Dialogue Academy

Embedding dialogue and debate


Dialogue in action

Dialogue in action

Dialogue in action

Dialogue in action

Dialogue in action

Dialogue in action

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What is dialogue?

home1Dialogue can be a tricky word to pin down. Even though its use has been widespread in science engagement over the past few years, exactly what it means can depend on who you are talking to.

At the academies we encouraged participants to think about a definition that worked for them and for their organisation, and gave them a few definitions to help frame their thinking. The definitions that we chose are:

From the Association for Science and Discovery Centres:

“A conversation between parties where all groups are listening to and learning from one another”

“This is a nice simple definition that encompasses all kinds of dialogue. An ideal definition for me also includes sharing opinions.”
Sarah – The Centre for Life;

From the dictionary:

  1. conversation between two or more people
  2. an exchange of opinions; discussion
  3. the lines spoken by characters in a drama or fiction
  4. a passage of conversation in a literary or dramatic work
  5. a political discussion between representatives of two nations or groups

From ‘Dialogue with the public: Practical Guidelines’:

“Dialogue is generating debate and interaction between individuals and groups and creating a climate where people discuss scientific issues in the way in which they discuss other issues of public and social policy.

“This dialogue may not lead anywhere on terms of decision-making, but it is stimulating interest in, and awareness of, issues.

“Scientists may be talking to the public, the public may be talking to each other, there may be television and radio programmes, web chat sites etc. with no end in sight other than that science becomes just another facet of life, rather than something different and difficult.”

This is taken from a document developed on behalf of RCUK and the Office for Science and Technology in 2002 by People Science & Policy Ltd and Taylor Nelson Sofres. It was prepared in response to the ‘Science and Society’ Report published by the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology in March 2000. RCUK has since refined this description of dialogue to reflect their view that dialogue should be part of a decision making process.

“The way this definition talks about science becoming just another facet of life and not something different and difficult applies to the majority of the events and activities we do. It also acknowledges the fact that you don’t necessarily need to have a ‘scientist’ involved for dialogue to take place.”
Katy – At-Bristol

From The Science Museum:

“A process of communication in which two or more participants engage in an open exploration of issues and relationships on an equitable basis.

“Dialogue is the exchange of ideas, opinions, beliefs, and feelings between participants – both speakers and audience. It is listening with respect to others and being able to express one's own views with confidence."

“Dialogue is not silence, chaos or one person or faction monopolising the session.”

“I like this definition because it is a very practical description of dialogue in the context of our sector. I believe dialogue is not the exchange of facts but, as this definition says, it is the exchange of ideas, opinions, beliefs, and feelings. I also love the idea of exploration within dialogue – getting deeper into an issue or topic by exploring what it means to different people.”
Gemma - At-Bristol

“I like the way the Science Museum's definition describes the exchange of ideas, opinions, beliefs and feelings. It highlights the importance of how dialogue must be relevant to people lives to be successful and engaging.”
Lauren - Thinktank

From ScienceWise:

Public dialogue is:

  • talking with the public about ethical and societal issues
  • about the instigators of the dialogue being prepared to change their minds
  • about getting public and different perspectives to help explore issues, aspirations and concerns when shaping policy
  • gathering public experience in science and technology issues

Public dialogue is not:

  • one-way communication or ‘information gathering’ techniques such as surveys, focus groups, polls, or some citizens’
  • about simply supporting or seeking acceptance for preconceived policies

Somethings to note when referring to dialogue:
If you’re talking with someone from government, or an organisation closely related to government (such as ScienceWise) they will probably expect dialogue activities to have outcomes, in particular feeding into policy and decision making. They will tend to talk about ‘public dialogue’.
If in doubt, it’s a good idea to agree a definition of dialogue with the person that you’re talking to, so that you know you’re both on the same page!

Last Updated ( Thursday, 04 November 2010 13:31 )