chapter  8
Nanotechnology Citizens’ Conference in Madison, USA
Pages 12

In the consensus conference, the project team faced some fairly significant funding limitations in carrying off the initiative. Early European consensus conferences were undertaken with budgets between $100,000 and $200,000. The low-budget 1997 Boston consensus conference on telecommunications was run for $60,000. These efforts relied on numerous paid staff members, including organisers and administrative support personnel. By contrast, the multiday forum was carried out with a budget of approximately US$ 6000 and four part-time organisers. One of the organisers was a full-time professor, and another was a half-time post-doctoral research associate, and both were paid out of existing university salaries. Neither, however, had reduced standard workloads to create space to undertake this initiative. The remaining two organisers, leaders of a community-based organisation with experience in hosting dialogue-centred events, were paid very small stipends as facilitators and they worked beyond their paid time. The consensus conference was also integrated into a liberal studies undergraduate seminar taught by the project leader at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Students in the class were involved in every aspect of organising our forum. One might conclude that the person-hours gained by this manner of operating amounted to a substantial in-kind contribution of labour, which saved a substantial amount of money. However, the project team failed to think clearly through all of the ways to integrate students into the conference organising process, and at times, they probably sent mixed signals about the students’ responsibilities. Consequently, though it is true that the students were actively involved in the process, the core project team did not utilise their skills and energy as effectively as they could have. The amount of time allotted for a conference and for preparation can have important impacts on nearly all aspects of the forum. Typical consensus conferences have taken between 10 and 18 months to organise and carry off. The project team spent less than 4 months from recruitment to press conference. Their abbreviated time frame was required, in part, because the consensus conference was integrated into an undergraduate seminar. This short time frame was a disadvantage in some ways. More time from the preparation phase to the final event would have allowed the project team to do much more comprehensive outreach and, more importantly, improve the deliberative process substantially by allowing more

time for interaction among participants and for interaction between participants and experts. Determining conference length has clear trade-offs. The nanotechnology consensus conference involved three 3-4-hr sessions plus a press conference. Holding more than three sessions and allowing more time for each of them might have permitted citizens to examine the issues at stake more thoroughly. However, asking citizens to commit to participate in a longer conference would have created significant barriers for people with children, people who have little flexibility with their time because of work commitments, and others who might not be able to spend that amount of time for various reasons. In this connection, a longer consensus conference might very well have lowered the social diversity of the participants in the conference. 8.3 Review of the Process

8.3.1 Initiatives and ObjectivesOverall, it can be said that the process reached its internal goals by involving and educating 13 citizens on the possible risks involved in the use of nanotechnology and preparing a final report which was sent to Wisconsin legislators. However, an Internet search in 2007 revealed that there was a complaint about the legislators for not having used the recommendations of the report. 8.3.2 OrganisationWe can conclude that the project must have had reasonable amount of resources as it was completed successfully. The faculty members of the University of Wisconsin and other experts involved in the projects were competent individuals in their respective fields. We may view the process as an outsourcing project for CDA. There are several reasons the conference was carried off successfully in spite of substantial funding limitations, and that these issues are important for organisers to consider when picking staff to organise consensus conferences (Kleinman et al., 2007). It is particularly important to choose at least some staff that has

community-organising experience. All four staff involved in the conference had years of experience with participatory mechanisms in a variety of community settings. Consequently, they had knowledge that prepared them to facilitate many of the practical aspects of organising the conference smoothly and efficiently without much administrative support. Perhaps more important, several of the lead organisers had connections in the Madison community that were very helpful in the outreach efforts, particularly with audiences and groups that might be hard to reach through mainstream channels (e.g., minorities, low-income people, less-educated citizens). Most of the staff had experience in facilitating deliberative group work and/or consensus processes with diverse groups and they understood the need for good facilitation throughout these processes. Several of the staff already knew each other well, and all four staff members spent considerable time with each other before and during the conference, planning the process and building trust. This made the process itself and communication throughout it run much more smoothly than it likely would have if the staff had not taken the time to plan together, build relationships, and get to know each other’s working styles. On the basis of their experience, the core project team proposed (Kleinman et al., 2007) that in addition to having adequate funding to hire enough staff, a conference is more likely to meet the intermediate goals if the staff has some organising and facilitation experience and has strong relationships with each other and with the community. Ideally, future conferences would have a more diverse staff and expert panellist group than this conference in which all of the core staff were Caucasian and only one of the expert panellists was non-Caucasian. Given that many consensus conferences are organised within academic or government institutions, finding diverse staff with organising experience might be challenging because typically academics and government employees are not trained in community organising, and minorities are significantly underrepresented in these institutions. However, some academic departments (e.g., sociology, community education, and extension) may include professors and graduate students with organising and facilitation experience, and consensus conference organisers would be well advised to tap into this expertise. Moreover, diverse individuals with organising backgrounds, from community and neighbourhood

