Public participation in science and technology policy: consensus conferences and social inclusion
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This study looks at the National Citizens' Technology Forum (NCTF), a modified version of the consensus conference, which took place in March, 2008 in six cities across the U.S. to understand how inclusive these methods of public participation are in practice. The research focused on two of these sites. Inclusion of participants was defined in terms of presence, voice and being heard. Transcripts of the audio-visual recordings of the proceedings were the main data of analysis. By focusing on the talk within these deliberative forums, the study looked at how the rules of engagement and status (ascribed and achieved) differences between participants can affect inclusion. The analysis did not reveal any substantial effects of ascribed characteristics on deliberation. Facilitation and the presence of expertise among the participants were found to influence inclusion and equality among participants. These findings suggest that organizers and facilitators of deliberative exercises have to be reflexive of their role as well as aware of the group dynamics. The results also address the larger questions within science and technology policy like the role of expertise and the public in decision making, the institutional design of participatory exercises, and their relation to the political culture and the policy process.