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

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

Parallel Session 6


Session 6.1. Participation and GMOs/ biotechnology

Labeling genetically modified foods: a community discussion

Alan J. Tomkins, Ian Christensen, Kimberly S. Loontjer, John Fulwider, Tarik Abdel-Monem, Dana Cohn

University of Nebraska Public Policy Center , USA

What do “average citizens” think about genetically modified foods (GMF)? Do their potential benefits outweigh their risks? Should food products containing GM ingredients be so labeled? Surveys of attitudes toward GM foods and discussions on the topic in the US have been plentiful. The research typically indicates at least a low level of concern about GMFs. Yet GMFs continue to be prevalent in the American food marketplace. Whatever concerns Americans may have, they have not adversely impacted the production or consumption of GM foods. Indeed, there have not been sufficient political pressures in the US to require the labeling of GMFs, unlike in Europe and elsewhere around the globe. There is not a comprehensive mandatory labeling policy in the United States at the present time. Producers may voluntarily label their products as having been made with genetically modified ingredients. Labeling is mandatory for a product that is “significantly different” from its traditional counterpart, meaning the product contains a food allergen or has altered nutritional characteristics. As part of a program of research examining attitudes, beliefs and knowledge related to GMFs in Nebraska, in the heart of the farm belt in the US, researchers from the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center conducted two inquiries. In one study, we convened a community discussion of residents in Lincoln to discuss GMF issues. In another study, we surveyed undergraduates at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We were especially interested in what people in the middle of the GMF heartland would have to say about GMFs. In Nebraska , as is the case in much of the farm belt of the US , genetically modified foods are common, both in the agricultural fields as well as on consumers’ plates. Thus, acceptance of genetic modification is, from all public signs, fairly high. Is it because Nebraskans are not knowledgeable about genetic modification issues? Is it that they do not find the evidence as alarming as others? Or is it that Nebraskans are not as accepting of GMFs if asked directly about them? What do Nebraskans feel and know about GMFs?

Full paper

On being technically, ethically and politically reasonable: scientists, citizens and GM crops

Matthew Harvey

ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum , Scotland

This paper takes issue with a particular conception of public participation operationalised in the ‘GM Nation’ public debate held across the UK in 2003. The paper proceeds in two parts. In the first, I consider some key conditions of possibility for GM Nation, setting the debate within the social, political, and particularly social scientific developments that created a conceptual space within which an event like GM Nation, and the very idea of public participation in technology decision-making, can be embedded and justified. I then critique that conceptual space by focusing on a tendency to foreground a democratically ideal process whilst shifting attention away from the specificities of any particular decision, its epistemic dimensions, and the quality of decisions taken. In the second part, I suggest the need to return to questions of epistemology and outline two practically separable domains of expertise pertinent to decision making: technical and politico-ethical. Through analysis of data gathered at eleven public debates on GM crop commercialisation, including eight that were part of GM Nation, I develop a more critical and limited approach to public participation in ‘real world’ decision-making. I argue that technically reasonable and politically and ethically reasonable are not the same thing, concluding that these domains need to be disentangled and treated separately, but concurrently, iteratively and in dialogue according to the particular decision in hand.

Full paper

Exploring value frameworks in the moral deliberation on animal biotechnology

J.F.H. Kupper, L. Krijgsman, H. Bout, Tj. De Cock Buning

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam , The Netherlands

Over the past decades, the development of animal biotechnology in the Netherlands has been accompanied by extensive public debate. However, this debate has been largely framed as a legal discussion, omitting the cultural values that drive the various social actors. Consequently, these actors find themselves repeatedly trapped in a “ritual dance” against licensing procedures, in stead of effective moral deliberation. In order to respond more adequately, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature conservation and Food safety (LNV) aimed to better understand the various ways Dutch citizens attach moral value to animals. Therefore, an interactive focus group method was developed to obtain in-depth, qualitative knowledge of the existing frames of reference and value orientations in the reflection on animals, which affect public attitudes towards animal biotechnology. The use of homogeneous profession or lifestyle-oriented groups enabled participants to deliberate freely in a secure setting. The participants worked along a structured 3 hour program on the identification and exploration of their ideas, using their own language, associations and categorisations. The fact that the participants themselves explored the value concepts that constituted their specific moral frameworks was a central aspect of this interactive approach. As a result of 13 focus groups, four different value frameworks were delineated that each convey a typical way in which animals are positioned and valued. Knowledge of the differences between these value frameworks and the legal framing of the biotechnology debate provides constructive options to reopen dialogue (and to avoid frustrating dead ends) in the moral deliberation on animal biotechnology.

