Prof. Vinny Wade at SCI:COM 2021 on Large Scale Population Engagement

23 March 2021

Dublin, 10 March 2021: Today, ADAPT Director Prof. Vinny Wade spoke on the main stage of SCI:COM 2021 on the panel ‘Large Scale Population Engagement’. He was joined by fellow panelists Sanna Reponen, ‘Elements of AI’ Co-ordinator and Product Owner at Helsinki University, and Jeanet Bruil, Head of the Dutch Research Agenda (NWA), as well as Chair Margie McCarthy, Head of Education and Public Engagement (EPE), Science Foundation Ireland. This panel focussed on looking at how governments and research institutions are engaging the public en masse to shape policy.

Over the last year, ADAPT has led a range of large-scale population engagement programmes including Citizens’ Think-Ins and the Choosing Our Future forum. Due to COVID-19, a large part of our EPE programmes were shifted online in a largely successful transition which meant shortening some programmes to accommodate shorter attention spans online.

However, the real advantage of moving online was increasing accessibility. For example, the Neureka app has enabled more than 7,000 people to contribute to its ongoing research into mental health and dementia. Traditional methods in mental health and dementia research would normally see research participants visit a lab to perform tests, leading to difficulties in enrolling large enough samples of people to yield compelling and reproducible datasets. The advantage of the app, and others like it, is being able to log in and out and participate as time allows.

Our online Citizen’s Think-Ins engage the public in 90 minutes with in-depth discussions, dialogue and deliberation around emerging AI research and innovation. Evaluation shows that the think-ins enhance the public’s understanding of AI and its potential impact on their lives and society and can lead to some lightbulb moments that feed into research areas. They also strengthen citizens’ and researchers’ familiarity with, and acceptance of, diverse points of view related to AI.

The Choosing our Future forum, led by Prof. Jane Suiter at ADAPT DCU at the end of last year, enabled a large-scale nationwide debate between experts and citizens for the purpose of identifying possible future steps to be taken during and after the COVID-19 crisis. This project was designed to pilot a platform for public-expert consultations to drive impact in evaluating the quality of discussions through deliberation of this type, participant behaviours and deep language analysis. The impact of such a study is to inform and identify best practices for future development of such large-scale online discussion forums and how they may be best utilised for Public Policy makers.

Often the success of these programmes is determined by clarity for the next steps forward. Our research development and EPE teams work closely with our researchers to ensure that EPE is built into research funding proposals and that intended outputs, outcomes and impact are clearly defined, including areas of influencing policy.

In the case of our Citizens’ Think-In series, all participants will be invited to a knowledge-sharing forum at the end of the series. This forum will provide them with insights arising from the two-way dialogue and deliberation across the series, and outline the next steps in terms of advancing further research and policy actions to address the challenges, concerns and opportunities identified.

Prof. Vinny Wade had this to say during the SCI:COM panel; “Public engagement leads to those critical lightbulb moments when we discover the importance of user context when designing technologies.”