Proceedings of Conference. 4th-7th June 2006, Edinburgh, Scotland.

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Proceedings of Conference. 4th-7th June 2006, Edinburgh, Scotland.



Plenary Session 2

Keynote Speaker


Lars is currently director at Teknologirådet – The Danish Board of Technology (DBT) which is the parliamentary technology assessment institution of Denmark . By education, Lars is an environment/ecology biologist, and before his engagement in technology assessment, he was partner of a communication consultancy firm. Lars has been with the DBT since 1986, when he was employed as project manager of a consensus conference on “Gene Technology in Industry and Agriculture”. This was the first consensus conference to include a lay jury in the process. Since then, Lars has been project manager on numerous innovative participatory technology assessment activities. The DBT has a worldwide reputation as a front-runner in policy analysis that involves participation, and the toolbox of the DBT includes methods such as Scenario Workshops, Future Labs, Future Search Conferences, Voting Conferences, Citizen Summits and Perspective Workshops, - methods which have been developed or adapted to assess scientific and technological advances by the Board. Lars has been active in participation research for many years, for example as coordinator of the EUROPTA project and member of the TAMI project, and he has represented the participatory approach to technology assessment in EU expert groups, as an advisor and in conferences/workshops all over the world.

PRESENTATION: New trends in public participation

What would mainstreaming of public participation look like – and can we already see the contour of it? Public participation can be seen as a form of knowledge creation, clarification and action, which builds upon democratic and fair communication processes. An image of novelty has always been connected to public participation, maybe because it is an alternative path or a reaction to the more closed discourse and decision-making culture that are mostly seen in our societies? As a result we have had quite a long period of introducing public participation as something new. The end of that era begins when mainstreaming of public participation takes off. When the flavour of novelty vaporizes and participation becomes embedded into the established systems.

The first ideological vehicle for participation was democratisation. In a democracy people should be allowed to get influence on issues of importance to society and everyday life. It still works, but now it goes hand-in-hand with liberalism as a second ideological vehicle: Politics is seen as a market of opinions, and the citizens should be invited into the open market. Contrary to what many would have expected, the result has been more participation. Also, the result is a less alternative image – maybe we can even see the contour of a new image as a practical governance tool.

Is that contradictory to the praxis of public participation as we know it? Is it in conflict? That depends very much on the prepositions taken – those who will insist on participation as a tool to confront the system will probably be disappointed in the long run. Those who see citizen involvement as an adjustment or a supplement to the existing discourses and governance systems will be a little happier.

The signs of the beginning of such mainstreaming can be seen. In the policy analysis domain, public participation is getting a status of being one analytical means among others, which you can pick for certain problem situations. Research projects now and then have citizen participation as an integrated part of the research project design. Public policy-making increasingly integrates participation procedures in the process. The big public participation events on the one hand becomes bigger and more visible, but on the other hand, they are also confronted with the fact that they are expensive and hard to get established – and strategies of smaller distributed events are being made.

It may be too soon to declare the next phase of the public participation development to have begun. It may be too optimistic or pessimistic – depending on the prepositions. But it is not too soon to begin a discussion of how to accommodate praxis to mainstreaming.

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