A call to action: How Irish citizens can shape a post-Covid future

9 Nov 2020

Dr Ruth Freeman. Image: © Jason Clarke Photography

Science Foundation Ireland is calling on the Irish public to share their pandemic experience with a view to informing the design of future policies.

Speaking at Future Human, Science Foundation Ireland’s Dr Ruth Freeman said that giving people a bigger say in their future is the right and democratic thing to do. “It might just make for better science as well.”

She was speaking in relation to the citizens’ assembly process, pioneered and designed in Ireland by Prof Jane Suiter and Prof David Farrell. A citizens’ assembly brings together a diverse range of people for deliberative, thoughtful discussion supported by experts, Freeman explained.

“Let’s gather together a diverse group of people, politicians, journalists, artists, lawyers, ethicists, writers, people of different ages and backgrounds,” she added. “Let’s get the researchers and the companies to explain what their technology can do and consider what it might be able to do in the future but then let the broader group think about the implications and consider what we need to do as a society to ensure that we get the benefits of progress, but minimise the negative.”

Now, amid the global life-changing event that is the Covid-19 crisis, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) wants to hear from the Irish public in a mass public debate about living through the pandemic and the lessons that have been learned.

Freeman said the platform SFI is creating will give people a chance to give their views on life during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. “How do we want to live? What will our cities be like? what role do we want technology to play in our lives?” she asked. “That information will be fed back to elected representatives and policymakers.”

SFI has awarded the Adapt research centre for digital media technology funding under the Covid-19 Rapid Response Funding Call to create and host the forum, entitled the Choosing Our Future Public Forum.

The forum will focus on several topics, including the future of healthcare, our towns and cities, education, and societal change. There will be opinions from a number of experts including Trinity College Dublin’s Prof Luke O’Neill and head of the ESRI’s Behavioural Research Unit, Pete Lunn.

Suiter, an associate professor at Dublin City University, said the Choosing our Future Public Forum aims to provide an opportunity to capture the public’s voice and hear suggestions that will help shape the post-Covid future.

“The report on the study will draw from a unique blend of state-of-the-art computer science techniques to provide a comprehensive picture of the hopes of the Irish public,” she said.

The forum will be launched on RTÉ on Tuesday, 10 November, with moderated discussions running until Friday, 13 November. Those interested in taking part can register here.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic