An operationalized post-normal science framework for assisting in the development of complex science policy solutions: the case of nanotechnology governance

  • Michael J. BernsteinEmail author
  • Rider W. Foley
  • Ira Bennett


Scientists, engineers, and policy analysts commonly suggest governance regimes for technology to maximize societal benefits and minimize negative societal and environmental impacts of innovation processes. Yet innovation is a complex socio-technical process that does not respond predictably to modification. Our human propensity to exclude complexity when attempting to manage systems often results in insufficient, one-dimensional solutions. The tendency to exclude complexity (1) reinforces itself by diminishing experience and capacity in the design of simple solutions to complex problems, and (2) leads to solutions that do not address the identified problem. To address the question of how to avoid a complexity-exclusion trap, this article operationalizes a post-normal science framework to assist in the enhancement or design of science policy proposals. A literature review of technological fixes, policy panaceas, and knowledge-to-action gaps is conducted to survey examples of post-normal science frameworks. Next, an operational framework is used to assess the case of a proposed international nanotechnology advisory board. The framework reveals that the board addresses a slice of the broader, more complex problem of nanotechnology governance. We argue that while the formation of an international advisory board is not problematic in-and-of-itself, it is symptomatic of and plays into a complexity-exclusion trap. We offer researchers, policy analysts, and decision-makers three recommendations that incorporate a more appropriate level of complexity into governance proposals.


Socio-technical problems Complexity-exclusion trap Science advisory boards Ethical Legal Societal 



The authors would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier version of this article and Youngjae Kim for early conversations around nanotechnology governance. An earlier iteration of this work was presented in May 2013 at the First Annual Conference on Governance of Emerging Technologies: Law, Policy and Ethics, Chandler, Arizona. This research was undertaken with support from The Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University (CNS-ASU), funded by the National Science Foundation (cooperative agreement #0531194 and #0937591). The findings and observations contained in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael J. Bernstein
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Rider W. Foley
    • 3
  • Ira Bennett
    • 2
  1. 1.School of SustainabilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.Center for Nanotechnology in Society, Consortium for Science, Policy and OutcomesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.Engineering and SocietyUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

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