Full paper

Session 6.2. Scenario methods

Developing new tools and methods for the integrated sustainability assessment of water. The Matisse project and the Ebro River Basin

J. David Tàbara, Elisabet Roca and Cristina Madrid

Institute for Environmental Sciences and Technology, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain

Persistent unsustainable problems are not problems occurring ‘out there’, independently from our individual and collective behaviours in our daily interactions with the environment. Most current tools and methods for the assessment and management of unsustainability tend to focus on representing changes on –apparently distant- biophysical changes, rather than deepening in the understanding of personal and agents’ behaviours, motives and values, and hence, tend to show unsustainability problems as ‘others’ problems’. Furthermore, in practice, existing assessment tools and methods tend to limit their scope of assessment to one single area of reality, deal only with one type of knowledge and often are addressed to the wrong communities of action and change. The EU MATISSE project aims at developing new reflective tools and methods capable to overcome some of these pitfalls by supporting the co-production of relational, socially robust, and systemic narratives and visions which may stimulate transition learning and action on persistent unsustainability problems. Such narratives and visions, we argue, can be better developed, within the context of the new approach of Integrated Sustainability Assessment (ISA), if they depart from a multiple social agent-based perspective. Our paper provides a first description of the ISA of water within the context of the EU project Matisse, and applies such framework in a participative way for the case of the Ebro river basin. First results show that an emerging vision of sustainability entails a great deal of collaboration between agents working at different levels, as opposed to a fragmented world in which actors pursue their interests and benefits in an un-coordinated, exploitative and short-sighted manner. In this vision, stakeholders’ underline how multi-scale, multi-domain and multi-time problems such as the relationships between upstream/downstream, global/local, and short term/long term socio-economic processes need to be incorporated into the assessment and policy processes aimed at enhancing the socioecological resilience and sustainability of complex water systems such as the Ebro river basin.

Full paper

Tailoring constructive technology assessment for emerging technologies

Rutger O. van Merkerk, Ruud E.H.M. Smits

UtrechtUniversity , The Netherlands

Technology Assessment (TA) has developed into a method that puts a strong emphasis on facilitating interfaces between supply and demand of science and technology. Recently, we also see that TA becomes an integral part of science programs, for instance in nanotechnology. The basic aim of the latter is to articulate the needs, wishes and constraints, for example from users, already in the emerging stage of technological development. TA methods come in many different forms, although they are merely different versions of a limited set of ‘basic approaches’ adapted to specific conditions with the overall aim to improve societal embedding. The thrust of this paper lies in the development and results of a variant of CTA, addressing technological development in an early phase in order to bypass the Collingridge dilemma by developing and testing scenarios and technology options for the further development of emerging technologies. How to support all relevant actors effectively with CTA in such a way that they are enabled to play their role in innovation processes of emerging technologies? This is the main research question taken up in this paper. We propose a 3-step Constructive Technology Assessment (CTA) approach to take on this challenge. Assessing the effects and evaluating the approach play an important role in this work. We will apply the approach to a nanotechnology related topic, Lab-on-a-chip technology. We also work towards new methodological insights relevant for the TA community.

Full paper

Exploring the future of genomics

Roelofsen, J.E.W. Broerse, J.F.G. Bunders

Athena Institute for Research on Innovation and Communication in Health and Life Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam , The Netherlands

Interactive approaches to technology development provide opportunities for the development of innovative technologies which clearly connect with social practices and address the positive and negative effects as perceived by relevant actors. The challenge for the development of new technologies is to start an interactive approach already in an early phase. At that point, many options are still open for exploration and there are good possibilities for steering. Early involvement of societal actors is, however, challenged by the absence of concrete applications on which they can develop their own visions from the perspective of their own needs, interests, norms and values. Interactive vision assessment is proposed as an approach to overcome this dilemma in the field of ecological genomics and bridge the knowledge gap between parties involved with ecogenomics research and other relevant actors. We present and discuss the process of identifying guiding visions of the technology developers as a first step in this approach and end with some suggestions on how desirable futures for ecogenomics can subsequently be assessed from the perspectives of different actors.

Full paper

Session 6.3. Multi scale participation

A multi-scale scenario approach to biological invasions - Two cases in the Ebro River

Beatriz Rodriguez-Labajos

Departament d’Economia i Història Econòmica, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Biological invasions are human-mediated processes contributing to global change. Governance of the responses to invasion processes must handle dynamic social understanding and agency. Mainstream policy guidelines embracing the precautionary approach advise the implementation of a hierarchical scheme starting from preventive strategies. This faces uncertainties inherent to such a socially and biologically complex phenomenon. Taking this in mind, scenario development is proposed as a methodological approach for assessing biological invasions at different spatial scales. This way, the reflexive nature of biological invasions is explored in a non-reductionist fashion. This study examines two scales. At the local scale, the cases of two aquatic species invading the low Ebro River (zebra mussel and Wels catfish) are employed as empirical support for developing local scenarios. At the larger scale, the European Union is taken as governance unit for developing analytic narratives of alternative policy scenarios with implications in biological invasions. Scenarios obtained at both scales were integrated in order to evaluate consistency and plausible events from the overlapped contexts. Large scale scenarios may be employed as boundary conditions for local scenarios. But some elements point out to top-down and bottom-up influences, reflecting the ability of local contexts to react favourably or resist toward the large scale pressures. Finally the usefulness of scenario development as assessment and management tool for governance of responses to biological invasions is examined.

