Engage 2020 is a European Commission funded research project focused on sharing best practice in engaging the public about responsible research and innovation. The project culminated in a conference in Brussels last week, an opportunity to collaborate with and share best practice across the member states of the EU”s borders about effective engagement on responsible research and innovation.
The range of excellent practice on display was evident from the outset; whether that was through sharing good practice from the Danish Board of Technology, long regarded as a flagship leader in the field of technology assessment, discussing how citizen engagement can change policy decisions with Swiss-TA; also a world leader in science and technology citizen engagement for policy change; through to engaging and thought-provoking conversations with academics such as Henk Mulder at the University of Groningen on how innovative practices at a local level through science shops were changing the relationship between citizens and scientists. There were engaging and participatory discussions, seminars, and a highly interactive SynBio participant theatre session exploring the ethics of synthetic biology and its potential social impact.
How best to engage citizens in science and technology issues was an ongoing theme throughout the project. Understanding the purpose of the engagement process is essential to understanding the best and most effective tools to be used – you might not want to dissect a frog with a hammer; neither would you want (or be able) to build a lopsided house with a scalpel. But a hammer might lead to a solid house, and a scalpel may be required for the intricate skill, care and expertise in dissecting a frog, explained Edward Andersson, Involve, as he moderated the conference. One good start to understanding the toolbox and the tools available would be to explore Engage2020’s action catalogue, http://actioncatalogue.eu.
And it was of course great to be able to share the best practice that Involve, through Sciencewise, the UK’s national expert resource centre on dialogue about science and technology issues are exploring at the future of engagement session; through piloting online deliberation through the Sounding Board, working to train policymakers on deliberative dialogue, as well as complementing that through 10 years’ experience delivering high quality deliberative dialogue on cutting-edge issues such as nanotechnology, synbio, big data, climate change and mitochondrial replacement.
So I returned to the UK, head buzzing with new ideas on how to integrate UK best practice within a much wider, international conversation about how citizens can influence decisions about science and technology; decisions that are likely to continue to affect their lives enormously. And if you want to read a bit more more about the kind of conversations happening at Engage 2020, you could do a lot worse than going to its interactive e-Anthology, with chapters from Europe’s leading engagement practitioners.
Reema Patel is a Policy Analyst at Involve, and also works on Sciencewise as a policy analyst.
Image credit: Edward Andersson, Involve