What role can 'public switching' play in researching public perceptions of controversial issues?



Dunlop L, Rushton EAC, Clayton S, Essex J, Stubbs J & Turkenburg-Van Diepen M (2024) What role can 'public switching' play in researching public perceptions of controversial issues?. International Journal of Social Research Methodology.

This short article reflects on ‘public switching’ as a methodology for research on public perspectives on potential responses to the climate crisis. There have been recent calls for early public engagement with potentially controversial science and technology. Such ‘upstream’ engagement is often conducted by those close to the science, presenting challenges associated with informing without advocating and deferral to scientists on non-scientific matters. The method we propose – public switching – involves engaging a public (here, young people) with emerging technologies through social science priming, independent research and the creation of questions which are presented to scientists and policymakers working in the field. We argue that this approach provides a mechanism for the public to connect with science and policy and to be heard, with question creation depolarising and deepening discussion. We reflect on methods of public switching, question creation and analysis, and discuss the limits and limitations of this approach.

Questions; sensitivity; polarisation; climate change; qualitative

International Journal of Social Research Methodology

StatusIn Press
Publication date online31/01/2024
Date accepted by journal30/12/2023

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Professor Lizzie Rushton

Professor Lizzie Rushton

Professor of Education, Education