Full paper

The challenges of public deliberation at a transnational level

Andersen, I.E., Rauws, G. and Steyaert, S.

Danish Board of Technology , Denmark

“Meeting of Minds: the European Citizens’ Deliberation on Brain Science” was a pilot project launched by a partner consortium of technology assessment bodies, science museums, academic institutions and public foundations from nine European countries, with the support of the European Commission. The initiative gave a panel of 126 European citizens a unique opportunity to learn more about the impact of brain research on their daily lives and society as a whole, to discuss their questions and ideas with leading European researchers, experts and policy-makers, and make a personal contribution to a report detailing what the panel members believe to be possible and desirable in the area of brain science and what they recommend policy- makers and researchers to be aware of for future developments in this field. The specific objectives of the initiative are as follows, in relation to content, policy-making and method development.


  • To identify differences as well as commonalities between involved citizens from different European national and cultural contexts regarding their attitudes towards, and assessment and expectations of, social and ethical aspects of brain science.
  • To invite the citizens involved to assess and consider scientific and technical possibilities vis-à-vis the social desirability of current and new development in brain science.


  • To make recommendations to the science and research community at European, national and trans-national level on the commonalities and differences in public perceptions on social and ethical aspects of brain science.
  • To set the issue of brain science on the policy and the wider political agenda.

Method development

  • To set a standard for transnational public deliberations in other policy areas

The European Citizens’ Deliberation method is mainly rooted in the European tradition of participatory technology assessment (pTA). pTA is being characterized in Europe by a great diversity of methods and activities (for a summary of this, see: Joss and Bellucci, 1 2002, Banthien et al., 2003). In some countries (for instance, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the UK) there already exists a tradition going back 10 to 20 years; other countries have barely any experience at all in involving a broad spectrum of actors in the assessment of technological and scientific developments. It stands to reason then that this unequal situation would be translated into different institutional situations in the various countries. In some countries, there exist full parliamentary institutions to develop participative TA. In other countries, the government undertakes only occasional initiatives in this area, or it is only academic institutions or civil society organizations that concern themselves with pTA. The nature of the institution determines to a significant degree the role of the pTA and the link with the political decision-making process (Cruz-Castro and Sanz-Menéndez, 2004). This large diversity of national situations forms a major obstacle to the development of pTA initiatives at the European level. However, there exist a number of different reasons that make the development on the supra-national or European level of TA in general, and, of pTA in particular, a necessity.

  • First of all, there is the complex interaction between scientific and technological development and globalization, whereby national boundaries are becoming less and less relevant, either for what concerns the evolution of the scientific research itself, (Mallard et al., 2006, Wagner and Leydesdorff, 2005), or for its impact on the society.
  • Secondly, the European Commission makes available, via the consecutive framework programs, ever more significant financial resources to fund research and development. This then means that, as a consequence, the EU ever more notably makes its presence felt in the scientific policy in Europe.
Finally, the public debate about scientific and technological development is ever increasingly being conducted on the supra-national level. The European Commission is party to this analysis and therefore launched in 2002 the Science and Society Action Plan. Action point 22 of this plan provides: “The Commission will organize, through workshops and networks, an exchange of information and best practice between Member States and the regions on the use of participatory procedures for national and regional policies. These exchanges may lead to additional measures for addressing pan-European issues involving science and technology. These could include interactions between participants in national events, as well as the possibility of organizing participatory procedures at the European level”.

Full paper

Participation in cross-scale interactions – a difficult issue exemplified by the millennium ecosystem assessment

Felix Rauschmayer, Christoph Görg

UFZ , Centre for Environmental Research , Germany

How to deal with participation in situations where the delimitation of the issue is not clear? In these cases, it is not evident how to identify the people concerned who should participate in the process. Controversial placing of the issue on a scale (e.g. temporal, spatial, political), and the consideration of cross-scale interactions are presented in this paper as a new challenge to participation. Until now, this challenge has not been characterised as such, but parts of it have been addressed in discussions e.g. on the representation of unborn, or otherwise unspoken entities, or some cases of transborder participation. With this paper, we systematise the discussion and exemplify it with the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), a large international scientific project oriented towards policy makers. We will first show that the physical dimensions of scale clearly dominate the debate in the MA without any clear indications on how to deal with cross-scale interactions and the appropriate placing of the issue on the scale. Secondly, using a study analysing the implications of the MA for German policies, we focus on the need of decisions integrating several levels and scales. Finally, not being able to recommend a specific set of participatory approaches for such multi-level and multi-scale decision processes, we identify more clearly the challenges linked to such endeavour.

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