Leap Seconds: UK Public Dialogue


In 2015, member countries of the International Telecommunications Union will decide whether to maintain leap seconds, the mechanism by which clock time is kept in sync with solar time. In recognition of the potential cultural and technical impacts of this decision, the National Measurement Office (NMO) commissioned the OPM Group to run a public dialogue in the UK to advise the Minister as to whether the public felt leap seconds should be maintained or discontinued.


What we did

In order to talk to people across the United Kingdom, the leap seconds dialogue utilised a mix of methods from both stakeholder and public workshops through to a digital engagement process and pop-up dialogues.


Leap seconds stakeholder workshop image

Stakeholder workshop


At the end of April 2014, the OPM group held a stakeholder workshop to discuss expert opinions of leap seconds and think about the possible options for addressing any issues. This workshop informed the development of the remaining dialogue process, while also providing the views of stakeholders themselves on the topic at hand. A full report from the stakeholder workshop is available here.

Four reconvened public workshops were held throughout the UK in Belfast, Tamworth, Cardiff, and Edinburgh. In each location, a half day workshop introduced participants to leap seconds. Two weeks later, a full day workshop facilitated engagement around the possible impact of changes to the way we measure time. Stimulus materials including videos used at the workshops are publically accessible and can be found here.


Leap seconds web page screen grab

Leap Seconds: UK Public Dialogue website home page


To open the engagement process to everyone in the UK and align with the digital by default agenda, the OPM Group launched a tailor made website dedicated to the dialogue. It was designed to make the project as accessible as possible and remain as an open international record of the UK dialogue process. The website contained both a survey and a discussion board, allowing members of the public to learn about leap seconds and share their views. Almost 200 people took part in the survey, and the website itself attracted over one thousand unique visitors from across the world during the duration of the project. The website remains live as a resource for sharing information about both the dialogue process and the topic itself.

As well as recruiting participants to take part in reconvened workshops, the OPM Group took leap seconds to the public via a number of pop-up dialogues.


Leap seconds pop-up dialogue at the National Maritime Museum

National Maritime Museum pop-up dialogue



All elements of the public dialogue fed into a final report written by the OPM team in the summer of 2014. This will be used to guide and inform the UK’s position at the World Radio Conference in 2015 where a decision will be made as to whether leap seconds should remain or be discontinued. The UK is the only country consulting with the wider public as part of their decision making process in the run up to this event.

The final report and a video documenting the workshop process are available to view from our Library area and on the Leap Seconds website. The blog we wrote about the public dialogue is can also be viewed in the News and Comment section.