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Study highlights need for public engagement on development of new and emerging technology

28th January 2021 about a 3 minute read
"The study aims to encourage government and regulators to “inform and create a narrative around new and emerging technologies." BEIS report

A new government report focuses on what works when it comes to engaging with the public about technological innovation.

The report was commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to bring together evidence on the current use of public engagement in policy development and regulation of the tech sector.

The study provides an evidence base to support the work of the Better Regulation Executive (BRE) at BEIS that leads the regulatory reform agenda across the UK government. 

The results from the study are intended to help the BRE advise government departments and regulators on how to best conduct public engagement with a view to “informing and creating a narrative around new and emerging technologies”.

The study focuses on three main research questions on technological innovation:

  • What existing examples are there of public engagement techniques and how and when have they been applied?
  • What evidence of impact exists in relation to different types of public engagement on technological innovation (for example in terms of informing the design of regulatory frameworks, new business models, market adoption, and public trust)?
  • Has the effectiveness of the public engagement techniques around technological innovation been formally evaluated, and what, if any, were the lessons?

This research report gathers recent evidence, in the form of a literature review and case studies, on the use of public engagement for technological innovation. 

The report highlights evidence including:

  • existing examples of public engagement techniques and ten case studies to illustrate how public engagement has been applied around technological innovation
  • the impact of the public engagement techniques on, for example, the design of regulatory frameworks, business models, technology adoption and public trust
  • formal evaluation of the effectiveness of the public engagement techniques around technological innovation

Autonomous vehicles: moral dilemmas

The case studies featured include Moral Machine a ‘serious game’ to crowdsource the public’s views on moral decisions faced by autonomous vehicles.

A key challenge around the development of autonomous vehicles lies in the moral dilemmas that they are likely to face (for example deciding who should live and who should die when faced with a potential collision with a pedestrian). 

Researchers developed the Moral Machine website with scenarios to crowdsource the public’s views on moral decisions faced by autonomous vehicles. 

The aim was to generate a better understanding of the public’s views about how autonomous vehicles should solve moral dilemmas, as well as to help raise awareness about this topic amongst the public. 

The platform was an effective large-scale data gathering exercise, collecting 40million decisions in ten languages from people in 233 countries and territories. 

It helped to show that a serious game is an effective method to crowdsource the public’s views on a controversial topic. 

Citizens’ jury

Another case study featured a citizens’ jury to understand public attitudes towards Ethical AI.

The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) and Deep Mind partnered on an exercise using a citizen jury for public engagement on the impacts of ethical AI. 

The project was not formally assessed, but anecdotal evidence from interviews and desk research indicates that participating citizens felt better-informed and had a better understanding of automated decision systems following the project. 

Interviewees indicated that the public engagement format also illustrated the importance of using public engagement techniques for other organisations.

A full copy of the report is available here