The word ‘nano’ has caught the world’s attention and we even have a car named the Nano,” David Guston from the Consortium of Science, Policy and Outcomes in the United States told a session on anticipatory governance of emerging technologies, at ESOF 2010 on 3 July. Anticipatory governance develops foresight, engagement and interaction with the public on their hopes, fears and expectations of nano and other new technologies, to help in more objective decision making.
Taking cues from developed countries, several developing countries too have joined the nano bandwagon, ignoring risks and regulatory aspects.
The ESOF session highlighted how nano-, and other emerging technologies, are challenging existing institutions of governance because they contribute to novel, unpredictable, yet potentially revolutionary innovations. Ultimately, public attitudes could influence their development, and it would be a good idea if, while scientists and engineers continue with their research, social scientists start mapping human responses to emerging technologies.
Ulrike Felt , a social scientist from the University of Vienna, says it is important to “understand the dynamics of (the public’s) expectations”. Citizen engagement with nano fairs and workshops to educate, interact and debate is vital to sensible anticipatory governance, says Felt.
The United Kingdom, apparently, has a more dialogue-based approach. So says Matthew Kearnes from Durham University, who worked on building social intelligence into nano scale science and engineering research.
The project dealt with how policy makers could engage with the public with regard to emerging technologies; and involved verifying public understanding of science, dialogue and public engagement.
Europe seems increasingly focused on public engagement on critical issues. Parliamentarians met at ESOF on 4 July to figure out how ‘parliamentary technology assessment’ (PTA) could support them in anticipating and managing the impact of science and technology on future societies.
Given the rapid advances in science and technology and their impact on a country’s economy, environment and society, policy makers need to keep abreast of the latest knowledge to promote or regulate new technologies, they say.
Marianne de Nazareth, SciDev.Net contributor