, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 43-59
Date: 24 Feb 2009

European Public Advice on Nanobiotechnology—Four Convergence Seminars

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Abstract

In order to explore public views on nanobiotechnology (NBT), convergence seminars were held in four places in Europe; namely in Visby (Sweden), Sheffield (UK), Lublin (Poland), and Porto (Portugal). A convergence seminar is a new form of public participatory activity that can be used to deal systematically with the uncertainty associated for instance with the development of an emerging technology like nanobiotechnology. In its first phase, the participants are divided into three “scenario groups” that discuss different future scenarios. In the second phase, the participants are regrouped into three “convergence groups”, each of which contains representatives from each of the three groups from the first phase. In the final third phase, all participants meet for a summary discussion. This pilot project had two aims: (1) to develop and assess the new methodology and (2) to gather advice and recommendations from the public that may be useful for future decisions on nanobiotechnology (NBT). Participants emphasized that they wanted the technology to focus on solutions to environmental and medical problems and to meet the needs of developing countries. The need for further public participation and deliberation on NBT issues seemed to be acknowledged by all participants. Many of them also raised equality concerns. Views on the means by which NBT should be steered into socially useful directions were more divided. In particular, different views were expressed on how much regulation of company activities is needed to curb unwanted developments. The participants’ responses in a questionnaire indicate that the methodology of the convergence seminars was successful for decision-making under uncertainty. In particular, the participants stated that their advice was influenced both by access to different possible future developments and by the points of view of their co-participants, which is what the method is specifically intended to achieve.