This policy brief critically examines recent thinking and practice on the issues of representation and public participation, especially in the area of science and technology. We use the term ‘deliberative panels’ to refer to a range of approaches and initiatives that involve ordinary citizens in deliberating complex and far-reaching policy issues. These participatory approaches – as summarised in the Glossary – also often involve scientific experts, academics and decision-makers. We also refer to them as ‘deliberative institutions’ signalling the way that these processes have become more formalised. Approaches such as consensus conferences and planning cells were initially specifically developed for participatory technology assessment although they now have wider application. Others, such as citizens’ juries began with more general applications, but have hadparticular use in the sphere of technology assessment. Modern scientific and technological developments provide society with great challenges: they offer important opportunities to address problems, but at the same time can introduce their own potential risks and uncertainties. The consequences of such developments may be invisible and require good science for their identification. At the same time science is fallible and developing and we may be ignorant about the long-term consequences of new developments. In addition choices about new technologies raise normative issues concerning the futures we envisage, what kinds of risks people are willing to take and what sorts of social world people want to live in. Hence, relying on expert knowledge and regulation alone to develop policy may be insufficient and inappropriate.
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