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Environment Group Research Report 2005/04 - Continuing the Dialogue on Radioactive Waste Management: Engaging Young Scotland Innovatively


Chapter One Introduction

The overarching aim of this research project was to design, test and develop appropriate materials, means and delivery mechanisms to engage Scottish young people in the debate and dialogue on radioactive waste management. The study has been undertaken by the International Teledemocracy Centre at Napier University and was commissioned by the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department ( SEERAD). The study started on 1st February 2004 and finished on 30th June 2004.

The more detailed objectives were:

1. To identify up-to-date best practice in electronic participation via a literature and practice review;

2. To identify up-to-date best practice in engaging young people in Scotland and elsewhere via a literature and practice review;

3. To identify and develop appropriate materials means and mechanisms to engage young people online in Scotland in this debate;

4. Test these in pilot groups and opportunities across Scotland;

5. Develop an engagement plan for engaging Scotland's youth innovatively, with an emphasis on electronic engagement;

6. To begin to develop an engagement plan for other population groups and the general public, based on the wider application of the findings from the above objectives.

The study provides the Scottish Executive with an assessment of the most effective ways of communicating and engaging with young people in Scotland in the debate on radioactive waste management (abbreviated to RWM throughout this report) using information and communication technologies ( ICTs). Descriptions of appropriate and effective tools and techniques are provided along with an assessment of the applicability of these for extending the debate effectively to other population groups and the general public in Scotland. It is intended that the results of this study into online Scottish youth engagement will inform plans to extend the Scottish Executive's radioactive waste management engagement strategies in the future, including the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely ( MRWS) process.

The Context for the Study

Radioactive Waste Management is, perhaps more than any other, an inter-generational issue. Decision-making is therefore bound up with ethical issues about binding future generations to any current decision (Elrick et al 2002). This factor, together with the Scottish Executive's commitment to principles of involving young people in decision-making, underlines the importance the Executive attaches to young peoples' participation in the ongoing debate on radioactive waste management.

The context for the study is UK-wide. As background, in September 2001, the UK Government and the devolved Administrations jointly published the consultation document "Managing Radioactive Waste Safely" ( MRWS). In response to that consultation, the decision was taken to set up a new independent body to review all radioactive waste management options. CORWM is that independent committee, jointly appointed by ministers from the UK Government and devolved Administrations at the end of 2003, to review options for long-term management of long-lived radioactive waste. Its remit demands that it operates openly and transparently. We provide some background on that work, which is more fully detailed in a range of publications including a dedicated website 3 .

CORWM's work is to review options for managing solid radioactive waste in the UK and recommend the option, or combination of options, that can provide a long-term solution, providing protection for people and the environment. It is expected to make recommendations to Ministers in 2006 and Stage 2 will end when Ministers publish and explain their decision. Following that, Stage 3 will be a public debate on how the decision should be implemented and Stage 4 will be the start of the implementation process. CoRWM has a Public and Stakeholder Engagement Working Group ( PSEWG) which is preparing a programme to enable the committee to obtain views on the options for managing radioactive wastes in the long term. The programme will seek to capture views from a wide range of people - those who have a particular interest in nuclear issues (the stakeholders) as well as the wider public.

We have drawn on a range of sources including the Scottish and UK responses to the 2001 MRWS consultation (Elrick et al 2002), to consider the implications for e-engagement. We have also taken into account the 2003 report to DEFRA "Securing Public Confidence in Radioactive Waste Management, Participatory Methods Working Paper" (Chilvers et al, 2003). Based on these papers we use the following terms when discussing Public and Stakeholder Engagement ( PSE): -

Professional Stakeholders: These "encompass public and private sector organisations, and professional voluntary groups. Professional stakeholders include Government departments and agencies, local authorities, business, industry, academia/research, and NGOs. Professional stakeholders tend to possess specialist (expert) knowledge and procedural knowledge about radioactive waste management. They often lack specific local or experiential knowledge relevant to the problem. They work at (or are well linked into) the national level, as well as local and regional levels. When engaged in participatory processes, professional stakeholders will normally represent their organisational perspectives and strategic/tactical interests." (ibid.)

