Social change and public engagement with policy and evidence

07 October 2016

RAND Europe has undertaken a review for Sense about Science and the Nuffield Foundation, ‘Social change and public engagement with policy and evidence’.

As Professor Tom Ling says in the introduction, “In the UK there is something of a moral panic, an anxiety that we now have a public that delights in rejecting experts … this is a good time to step back and reflect on how the public engage with policy and evidence”.

Sense about Science and the Nuffield Foundation commissioned RAND Europe to provide an overview of emerging trends and social changes which may affect the way in which the British public understand and engage with the political process, policymaking, services and information sources, and the role of evidence and expert opinion within this. The report was intended to offer background context — and inspire further discussion and thinking — at a workshop on influencing the policymaking environment to support initiatives on the use of evidence, hosted by Sense about Science and the Nuffield Foundation.

The report discusses key social, technological and political changes that may affect the policymaking environment in the years to come. These include:

  • demographic change
  • economic uncertainty
  • he increasingly flexible, fragmented and plural nature of our shared and individual identities
  • the rise of social media and their impact on the traditional media
  • political pluralism
  • new avenues for state–public and public–public communication and political activism
  • the spread of rumours and misinformation.

The authors note that these trends are highly interconnected and the ways in which they interact are difficult both to disentangle and to predict. Long-term forecasts would therefore be tenuous, and, rather than venture firm conclusions or posit causal relationships between trends and specific outcomes, the authors seek instead to provoke reflection on the implications of this changing context for those seeking to centre the role of independent analysis and evidence in the policymaking process.