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Nanotechnology issues — public engagement

Nanotechnology is revolutionising fields ranging from medicine to energy to security. A unique EU-funded project has engaged a wide audience in public dialogue through the creative use of numerous channels of discourse.
Nanotechnology issues — public engagement
Public knowledge and understanding regarding nanotechnology is currently lagging far behind the rapid pace of nanotechnology development. However, the public is investing money into and using products produced by nanotechnology research. An informed and democratic public debate is critical to the formation of opinions that could and should shape future policies and regulations.

The EU-funded project 'Engaging European stakeholders in debating nanotechnology issues using a range of media channels' (NANOCHANNELS) was a unique action designed to reach as many people as possible. Students and professional journalists together with leading educators and polling specialists sought to build a public consensus on nanotechnology. Topics covered ranged from its promises and benefits to its risks and sensitive ethical and legal implications. The goals were not only to raise awareness leading to greater public involvement and support, but also to instil excitement in technology. Higher interest could perhaps help reverse the trend of declining numbers of Europeans studying science and engineering.

NANOCHANNELS sought to open up appropriate channels of communication to ensure the highest possible participation of the public, youth, scientists, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and educators. A unique feature was the production of a significant amount of content by students under the mentorship of media professionals. In fact, the project website sports a section for 'Student Materials'. This has an option to 'Upload your own', as well as links to the Facebook School Groups created within the context of the project. The team also established a project presence on major social networking sites. In addition, collaborators developed and distributed surveys, press supplements and video clips, as well as interactive games, teachers' kits and training materials. The latter can be found on the project website in the 'Teachers' Area' with material in six languages.

Project outcomes were evaluated, resulting in recommendations regarding public engagement on technical issues in the 21st century. These would be applicable not only in the nanotechnology debate but in general regarding appropriate channels for reaching broad audiences. The unique NANOCHANNELS project has made a major contribution to the future of public dialogue. This could empower a wide audience and facilitate the formation of policies with wide support.

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Life Sciences
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