Social research & deliberation

Keep scrolling down this page to get up to speed with HVM's recent social research projects, or click on library to go HVM's published reports.

Natural Environment Research Council: using digital tools to understand our environment
As the green shoots of Spring 2019 arrived HVM was working closely with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to engage citizens in a pilot public dialogue and engagement programme. The purpose was in part to test how and where dialogue can be used as a process to improve NERC science decision-making, informed by the views of citizens. The project was a small-scale pilot focused on exploring public views on the opportunities and issues that emerge from NERC’s new strategic priorities fund: Constructing a Digital Environment. HVM facilitators worked with people in London and Swindon who attended one evening and one Saturday workshop a month apart from each other to give them a really meaningful time together and individually to reflect on the issues. The programme continues in to the autumn when the findings and independent evaluation reports will be published.

Royal Society public dialogue on genetic technologies.
HVM designed, facilitated and reported on a major public dialogue for the Royal Society on public attitudes to applications for genetic technologies applied to plants, animals and humans. The report highlights for participants the value in considering these technologies in the context of global challenges such as nutrition; chronic disease; climate change and the environment. In a three round deliberative process held in Edinburgh, Norwich and London in the autumn of 2017 84 participants (28 in each location) took an active role in reflecting on genetic technologies in the context of a series of case studies. Throughout the process they were able to draw on specialist advice from scientists and ethicists which informed their reflections. The independent evaluation report is available here

A versatile small delivery team, close collaborative working with the core team, and application of a low cost survey platform allowed this ambitious public dialogue and opinion survey project to be delivered to a very high standard, within a modest budget and a challenging five month deadline...A good mix of techniques (single, pairs, small group and plenary activities) and activities (discussion, role play, posters, carousels) meant that everyone participated actively and all felt they had made valuable contribution.
— Anna MacGillivray, Ursus Consulting

The Crunch: helping to shape how society thinks about food and drink
HVM has been working with Look Left Look Right on a two year programme commissioned by The Wellcome Trust. Named Chew it over by participants, this exciting engagement and research programme within The Crunch used a new way of gaining views from a wide range of the public. Newly produced theatrical scenes, interwoven with rich dialogue discussions provided participants a productive space to explore the challenges of the current food system and consider the future of food for society. Click on the report cover image to access the report.

The topic was a complex one but HVM navigated it expertly, bringing in researchers and information to give context and challenge to people’s existing views but without swamping them or undervaluing their own perspectives. The creative dialogue process enabled people with varying levels of existing knowledge and connection to the topic to share their views in a respectful forum, which was important given the at times emotive nature of the conversation – for example about the pressures of feeding a family on a low income or the stigma of obesity. The team handled the stakeholders and project board well – taking suggestions on but ensuring the project remained true to its original aims and resisting scope creep. The resulting events were professional, engaging, entertaining and provided useful insights into the views of the general public to feed back into Wellcome’s thinking.
— Amy Sanders, Wellcome Trust

What Works Centre for Wellbeing: public dialogue on wellbeing in relation to community; sport and culture; work and learning
The What Works Centre for Wellbeing (the Centre) with support from Sciencewise, Public Health England and the Cabinet Office commissioned HVM to design, deliver and report on a social research programme using dialogue to involve members of the public around the UK. Using a two round dialogue process for three separate policy areas HVM designed six process plans; involved over fifty individual stakeholders and their organisations in providing evidence and advisory support to inform participant discussions; and produced four separate reports to inform the ongoing work of the Centre. Click on the image on the right to hear from the participants on what the process meant for them.

The Centre has made a firm commitment to take the recommendations made by the public further in their future work, there is also wide interest from Government departments involved in the programme to work with the findings. The Programme Evaluator commented that, 

The project was an exemplar of a carefully designed and expertly run Sciencewise deliberative dialogue process which successfully delivered its objectives and with the potential for wider policy impacts over time.
— MacGillivray, A, Livesey, H. Evaluation report for the What Works Centre for Wellbeing & Sciencewise, Feb 2016.

New Economics Foundation: wellbeing in relation to community rights, increasing the incomes of low earners; reducing loneliness
HVM was commissioned by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and the Cabinet Office, working with the Social Action Unit; the Departments for Work and Pensions and Communities and Local Government and funded by Sciencewise, to manage an extremely complex multi-stakeholder process. The research programme involved exploring with both members of the public and frontline workers three very different and challenging areas of social policy: increasing the earnings of low paid workers; alleviating loneliness; and supporting people to exercise their community rights. The dialogue was innovative in testing these areas of policy through a wellbeing lens. The final report is here.
The HVM team recruited 50 public participants and 12 stakeholders for each of the 3 policy areas (186 people in total). The same group of people met twice to explore their topic. Project success was in part due to the collaboration between partners to deliver the process as well as using the do no harm principle for all sessions so that participants could discuss very emotionally challenging issues (including their own financial crises and acute loneliness) without fear of judgement and knowing that they were being carefully supported in the process. The dialogue findings report is available here. According to the independent evaluator's report the team achieved a 98% satisfaction rate amongst those who took part. As one participant commented,

Thank you for listening policy makers. As we live and breathe our lives it’s good to know we’re being listened to.
— Public participant, Leicester

National Nuclear Laboratories, the Welsh Government and Sellafield Ltd: public dialogue on nuclear energy and society
HVM designed, facilitated and reported on a research programme, using public dialogue techniques, to inform and, if needed, update the Concordat for Public Engagement developed by the industry. The process also gained insights into public expectations of how public engagement might be demonstrated. Public participants from Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria and Wrexham in North Wales were recruited to provide the views of both nuclear and non-nuclear communities. The visual findings report is available here and the World Nuclear News article on the process here.

