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Newsletter, September 2007

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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 the past.

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 at www.sciencehorizons.org.uk.

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.


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