Friday, August 18, 2017

Led by:  David Sittenfeld, Museum of Science, Boston
Scientists, policymakers, and laypeople all have crucial roles and different perspectives in making decisions around issues in science and technology that have broad societal impacts.  Although we all make decisions on technology every day as part of our daily lives, efforts are increasing on a number of fronts to give laypeople a formalized voice in policy discussions in the United States.  This Tabletop Salon will describe a number of existing international and domestic models to engage the public in substantive policy-based conversations around emerging topics in science and technology, and consider what their potential impacts might be if they were employed broadly in the United States.  A new network that unites universities, science centers, and nonpartisan governmental institutions in developing these programs on a national and global scale will be outlined. Participants will discuss how the field can contribute to and improve these efforts.

Points brought up in the first session:

  • People were curious as to whether governmental clients will take results of participatory technology assessment (pTA) seriously.
  • There was discussion of various kinds of clients/consumers for pTA exercises.
  • People seemed to agree on the importance of a strict framework for credible results.
  • People talked about the need to include and clearly define the role of industry and commercial interests in the formal process so that it does not attempt to dominate the later pTA exercise.
  • We identified various topics that would be ripe for these kinds of discussions, e.g., sustainability, geoengineering, synbio, nano, water, food system, human enhancement.
  • People talked about the importance of the process for developing and vetting content.
  • People also discussed possible avenues for broader impact and public outreach.
  • Consensus model is just one and people talked about hybrid or alternative models, particularly in cases where topic is more anticipatory or less controversial.

Points brought up in the second session:

  • There was discussion about whether or not the recommendations from a pTA exercise should be binding, especially if it is done by a network outside of the government.
  • How do we translate or apply recommendations generated at the national level to the state and local levels?
  • Should any technology be the subject of a pTA exercise or should it be done only for emerging technologies before their development trajectories are institutionally entrenched?
  • There was discussion about adaptability of the pTA process to address the demographics differences; the right number of participants to establish a representative group; number of face to face deliberation sessions; honorarium for participants.
  • Does pTA need proof of concept demonstration, a pTA for pTA?
  • How do we test the validity of the outcome of a pTA process with the overall population in general?
  • How do you bring citizens into the pTA processes that use different space and mediums for discussions?  For global exercises, how can linguistic differences be overcome?
  • Since not all science and technology issues are national or global, how do you use pTA for local and regional issues?
  • What models are available for pTA governance?  How do you ensure adequate input and buy-in from experts, policymakers and the civil society?

Suggested Topics for Future Research:

  • Trust: Can pTA be used to repair the fractured relationship between experts and the general citizenry on issues such as climate change?
  • How can pTA help connect global concerns to local concerns making broader concerns meaningful to the average citizen?

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