Other Stakeholder Groups: These "are non-professional, organised groups that operate within specific localities. It is possible to distinguish between three types of local stakeholder group: (i) people who come together around a common interest (such as autonomous local environmental groups, cyclists, football clubs); (ii) people who have an attachment to a particular place (such as resident associations, amenity groups, parish councils); and (iii) people who are united by feelings of a common identity (such as Women's Institutes, church groups; youth clubs). Local stakeholders may lack specialist (expert) and procedural knowledge(s), but posses rich understandings of local or experiential knowledge through their active engagement with others in their collective interest. Individual members of local stakeholder groups are usually enrolled in participatory processes to represent the views of their group and, often, to act as surrogates for 'the general public'" (ibid.)

Stakeholder groups might include, for example, the Scottish Youth Parliament, Highland Youth Voice, or local youth forums.

The Public: Individuals (young people in the present context) who "represent no-one else other than themselves in an institutional sense but who are representative of the diverse elements which constitute civil society as a whole." (ibid.).

Our work also differentiates between 2 types of Public and Stakeholder Engagement:

  • Facilitated e-engagement in organised groups: this refers to face-to-face interaction among groups of young people, for example in a school or youth club type setting, where a teacher or youth group leader facilitates the e-engagement. Both the young people and the facilitator may use online tools and materials in a face-to-face event to appreciate the issues, find evidence for choosing between options, and give their response to the e-engagement.
  • Self-directed e-engagement: this refers to young people participating on their own accord, perhaps with friends, by using online tools and materials to appreciate the issues, find evidence for choosing between options, and give their response to the e-engagement. Their participation may be supported by an online moderator, performing some of the roles that a facilitator would in face-to-face settings.


A combination of research methods has been used to conduct this study. These methods were: desk research; technical development and assessment; and qualitative analysis of focus groups and semi-structured interviews.

The study comprised 4 main phases.

  • Phase 1 Literature and Practice reviews - meeting objectives 1 and 2
  • Phase 2 Development of tools and techniques - meeting objective 3
  • Phase 3 Piloting, Testing of Phase 2 outputs - meeting objective 3
  • Phase 4 Assessment- meeting objectives 4 and 5.

Phase one

Phase one identified up-to-date best practice in electronic participation by applying frameworks developed by the authors for characterising electronic participation initiatives. These frameworks were developed through research and consultancy projects for the European Commission, the OECD, and UK and Scottish government bodies. They address the need to characterise best practice from review of existing cases (Macintosh, 2004a; Macintosh, 2004b), and to plan for the evaluation of e-consultation initiatives (Whyte and Macintosh, 2003). These were applied to a selection of websites and reports of recent e-participation projects.

Phase one also identified up-to-date best practice on engaging young people in Scotland and elsewhere. This was achieved by reviewing recent work, focusing on differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK

The reviews were complemented by semi-structured interviews with policy advisors and facilitators (on or offline) in organisations experienced in working with young people on complex policy issues and with those being consulted. Five semi-structured interviews were undertaken during March and April 2004: -

Table 1.1 Interviews



Save the Children Fund, Edinburgh.

Research on, and experience of, consultation with children & young people.

Scottish Council Foundation, Edinburgh.

Experience of MRWS consultation with young people.

Scottish Youth Parliament & Highland Youth Voice, Inverness

Experience of both consulting young people and being consulted as a young person

Centre for the Study of Environmental Change ( CSEC), Lancaster University

Experience of RISCOM and previous consultations for Nirex and DEFRA

Demos, independent think tank, London.

Research on using ICTs to engage young people

The authors themselves have considerable experience in working with Young Scot Enterprise to e-engage young people in Scotland on national policy issues. Part of this work, funded by Young Scot, involved semi-structured interviews with a number of Dialogue Youth leaders.

Phase two

Phase two identified and, where appropriate, developed appropriate tools and techniques to engage young people in Scotland in the RWM debate. A total of 9 tools were investigated in this phase: -

1. Blog: a web site that looks like a diary, where messages by the author are listed chronologically. Often others can add comments, but the site is typically focused on one author's point of view.

