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Development of a Platform for Deliberative Processes on Nanotechnology in the European Consumer Market

Final Report Summary - NANOPLAT (Development of a Platform for Deliberative Processes on Nanotechnology in the European Consumer Market)

The main objectives of the NANOPLAT support action was to evaluate selected deliberative processes in Europe and develop a deliberate and science based platform for a stakeholder dialog for research and political actions

1. The review of deliberative processes
The main insights of the review of all these exercises in public engagement can be summarised as follows:
a. There is a wide spectrum of organisations driving public engagement on nanotechnologies, such as academia, policy consultants and policy advising research bodies, professional engagement facilitators, public authorities, research councils, etc. The initiators show varying scope in their decision-making - from informing the general public and/or stakeholders to funding research - which, of course, influences the potential impacts of the deliberative process.
b. There are different purposes on which deliberative processes are enacted. It can be about a general identification and assessment of public attitudes towards a certain technology, about experimenting with a new form of public dialogue in order to learn about its potentials and shortcomings, about informing a specific decision, e.g. on research funding, from a citizens' perspective, etc.
c. Rather different forms of deliberate processes are used: from a two hour card game on nanotechnologies, one evening events, focus group discussions of three hours length to processes running over half a year with three weekends (face to face) and interaction between the meetings.
d. The results of the deliberative processes reviewed are numerous: the direct and tangible ones encompass votes, recommendations, reports, etc. The indirect and intangibles ones are learning of participants: awareness and sensitivity with respect to the chances and risks of nanotechnologies; learning on how to manage and employ deliberative processes; building trust into public risk assessment and management; etc.

2. The platform
The proposed deliberative process supported by the platform is based on two steps:
First: Kick-off sessions
The purpose of the kick-off sessions is to prompt the emergence of key issues involving a reduced circle of experts in a quick interaction process. These sessions are based on short online conference and a chat-like tool (regular key-board based - no audio or video) allowing short written fluid exchanges between 5 to 10 participants. The purpose of such setting is to slow down exchanges between potentially antagonist parties on burning subjects.
Second. step: Open revision sessions
This second type of sessions is based on free access online revision of synthesis emerged from the kick-off sessions. The process is based on a wiki-like tool displaying the synthesis and offering to visitors the possibility to edit them and substitute the former version by a new one. The tool offers also the history of all previous versions, the possibility to restore them, to compare between different version and evidences also changes that have been made.

3. The future of deliberative processes
In the overview of selected deliberative processes we have seen a movement from the first to the second generations of deliberation. The distinction between first and second generation deliberative processes on nanotechnologies is most evident in terms of sophistication of the applied methodology.
There is a future for a third generation of deliberative processes in the development of nanotechnology. These processes have to be more specific oriented and more closely linked to the decision-making processes. They may gain from using the platform developed within the NANOPLAT project. One of the main challenges in the future is the responsibility for running such processes and independent institutions may take that responsibility. The deliberative processes represent a democratisation of science, and as long av we distinguish between the public discourses and the formal decision-making process, deliberation represent no treat to numerical democracy.