When the UK Government responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by instituting a lockdown in March 2020 this marked one of the most abrupt changes of public policy in a generation.
In times of crisis, when decisions are being taken quickly, and the world is changing rapidly around us, public involvement is more important than ever. While it may feel more challenging to achieve in the circumstances of lockdown, it is possible, and deeply needed. As engagement practitioners and researchers, we have seen first-hand the value of involving the public in policy decision-making, yet while the country was in lockdown and traditional methods for public deliberation were not possible, the process needed a rethink. .
And so four organisations - Traverse, Ada Lovelace Institute, Involve and Bang the Table - came together to trial a new model of rapid, online deliberation that would enable citizens to feed in to the development of policy for moving out of lockdown. We called it the #LockdownDebate and set four ambitious objectives for the project:
1. Influencing research content through defining the questions that need to be explored to help inform the design of policy around contact tracing
2. Generating timely research data and contributing to the evidence base on public perceptions and values in relation to contact tracing in time to inform policy making and design
3. Influencing research strategy through demonstrating to research commissioners that inclusive, deliberative research can be done online and alongside the development of policy
4. Testing and learning from an approach to conducting deliberation online, asynchronously, and under shorter timescales than typical deliberation.
This document focuses on objectives three and four. It captures our learning about the process and we hope it will inform practice through the remainder of the pandemic and beyond.
Our partners Ada Lovelace Institute published the findings in a separate report – Confidence in a crisis? – read it here.