A two-way citizens' jury on nanotechnologies that ran in June and July, 2005. The first half of the jury process explored an issue that participants chose; the second half focused on nanotechnologies.
This case study contains excerpts from “Nanojury UK: Reflections from the perspective of the IRC in Nanotechnology & FRONTIERS”.
Nanotechnology describes a wide range of emerging technologies that aim to apply new possibilities to control materials at the scale of atoms and molecules. The challenge and potential of nanotechnology is to understand and harness material properties that differ at the nanometre scale. Examples of nanotechnologies range from electronic components already used in computers, to new developments in industrial materials such as plastics, to a wide range of possible uses in medicine.
Along with the possible benefits of nanotechnology come a series of important questions for scientists, governments and wider society. What research directions will be prioritised? Who will decide? How will possible health and environmental risks be researched and regulated? How will the political and ethical aspects of new technologies be addressed?
Nanojury UK was set up as a collaboration to pilot public dialogue on nanotechnologies. From the start the Nanojury project believed that it is vital to include scientists in the dialogue process – both to contribute their knowledge of the technical issues, and also to learn from the process about the wider context for their work.
NanoJury was a two-way citizens' jury on nanotechnologies that ran in June and July, 2005. The first half of the jury process explored an issue that participants chose, the second half focused on nanotechnologies.
The Jury was organised by Cambridge University Nanoscience Centre, Greenpeace UK, The Guardian and the Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Research Centre (PEALS), Newcastle University.
• Contributing to the dialogue. The aim was to have scientists directly participating in dialogue, contributing their technical knowledge and also engaging in joint exploration with citizens about the issues raised by nanotechnology research.
• Learning from citizens. Research on nanotechnologies involves cutting-edge science, but also an imagination of possible technological uses of the research. It is therefore useful for scientists working in this area to have some understanding of public attitudes as these will ultimately help shape any successful technologies.
• Reflecting on social aspects of science and technology. FRONTIERS (a European Union funded network of excellence of 11 partners from across Europe www.frontierseu.org) and the IRC (collaboration between three UK-based universities funded by UK research councils and government) wanted to provide scientists with the opportunity to reflect on their role in society. Public dialogue provides concrete opportunities to think through complex interactions between science, technology and wider society.
NanoJury UK was made up of sixteen residents of the West Yorkshire Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale who were involved through letters sent to people on the electoral register, and via suggestions from youth and community workers.
The process involved a multi-stakeholder oversight panel to oversee balance and fairness in the process. A science advisory panel was also included to ensure accuracy and balance in the evidence presented.
Nanoscientists contributed to the Nanojury process in four main ways:
• Sitting on the Nanojury oversight panel. This panel was responsible for helping steer the Nanojury to meet different partners’ expectations, to allow citizens the space to deliberate issues, and maximise the relevance of theprocess to policy-makers.
• Contributing to a scientific advisory panel. This second Nanojury panel was made up of experts who advised the PEALS team on the scope and presentation of evidence. The panel’s remit was to help ensure that the evidence and witnesses to the Nanojury represented a balanced view of the range of scientific understandings of nanoscience and nanotechnologies.
• Taking part as witnesses. Scientists also engaged directly in conversation with the Nanojury members as witnesses.
• Indirectly learning from the process. A less visible, but equally important part of the project was the opportunity it provided members of the IRC in Nanotechnology and FRONTIERS to learn about public attitudes to nanotechnology. This was possible through informal discussion with scientists who had taken part, and formal workshops that described the Nanojury process and its outcomes.
What difference has Nanojury UK made?
From the perspective of FRONTIERS and the IRC in Nanotechnology there are two sets of outcomes from the Nanojury. The first concerns the formal recommendations of the Jury, and how nanotechnology policy has taken these up, and the second concerns what scientists and publics have learned from the process.
The initial recommendations of the Nanojury were presented by participating citizens and collaborators to an audience of policy-makers in London. The Nanojury also fed into wider process of formal policy learning from public dialogue on nanotechnology. The Nanotechnology Engagement Group is collecting evidence from various public dialogue projects and will report to the UK government in the summer of 2007.
More immediately, scientists who have directly and indirectly participated in the Nanojury now have a better understanding of public attitudes, and their hopes and concerns for developments in nanotechnology. The process has also led to a deeper reflection on the wider social and political contexts for nanotechnology research. The Nanojury itself is just a small step in the direction of developing a more open and responsive culture of public science. In the case of research on nanotechnologies thisincludes a sense of responsibility to consider the wider consequences of research. For example, carrying out research on potential environmental and toxicological risks from manufactured nanoparticles, which is now taking place at the IRC in Nanotechnology. Scientists who have learned from the Nanojury process now know that carrying out such research will not, as some might have thought, give rise to public concern, rather it is likely to be taken as a sign of scientific responsibility.
Scientists who have learned from the Nanojury now have greater confidence in talking to non-scientific audiences. They understand that non-scientists do not expect scientists to know all the answers; rather, they respect a frank and open discussion of the uncertainties attending any process of scientific research. This enhanced capacity of scientists to reflect on the role of science in society, and their willingness to explore openly the wider social questions raised by nanotechnology research is an important outcome of the Nanojury.
In conclusion, FRONTIERS and the IRC in Nanotechnology have learned a great deal from participation in the Nanojury process. As an experimental initiative, there are lessons to be learned from the process, as discussed by other partners. We however, feel it is important to emphasise the positive potential of such public dialogue projects as part of a broadening of reflection and interaction by publicly funded scientists on the purposes and aspirations of research on emerging technologies.
Greenpeace’s records of NanoJury, including a link to the recommendations.
The Guardian’s page on NanoJury UK.
Funders: The project was co-funded by Cambridge University Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration (IRC) in Nanotechnology; FRONTIERS Network of Excellence in Nanotechnology; Greenpeace UK; and PEALS.
Contact: Tom Wakeford, PEALS. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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