A nanotechnology citizens jury in the UK

Nanojury UK, a new experiment in public engagement in nanotechnology, got its public launch today with an article in the Guardian newspaper (see also the opinion piece in today’s Guardian by Mark Welland, the Director of the Cambridge Nanoscience Centre). The idea of a citizens’ jury is that a group of more or less randomly chosen people are presented with expert evidence on some controversial issue, and having weighed up the evidence present a conclusion. What’s interesting about this jury is the diversity of the bodies that have come together to make it happen; it’s sponsored jointly by the IRC in Nanotechnology at the University of Cambridge, Greenpeace, and The Guardian newspaper. The steering committee includes representatives from the NGOs ETC and Green Alliance, UK Government and Research Councils, the nanobusiness world and academia, in addition to the main sponsors.

Readers of Soft Machines got an early tip-off about this project. I’m chair of the Science Advisory Panel, and my role is to make sure that we find a wide and balanced range of witnesses, with different points of view, to make sure the views the jury forms are informed by authoritative and credible sources of information. There’s been a commitment from the government representative who sits on the steering group, Adrian Butt, that the output from the jury will be considered by the Nanotechnology Issues Dialogue Group, which is the body the UK government established to coordinate its response to the Royal Society report on nanotechnology. Naturally, how seriously they take the output will depend on how robust they judge the process to have been.

I’ve already found the business of getting the thing off the ground fascinating, not least in the way in which people with very different views about nanotechnology have been able to work constructively together. The process itself begins next week, and will involve 10 evenings over the summer, with the findings being released in September. I’ll be reporting here on my experience of the process as it unfolds; the Guardian has a Nanojury website here, which includes background material and discussion boards.

Here’s the press release.