The UK government today announced funding for work in public engagement in a number of technology areas, including nanotechnology, under their Science Wise scheme. There are two schemes related to nanotechnology. One of these, “Nanodialogues” will be run by the thinktank Demos, and will carry out four experiments in “upstream public engagement”. At the back of everybody’s mind as people try to design these schemes is a previous, not entirely happy, experiment in public engagement over genetic modification of food, GM Nation. There’s a general will to learn from the shortcomings of that experience.
Entirely co-incidentally, I was in London today, at the Greenpeace UK headquarters, for the first meeting of the steering group of a pilot experiment in nano-public engagement. This is a project to run a citizen’s jury about nanotechnology. The project is supported by Greenpeace UK, the Guardian newspaper, and the Cambridge University Nanoscience Centre, and operations will be run by an outfit from Newcastle University with experience of this sort of thing, Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences. I’m chairing the science advisory panel.
It’s too early to be saying much about the project yet, but I’ll be reporting on the process as it unfolds over the spring and summer. It’s unknown territory for me, but even this first meeting was fascinating. We had representatives from the NGOs Greenpeace and ETC, high level representation from government and research councils, and a few academics. Just getting this bunch round the table in the first place was impressive enough, but I was surprised at how easily the group was able to reach a consensus.