groups, could be recruited for consensus conference projects, even if they are not within academic settings. These individuals not only bring valuable knowledge, perspectives, and experience to the process, they also are likely to have established relationships with people in the community that will greatly assist in outreach and trust building throughout the process. 8.3.3 Participation The participation of 13 individuals from the area may be adequate to discuss the answers to the necessary questions through discussions with experts, but was definitely not adequate for a democratic involvement project based on a deliberative process. The Madison Citizens’ Consensus Conference took place over three weekends at the University of Wisconsin student union, an oft-remodelled structure opened in 1928, in Spring 2005 (Powell & Kleinman, 2008, Kleinman et al., 2011). Calls for the conference took place for approximately two months before the conference and included press releases to all the major newspapers, television and radio stations, and local papers. In addition, the initiative was announced on several community websites, and along with a number of students, several community groups were visited describing the consensus conference. In the end, 18 applications were received and 13 participants were selected. One participant who had previously participated in a consensus conference and two participants who had substantial knowledge about nanotechnology were not accepted. The group of panellists was demographically diverse, included younger and older members, women and men, and people from different races and religions and an array of occupations. The citizen group was diverse by several measures. The panel of 13 members included six women and seven men. Ten of the participants had incomes at or below US$47000, and three had incomes higher than this. Their ages ranged from 19 years to late 60s, with a fairly even distribution across decades. Ten of the participants were Caucasian, and three were people of colour (Iranian, Latina, and African American). Two of the participants had high school degrees, two were working on associates’ degrees, seven had college degrees, and two had master’s degrees. A wide array of occupations was represented. Applicants included single individuals, members of couples, young

parents, and retirees. Participants were affiliated with several different religious denominations. Despite being a relatively diverse group, it obviously did not fully reflect the demographic profile of the Madison, Wisconsin, area. After receiving commitments to participate from those applicants, who were believed to be best contributors to a well-rounded citizen panel, several relatively short readings from a range of sources were sent to panellists, including articles from Science magazine, the Royal Academy of Sciences, an academic journal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Erosion, Technology, and Concentration (ETC) Group. Since nanotechnology has just been coming to prominence and is likely to affect many areas of economic and social life, readings were included that covered issues ranging from the prospective medical and agricultural uses of nanotechnology to the military devices that might be created by the nanoscale tools and the possible environmental impacts of nanomaterials. In addition to the documents sent to participants, they were given a list of websites that provided further information on the topic. In the first session of the consensus conference, citizens were asked to generate a set of questions to be considered by ‘experts’ at the second session. While this was the goal, panellists were instructed to begin the first session by simply discussing the materials they read. Panellists were broken into three small groups, and two professional facilitators circulated among the groups to aid in the flow of discussion. These small group discussions were wide ranging, sometimes considering issues such as the group’s trust of the government and other times narrowing in on topics such as appropriate principles for regulating nanotechnology development. After meeting in small groups, the entire panel came back together and was led in their further discussions by the facilitators. Panellists were asked first to list categories of topics and then specific questions. Topics fell into eight areas with a fair bit of overlap between them. The areas were ‘ethics and theology’, ‘human health and the environment’, and ‘citizen participation and input’. The questions that citizens were interested in asking the expert panel ran from very broad and philosophical (e.g., ‘Should we cure every disease because we can?’) to very concrete and focused (‘What specific nanotechnology research is being done at the University of Wisconsin? How is this research being funded?’).