The emergence of nanotechnology has coincided with a greater openness in science and innovation policy. For government, public engagement has become a way of avoiding a repeat of past mistakes. Depending who you ask, nanotechnology might be the Next Big Thing, the Next Asbestos or the Next GM. But before its impacts have been felt, nanotechnology has become a test case for a new sort of governance. It is an opportunity to reimagine the relationship between science and democracy.
This pamphlet presents the findings of the Nanodialogues – a series of experiments in upstream public engagement with different partners in different contexts. Over two years, with the Environment Agency, two Research Councils, Practical Action and Unilever, we asked members of the public to join scientists in discussions on regulation, research funding, development and corporate innovation.
Our experiments have taken us behind the scenes of science policy. From backstage, we can see that policymakers tend to see the public as a problem rather than an opportunity. For public engagement to matter, it must go beyond risk management. New conversations with the public do not provide easy answers. They ask difficult but important questions, opening up new possibilities for science. The value of public engagement is that it takes us into a vital discussion of the politics of science.