Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Engaging the Public in Policy Research: Are Community Researchers the Answer?

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Abstract:  A case has been made for engaging the public in scientific research as co-producers of knowledge. These arguments challenge elite models of policy research and suggest the need for an ambitious expansion of more inclusive scientific public policy research. Enabling the public to be meaningfully involved in complex policy research remains a challenge. This paper explores a range of attempts to involving the public in public policy research. It uses a binary framing to typify some key debates and differences in approaches between community-based participatory research, and citizen science. Approaches to community-based participatory research in the social sciences offer a set of engagement principles which are an alternative to an elite model of policy research. Citizen science offers a focus on the use of scientific methods by lay people, but this approach is currently under-utilized in public policy research and could be expanded. How could the strengths of each be more fully integrated and harnessed? A case study of community policy research is presented, in which an attempt was made to use a more fully integrated approach in a local policy context, identifying the potential and challenges. Based on a framework of three features of democratic and scientific policy research, it argues that more public participation in public policy research would be helped by more attention to the strengths of the democratic potential emphasised by participatory community-based research, alongside the potential of scientific robustness em-phasised by citizen science. One conclusion drawn is that a professional and scientific orientation to public policy re-search can be retained without necessarily being professionally dominated. Research methods and skills are tools to which more people outside the profession could have access, if academics facilitate the process of democratization of policy research.

Keywords:  citizen science; community-based participatory research; policy research; public participation; public policy



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