NanoDialogue project to engage the public in a debate on nanotechnologies and nanosciences
The development of nanotechnologies and nanosciences (N&N) is still at an early stage, though the market for nanotechnology-based products is expected to rise to hundreds of billions of euro by 2010. To foster public debate on the developments of research in this field, the Na...
The development of nanotechnologies and nanosciences (N&N) is still at an early stage, though the market for nanotechnology-based products is expected to rise to hundreds of billions of euro by 2010. To foster public debate on the developments of research in this field, the NanoDialogue project was recently launched under the European Union's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).
While products using nanotechnologies are already on the market, and they already have a growing public profile through science fiction, public awareness of its real economic and social potential is probably still quite low. Dialogue on the societal and ethical issues raised by N&N, between researchers, citizens, civil society and business stakeholders, is becoming indispensable to democratic policy decisions in this area.
The European Commission is supporting specific actions to communicate N&N under the FP6 research work-programme in 'Nanotechnologies and nano-sciences, knowledge-based multifunctional materials and new production processes and devices' (NMP). The NanoDialogue project, or 'Nanodialogue - Enhancing dialogue on Nanotechnologies and Nanosciences in society at European level One', is being supported with a budget of 850,000 euro.
Project coordinator and Director of the Naples science centre, the Città della Scienza, Dr Luigi Amodio, told CORDIS News, 'Science centres are natural places to work on such topics. The hands-on model will be a major part of the relationship between science and society in future, along with science centres and new activities such as science cafés.'
The project partners include eight science centres around Europe, as well as ECSITE, the European Network of Science Centres and Museums. In order to include issues of social participation, the project consortium also includes the Centre for Studies on Democracy at the University of Westminster in the UK.
Dr Amodio sets the initiative in the context of the recent Italian referendum on stem cell research and its poor level of participation. 'Most people can understand cultural, political or religious arguments, but don't necessarily have the tools to understand scientific aspects,' he says.
Science and technology are vital to the European economy, and increased understanding tends to lead to increased support, according to Dr Amodio. If people don't understand the role of science and technology then they will not be able to support the right policies for the future.
'People have both a right and a duty to know what is going on in European laboratories so they can make informed decisions on what work should continue to be supported,' continues Dr Amodio, and he says that as the number of sources of information increases, the emphasis will move toward it becoming a duty.
The project, launched in March 2005, is currently in the process of developing a framework of basic channels for communication and social debate on N&N. The project is based on a two-fold strategy: on the one hand, it aims to communicate the latest research developments in the N&N field to the general public, on the other, it will try to engage researchers, civil society and citizens in a social dialogue on nanotechnologies and their related sciences. This dialogue will help the project to identify the main issues and preoccupations of these groups concerning nanotechnologies.
NanoDialogue began with a workshop, held in June 2005, based on the 'exhibition game' methodology, to design the content of the project's communication instruments. These include: seven interactive exhibition modules including hands-on exhibits; multimedia and educational products on N&N; and a website for disseminating information and for collecting feedback.
'We will try to address real-life situations and applications, such as health, new materials and the environment,' says Dr Amodio, 'this will bring the technologies closer to people and their everyday lives.'
The exhibition modules will be shown in the eight participating countries over the course of at least six months, starting in February 2006. Simultaneously, a series of locally organised events, science demonstrations and debates will be organised to further engage citizens. Once the project is completed, at the end of February 2007, the exhibition modules will be shown elsewhere in the participating countries (Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Sweden).
As was noted at the European Commission's Science in Society Forum in Brussels in April, there is more and more emphasis on two-way dialogue in science communication. Dr Amodio addresses this by explaining, 'we will also discuss how to collect data from the public, but there are two probable main methods: a combination of multimedia interaction and direct experience in the museums, and involving the public in science shows and demonstrations'. These may be complemented by the use of websites and an experimental card game.
The project will collect and analyse feedback from the workshop participants, in the exhibitions and via the website. The feedback will be used to formulate a series of recommendations to the European Commission on the 'governance' agenda in the European Research Area (ERA). The recommendations will be discussed in a final European conference gathering relevant experts, decision makers and stakeholders.