REconciling sCience, Innovation and Precaution through the Engagement of Stakeholders
Who decides which technologies deserve to be developed? Who says wh are the important questions for our lives? Participation is crucial when research programmes and policies are supposed to take people's needs into account.
There are many reasons for the boom in pTA. First of all, there is the hope for increased democracy. This firstly involves making technology policies more democratic. Decisions should be influenced not only by experts and social elites; citizens and civil society groups should also be heard. Secondly, the innovation processes should become more democratic too. If users are involved in the development of technologies, the result should be products that are more socially and environmentally compatible.
Participation involves those who are not normally part of the development and evaluation of technologies. Letting laypeople have their say is desirable – but can it be scientific? Sound methods are needed to get reliable results: The citizens' conference, where citizens come together and deliberate on a controversial technology is one of them. Focus groups have proven to be another important tool for the development of technologies. Both tools allow laypeople to share their experience and challenges, thus co-shaping the development process at an early stage.
The search for ways to enable citizens to actually have a say in determining priorities for future science and technology policy is also ongoing at the European level. The ITA was part of the EU project CIMULACT, which brought together more than 4,500 citizens, experts and decision-makers, who jointly identified visons which in turn served as a basis for the development of relevant research topics. These were incorporated into the outline of calls for proposals within “Horizon 2020”, the EU’s framework programme for research and innovation, as well as its successor, "Horizon Europe". Moreover, the results were used in the context of Austria's national RTI agendas.
The ITA also participated in developing the CIVISTI method: Citizens' visions for a desirable future are translated into tangible policy recommendations. The method incorporates as many different points of views as possible. Although the groups of participants are comparably small and not statistically representative, the results are socially relevant. In terms of their age, gender, occupation, education, origin, etc., the participants are roughly proportional to their distribution in the population. This facilitates the identification and inclusion of many different socially relevant issues. The CIVISTI-project “Leben 2050”, i.e., developed future visions for a desirable life in Vienna, and so helped to identify important questions for urban planning.
The idea of "Responsible Research and Innovation" (RRI) aims at a constant involvement of all social actors in the innovation process. Researchers, companies, politicians and citizens should reflect and discuss current and future developments. The ITA project PROSO investigated what citizens and civil society organizations need to successfully participate. The fact that opinions and ideas are heard and recommendations are implemented is a fundamental requirement for successful participation. This requires, among other things, new types of research funding and an adaptation of science and education systems.
The idea of co-creation does not go uncriticized: Some say it could easily be instrumentalised by politicians to build acceptance for certain technologies. At the ITA, we believe that if a group of citizens is informed about a controversial topic in a balanced way, and then an exchange of arguments and points of view – a substantial deliberation – takes place, there is a good chance to come up with relevant issues, and possibly even answers for complex questions. Moreover, identifying concerns and worries allows policy-makers to actively address them.
Which world we want to live in should, in any case, be discussed at a broad level. Participation can define desirable futures as a goal. ITA supports this notion, as we thrive to find ways to get there. Participation may contribute to an open agenda setting to enable decision-makers to not only focus on economic aspects, but also consider the environmental and social implications of progress.