ESRC: public dialogue on the (re)-use of private sector data for social research
Over three months in early 2015, a total of 62 members of the public in three different locations (London, Essex and Glasgow) met twice. They were recruited from a broad demographic and had diverse initial views on personal data collection prior to the dialogues. The aim of the dialogue was to inform the work of the Consumer Data Research Centre, the Urban Big Data Centre and the Business and Local Government Data Research Centre, each recently formed by ESRC.

Participants were asked to reflect on their own understanding of big data and then gradually over the course of the dialogues, and with the help of researchers, data scientists and expert HVM facilitation, they were guided through the current and potential research work of the Centres and the safeguards in place to protect people’s information and data in the process. Using case study material creatively and presenting it in Plain English, in engaging and visual forms, was critical for the success of the dialogue. The final report is available here.

BBSRC: dialogue on food, nutrition and health
HVM was commissioned in March 2014 to run a short timescale dialogue on Strategic Planning for Food, Nutrition and Health. 19 people were recruited and retained for a small-scale 2 round dialogue. Stakeholders and experts were present to work with participants and the process resulted in a set of recommendations to BBSRC’s Working Group on future research areas. The resultant report demonstrated how using scenario mapping to consider what research participants would commission/ undertake if they were in charge of making the UK a healthier society, plus prioritisation exercises, were very effective in bringing out participant views on the research funded by BBSRC. The independent evaluation stated,

The facilitation was fair, unbiased and enabling. Participants were encouraged to talk, reflect and think through issues both individually and collectively
— 3KQ, Dialogue on Food, Nutrition and Health Independent Evaluation Report, 2014

Committee on Climate Change: citizens’ panel to inform a review of the 4th carbon budget
Due to the need to share and deliberate on complex information in a short space of time and within a tight budget HVM designed and managed a dialogue in three parts, adopting elements of the Citizen’s Jury dialogue model. Working closely with the Advisory Group HVM devised an innovative three round Citizen’s Panel process to enable deep engagement with the issues. The panel was then taken on a one-week journey from exploring the context of carbon emission reductions to making recommendations to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to inform their review of the Government’s 4th Carbon Budget. The team worked closely with the CCC specialists to produce materials which would be clear to participants and help them to involve themselves in the discussions fully, including dialogue Help Points with integrated definitions of terms. As the evaluation report stated said,

Perhaps most notable of all [the aspects of the dialogue] was the dynamic of the events and, in particular, the openness of the discussion between participants as peers as well as with stakeholders in the room. The dialogue designed by HVM empowered participants to be comfortable and able to engage with the subject matter on an equal footing with others. These successes are all the more impressive in light of the extremely challenging timescale constraints.
— Icaro consulting. Evaluating the Trajectories for Carbon Emission Reductions Public Dialogue Project. Report for Sciencewise and the Committee on Climate Change, March 2014

Cuckmere Estuary: research & engagement programme for flood risk management
HVM designed and delivered a significant three year programme of research, stakeholder engagement and public dialogue on flood risk management for the Cuckmere Estuary in East Sussex. Working with East Sussex County Council, the Environment Agency, National Trust and a number of community groups, supported as a DEFRA Pathfinder project, HVM sought to give everyone a voice on an issue of great concern to the local community and economy.  Using a variety of techniques including large-scale consensus building events, small scale specialist workshops and on-street consultation HVM enabled the community to agree a process of long-term management for this iconic landscape.

Hampshire County Council: coastal communities adapting to change (CCATCH-Solent)
Managed by Resources for Change, HVM worked with Hampshire County Council to support communities in the Solent, using a range of engagement and research techniques, to consider how to effect the change necessary in their area to mitigate local flood risk. The project formed part of a larger European funded project led by the Environment Agency (EA) titled ‘Coastal Communities 2150 and Beyond’ (CC2150).

University of Exeter: naturally speaking – public dialogue on national eco-systems assessment
This complex public dialogue was managed by the University of Exeter with involvement from a wide range of national stakeholders including the Environment Agency and co-funded by Sciencewise. A three round set of workshops was designed with detailed advice and guidance on public engagement best practice provided by HVM. Over a series of meetings we made amendments to each of the detailed process plans, suggested improvements to the materials to improve clarity on a complex subject and guided the team on when and how to record the sessions to enable the best possible analysis of the findings. We made amendments to the timing and ordering of the process so that the sessions had a clear narrative flow and made the best uses of dialogue tools. An HVM team of four facilitated each round of the process covering a total of 9 workshops with a final reconvened round held in London.