Tracking Danish-Style, Citizen-Based Deliberative Consensus Conferences Worldwide:
An Innovative Way to Involve the Public in Science & Technology Policy Deliberations
Loka helps develop and promote new models for community-based decisionmaking on the design and use of technologies. As part of that work, we track and describe here deliberative citizens' panels on science and technology policy that have been conducted around the world. In Denmark, where the citizens' panel process originated, the practice is known as a "consensus conference." If you know of additional events that should be added to this list, please send us an E-mail.
Loka Helps Danish Board of Technology
Survive in a New Form
The consensus conference in science and technology draws on numerous participatory traditions and models from around the world. But it was spearheaded by the Danish Board of Technology (DBT). The board operated as a parliamentary technology assessment organization from its creation in the mid-1980s until the end of 2011, when a new, left-leaning majority in the Danish Parliament decided to terminate its Parliamentary affiliation and the board's government subsidy on the implausible theory that the board was not contributing to research.
Loka Founder Richard Sclove and Board Chair Rick Worthington developed a statement to the Danish Parliament questioning this move that was signed by 50 prominent members of the U.S. research community. This letter, plus other input from inside Denmark and around the world, prompted Parliament to reconsider its plans to terminate the Danish Board of Technology at the end of 2011. Instead, it has extended the board's funding to mid-2013, and has recreated it as a new, non-governmental organization — the Danish Board of Technology Foundation.
A consensus conference is a deliberative inquiry about an emerging technology issue that aims to add the voices of everyday citizens to policy discussions that are typically monopolized by experts and their powerful sponsors. Actual examples of consensus conferences are in the list below this introduction. The following procedures are generally considered to be essential elements in a consensus conference:
(1) The panelists are everyday folks who do not have a direct stake in the issue being reviewed; however, they have an indirect stake in the issue as taxpayers who subsidize R&D, and as community members and world citizens who live with the good and bad consequences of technological change. Because their interest in the issues is general rather than pecuniary, they are more likely to be objective about specific projects and proposals than the researchers, policy advocates, and private companies that typically promote technological change.
(2) The process for studying the issue at hand is informed, deliberative, and participatory (in stark contrast to most policy discussions for public audiences). This includes more than one meeting of the panelists, as well as testimony to the panelists by people who do have a direct stake and expert knowledge on the issue.
(3) After deliberating together, the panelists write a report on the points of consensus among them. It is assumed that there will be disagreement among the panelists on many important issues. The purpose of focusing on points of agreement is not to create or force a consensus, but to instead reveal what points of agreement emerge after everday folks have had an opportunity to learn and deliberate together. The philosophy of the consensus conference is that the consensus report should be a sound indicator of what technological changes are OK with society, because it reflects points of agreement freely determined by individuals who have deliberated together, and whose primary concern is the general good. The consensus report can also place a greater burden on techno-boosters to justify policies that lie outside this consensus, thus guiding technological development along paths that enjoy broad support.
(4) The report is made publicly available and announced in a press conference, preferably held in a public legislative building to emphasize that elected officials should take special interest in the considered views of their citizen-peers.
NOTE: Some of the panels reported below do not fit the above criteria well, but are included because they are examples of deliberative processes in countries that otherwise would not be represented on the list below:
BELGIUM (4): Spatial planning, mobility and sustainable development (2001); Gene therapy (report in French) (2003); Genetically modified food (report in Dutch) (2003); Genetically modified crops (report in Dutch) (2003)
BRAZIL (1) Genetically modified foods
CANADA (4): Mandatory laptop computers in universities (1998 -- pilot organized by students at McMaster University); McMaster's policy concerning online education (1999 -- pilot organized at McMaster University); Food biotechnology (Western Canada, 1999); Municipal waste management (Hamilton City/Region, 2000); Fluoride (2006)
DENMARK (22): Gene technology in industry & agriculture (1987); Food irradiation (1989); Human genome mapping (1989); Air pollution (1990); Educational technology (1991); Transgenic animals (1992); Future of private automobiles (1993); Infertility (1993); Electronic identity cards (1994); Information technology in transport (1994); Integrated production in agriculture(1994); Setting limits on chemicals in food & the environment (1995); Gene therapy (1995); Future of fishing (1996); Consumption and the environment (1997); Teleworking (1997); Citizens' food policy (1998); Genetically modified foods (1999); Noise and technology (2000); Electronic surveillance (2000); Testing our genes (2002); Assigning value to the environment (2003)
FRANCE (1): Genetically modified foods (1998)
Germany (1): Citizens' Conference on Genetic Testing, (November 23rd - 26th, 2001 at the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden)
INDIA (2): Genetically modified foods, Karnatka (2000, no link) and Andra Pradesh, 2001
ISRAEL (1): Future of transportation (2000)
JAPAN (3): Gene therapy (1998); High information society (1999); Genetically modified food (2000)
NETHERLANDS (2): Genetically modified animals (1993); Human genetics research (1995)
U.S.A. (14): Telecommunications & future of democracy (1997--Boston area pilot initiated by The Loka Institute); Genetically modified foods (2002--organized by the University of New Hampshire); Nanotechnolgy (April 2005--organized by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Nanoscale, Science and Engineering Center (NSEC)); Biomonitoring (December 2006--organized by the Environmental Health Department at the Boston University School of Public Health); Human Enhancement, Identity and Biology (March 2008, 6 sites).
ZIMBABWE (1): Knowledge and participation of small farmers (2002).