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New Publications About Public Engagement on Nanotechnologies Available Online

On 26 June two new publications about public engagement on nanotechnologies were launched at a conference in London. The conference was cohosted by Involve, Demos and the Science and Democracy Network. (For commentaries from the launch, see Nature, vol 448, Issue 7149 or Professor Richard Jones’ blog). To read synopses of these two new publications, read on!

Democratic Technologies? The final report of the Nanotechnology Engagement Group

Download a pdf copy here: www.involve.org.uk/negreport

Synopsis: In laboratories across the world, new scientific territory is being uncovered everyday; territory that offers groundbreaking opportunities for society, as well as new risks and unexpected challenges. Just as yesterday’s science and technology has contributed to shaping today’s world, these new technologies will help shape the world of tomorrow. The power of technology is clear, but its governance is not. Who or what makes these world-shaping decisions? And in whose interests are they made? These are the questions posed by a growing number of researchers, NGOs, citizens, politicians and scientists who seek to challenge the way that science and technology is governed and invent new ways to democratise the development of new technologies. This report documents the progress of six projects that have sought to do just that – by engaging the public in discussions about the governance and development of nanotechnologies.

In 2005, a group of pioneering projects, from various contexts and with different motivations, set off on separate voyages into this new territory. Their mission: to explore how we might ensure that future developments in nanotechnology are governed in the interests of the many, not the few. In short, to bring democracy to these new, unchartered territories. Democratic Technologies? follows the journeys of these projects, and the scientists, citizens and civil servants who joined them.

This is the report of the Nanotechnologies Engagement Group (NEG), a body convened by Involve with the support of the Office of Science and Innovation’s Sciencewise scheme, and the Universities of Cambridge and Sheffield. Our role has been to observe and support the pioneers of nanotechnology public engagement and log their experiences for the benefit of future journeys into the interface between democracy and technology.

Nanodialogues: Experiments in public engagement with science

Download a pdf copy here: www.demos.co.uk/publications/nanodialogues

Synopsis: Depending who you ask, nanotechnology might be the Next Big Thing, the Next Asbestos or the Next GM. But before its impacts have been felt, nanotechnology has become a test case for a new sort of governance. It is an opportunity to reimagine the relationship between science and democracy.

The emergence of nanotechnology has coincided with a greater openness in science and innovation policy. For government, public engagement has become a way of avoiding a repeat of past mistakes. Depending who you ask, nanotechnology might be the Next Big Thing, the Next Asbestos or the Next GM. But before its impacts have been felt, nanotechnology has become a test case for a new sort of governance. It is an opportunity to reimagine the relationship between science and democracy.

This pamphlet presents the findings of the Nanodialogues – a series of experiments in upstream public engagement with different partners in different contexts. Over two years, with the Environment Agency, two Research Councils, Practical Action and Unilever, we asked members of the public to join scientists in discussions on regulation, research funding, development and corporate innovation.

Our experiments have taken us behind the scenes of science policy. From backstage, we can see that policymakers tend to see the public as a problem rather than an opportunity. For public engagement to matter, it must go beyond risk management. New conversations with the public do not provide easy answers. They ask difficult but important questions, opening up new possibilities for science. The value of public engagement is that it takes us into a vital discussion of the politics of science.

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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  1. Ernest Muhly says:

    Nanotechnology might not only be the "Next Big Thing" — it might be the most un-controllable assault on life yet. Thanks to Amy Lang for posting this.

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