as funders of research and innovation, academia, industry, and the general public.
With the promise to improve lives, and the offer of abundant opportunities, technological innovation is regarded as a crucial enabler for the advancement of societies and economies at large. Technologies and their applications, however, also present an array of social, economic and regulatory challenges. How to harness the benefits of technological innovation while addressing the risks associated with these developments is the subject of much discussion by governments, regulators, industry, academia and the general public. A key aspect associated with these discussions and debates is public engagement, which is increasingly being recognised by stakeholders as a critical instrument to encourage transparency and openness, increase representativeness, and build trust in decision making and the technologies themselves.
Public engagement is a broad term that is used in a variety of sectors (e.g. in research, healthcare and policymaking). It encompasses diverse ways in which members of the general public can be brought together to engage with issues that are of public importance. In the context of technological innovation, public engagement is used to describe the involvement of a diverse group of people (the general public, but also other key groups such as lobbyists, civil society organisations and social influencers) in discussions and debates about potential applications of new and emerging technologies, their governance, regulation and the wider issues that could arise from the way that they are developed and adopted.
Understanding what works, in what contexts and for what purpose in relation to public engagement and technological innovation is important to inform policy and regulation. The overarching aim of this study is to bring together evidence on the current use of public engagement for technological innovation. The work reported here focuses on identifying and understanding the types of engagement techniques used in the real world, how these have been applied to technological innovation across different sectors and any potential outcomes they may have, as well as the effectiveness of these approaches. The study synthesises evidence on the current use of public engagement for technological innovation.
The work focuses on three main questions in the context of technological innovation:
Research Question 1: What existing examples are there of public engagement techniques and how and when have they been applied?
Research Question 2: What evidence of impact exists in relation to different types of public engagement on technological innovation (e.g. in terms of informing the design of regulatory frameworks, new business models, market adoption, and public trust)?
Research Question 3: Has the effectiveness of the public engagement techniques around technological innovation been formally evaluated, and what, if any, were the learnings?
Case studies illustrating the use of public engagement techniques for technological innovation
The report includes ten case studies developed to demonstrate a deeper understanding of a variety of public engagement techniques applied in different contexts. The case studies span different technology areas, sectors, organisations, country contexts, and time periods.
Case study 1: Serious game to crowdsource the public’s views on moral decisions faced by autonomous vehicles
Case study 2: Exploring public perceptions on autonomous vehicles using live public trials, workshops, sentiment mapping, and observational studies
Case study 3: Citizens’ jury to understand public attitudes towards Ethical AI
Case study 4: Foresight gaming for multi-stakeholder dialogues to explore nanotechnology and Responsible Research and Innovation practices
Case study 5: Determining public perception on the use of virtual reality in healthcare through social listening
Case study 6: Using the vTaiwan platform to carry out a public debate on the regulation of Uber in Taiwan
Case study 7: Engaging expert and citizen perspectives on AI using a workshop and online platform
Case study 8: Engaging the public on facial analysis and automated decision-making through the use of BioMetric Mirror - an interactive application
Case study 9: Citizen and Multi-Actor Consultation on Horizon 2020 (CIMULACT) to formulate science and technology policy research agenda in the European Union
Case study 10: Rapid online deliberation to explore public attitudes to the use of COVID-19-related technologies
Key findings & Concluding remarks
A diverse range of public engagement techniques could be used in the context of technological innovation
Different public engagement techniques have, to varying degrees, had an impact on selected outcomes
The usefulness of public engagement techniques is contextual
On the basis of the analysis, the report offers some cross-cutting lessons:
The use of multiple techniques over the course of the public engagement process can help to engage different ‘publics’ appropriately.
Spreading public engagement over time allows for reflection and embedding of concepts.
Having an impact on trust in technologies and technological innovation requires time and considered debate to increase accountability and more systematic public engagement.
A multi-stakeholder, collaborative approach to public engagement helps to develop informed and considered judgements.
Using online and digital-enabled public engagement techniques can potentially increase the speed, scale, inclusivity, and geographical coverage of engagement.
Using some atypical techniques can potentially render public engagement more tangible and user-friendly and could also increase the diversity of participation.
Having an impact on outcomes such as regulation, policy and market adoption of technological innovation typically requires buy-in and engagement with the right stakeholders.
It is important to build evaluation into public engagement processes to track impacts and outcomes over time.