chapter  9
The U.S. National Citizens’ Technology Forum on Human Enhancement: An Experiment in Deliberation Across a Nation
Pages 26

While it was indicated during recruitment procedures for the NCTF that the process was specifically aimed at generating recommendations for policy makers on how to manage the emergence of converging technologies for human enhancement at an early stage in the technologies’ development, there was in fact no formal or direct linkage between NCTF outcomes and relevant policy makers’ decisions. It is therefore questionable how and whether the citizen recommendations can actually affect policy. Despite the NCTF’s inability to guarantee a direct link to policy makers, it could be argued that policy might still be affected by the process through several different follow-on activities, including the indirect dissemination of citizens’ reports. For one, the U.S. Congress had previously identified consensus conferences as a specific type of citizen engagement that should be encouraged in the field of nanotechnology when it authorised the US National Nanotechnology Initiative (P.L. 108-93). Building on the spirit of this legislation, Dave Guston at CNS-ASU coordinated a briefing of the nanotechnology caucus in Congress on March 9, 2009. At this briefing, researchers reported their judgments about the utility of the NCTF, as well as distributed summaries of the citizens’ recommendations for action. Finally, participants at one of the sites (Colorado) took the initiative to write an open letter to their U.S. congressional representatives well after the NCTF had concluded, encouraging them to listen to their policy recommendations. Despite these secondary avenues for influencing policy that have been pursued since the completion of the NCTF, it is worth noting that the way the process lacked a formal policy connection affected the feelings of the lay participants. While Cobb (2011) reports that those lay citizens involved in the process experienced increased feelings of internal political efficacy as a result of taking part in the process (i.e., I am capable of deliberating), panellists were also less likely to endorse expressions of external efficacy (i.e., policy makers listen to people like me). A likely explanation for these divergent feelings is that citizens learned by experience that their own capabilities were somewhat greater than they presumed, but they also believed nobody was going to listen to what they had to say. As a result, the NCTF became more of an academic exercise to participants, and this was not completely in line with the original objectives of the organisers (Delborne et al., 2011; Kleinman et al., 2011).