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Background and process on developing the public engagement guidelines

Background and process information on developing the guidelines for public engagement.


Royal Society Te Apārangi agreed to produce guidelines for public engagement as part of the Government's A Nation of Curious Minds He Whenua Hihiri I Te Mahara; A National Strategic Plan for Science in Societylaunched  in July 2014.  The plan identified three Strategic Action Areas:

  • Enhancing the role of education;
  • Public engaging with science; and
  • Science sector engaging with the public.

The action area 'Science sector engaging with the public' raised the expectation that there cannot be a scientifically-engaged public without a publicly-involved science sector.  It stated that, “Publicly funded science organisations and scientists have a social responsibility to share some knowledge where it’s applicable”.  

The document also stated that the Society “will lead the development of a code of practice on public engagement for scientists. The Society will work with the scientific community and consult widely including with universities, Crown Research Institutes, the network of departmental science advisors and the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor to develop a code of practice for scientists on public engagement.”

Consultation process and feedback

The guidelines were informed by feedback received in discussions with stakeholders, a series of public consultation meetings at research organisation throughout the country during February and March 2016, and two opportunities for written submissions.

Not all the feedback was consistent and some fell outside the reasonable limits of the Society’s mandate for preparing the guidelines.

The main feedback themes (synthesised from a wide range of individual and organisational views) were as follows:

  • There is general support for the intent of the guidelines and the Society’s role in preparing them
  • The importance of expectations on research organisations, media and the government in addition to researchers, and that organisations need to actively encourage and support public engagement
  • The guidelines need to go beyond just the media, and acknowledge public engagement as two-way rather than just one-way
  • The guidelines need to accommodate a broad and diverse range of communities and engagement processes tailored to the situation, e.g. acknowledging Treaty of Waitangi, Vision Mātauranga, and incorporating notions of co-creation and citizen science.
  • The importance of Academic Freedom in universities and their role as the conscience and critic of society needs to be explicitly acknowledged
  • The guidelines should not limit the ability of employers to meet their legal and commercial obligations
  • It would be helpful to have guidance on dealing with 'whistle blowing' situations
  • The Science Media Centre media guidelines could be referred to for media-related guidance
  • Examples to illustrate the relevance and use of the individual guidelines would be useful
  • The need to avoid misleading language such as 'balanced content'; media will generally do the balancing
  • Interdisciplinary research and cross-institutional governance situations such as the National Science Challenges are increasingly relevant and may make engagement more difficult
  • Language in the guidelines needs to encourage, and avoid discouraging, engagement
  • A range of wording and guideline suggestions to help clarify intent and remove ambiguity

Published guidelines

The Society released a final draft of the guidelines in March 2016 and published the final guidelines in July 2016. 

When the guidelines will be reviewed

The guidelines will be reviewed after January 2018 in the light of experience gained from their use and uptake and further engagement with Māori, business and non-profit communities. 

In particular, the Society is committed to entering into an ongoing discussion with Māori researchers and those engaged in research in Māori domains to explore how specific knowledge systems such as mātauranga Māori enrich and add new dimensions to many fields of intellectual endeavour of value to society.