2. Live question-answer panel- streamed video: a panel of experts and others involved or affected by the issues answer questions live on video, which is 'streamed' or broadcast on a website.

3. Video Interviews: similar to the above but using pre-recorded video to help communicate facts and opinions about a subject.

4. Live question-answer panel- chat room : similar to the streamed video but in this case the panel are represented by the text they type into a chat 'room' that can simultaneously be seen by others online. There would need to be a 'facilitator' or 'moderator' to allow under-16's to take part safely.

5. Game - Two games were tested: -

  • KU World: published by the National Radiological Protection Board ( NRPB), this is a young person's game about keeping the population of a fictional world alive by making the right choices about what is most dangerous to them.
  • e- DEMOCS: produced by the DELIB software company and the New Economics Foundation, this is a game about deciding which option for dealing with radioactive waste is the most acceptable to the player, according to the factors they think are most important.

6. Discussion board: A website showing a list of questions or topics people are concerned about. Users can pick a topic and see a "thread" of messages and replies about it and post a message.

7. Questionnaire/ opinion poll: A website showing a list of questions where users can pick from the options given, and send their responses.

8. Issue map: An interactive screen which displays a "map" that shows questions or issues, and the associated the arguments for and against different points of view or options.

9. Frequently asked questions ( FAQ): this provides a 'tree' that can be explored or searched to find answers that are closest to the user's questions, in this case on radioactive waste management.

Scenarios were developed to illustrate how the tools would support the engagement process and thus help the focus group participants assess their suitability for the purpose. Scenarios are a simple technique for representing design ideas in an easy to understand non-technical format (Carroll and Rosson, 1992). In this case the scenarios described in a short narrative form how combinations of the tools could be used by the participants in various possible contexts (home, school, community) and with the facilitation of government and community organisations.

Phase three

Phase three piloted and tested the tools in focus groups of young people from across Scotland. Focus groups are a well-established research method, appropriate for even very young age groups (Large and Beheshti, 2002). They are consistent with the group work methods common in the youth and community sector (Borland, 2001). A structured workshop format using scenario-based methods provided the basis for the young people's responses. Three events involving a total of 26 young people were held. These are summarised in Table 1.2 below.

Table 1.2 Focus groups

1. Bellshill, North Lanarkshire

8 local young people (2 male, 6 female) aged 16 to 21.

2. Edinburgh

9 young people (4 male, 5 female), aged 14 to 18 and from various locations; 1 from Edinburgh, 2 from East Lothian, 6 from Highland).

3. East Lothian (near Torness)

9 local young people (3 male, 6 female) aged 15-16.

The focus group participants' responses to the tools were analysed to identify how each tools' functions, its content, and presentation would contribute to e-engagement from the young peoples' perspective. This 'claims analysis' (Caroll and Rosson, 1992) has previously been used by the authors to investigate the needs that e-democracy systems should meet ( e.g. Whyte and Macintosh, 2003b).

Phase four

Phase four developed an engagement plan for engaging Scotland's youth using ICTs. This involved developing a specification for an e-engagement toolkit based on the outputs from the previous phases, together with recommendations on preparations for its use and evaluation, including guidance on online facilitation. This provides the basis for a set of guidelines for the organisers of any subsequent e-engagement process.

Structure of the Report

The report is structured as follows: -

This introductory chapter, Chapter 1, sets the objectives for the study and outlines the research approach taken.

Chapter 2 Characterising Current Practice: Identifies up-to-date best practice in electronic participation and up-to-date best practice on engaging young people in Scotland and elsewhere.

Chapter 3 Scenario-Based Approach: Discusses the tools and materials that have been developed and describes our methodological approach to testing the tools and working with young people.

Chapter 4 Experiences of E-Engagement: Provides the results from the focus groups describing the tools that were tested by young people in informing and engaging in the debate.

Chapter 5 Conclusions and Recommendations: Specifies the prototype e-engagement toolkit and provides the main recommendations for a way forward, from analysis of the results of focus groups, and the literature and practice review.