Geoff Mulgan, NESTA Chief Executive, supports public deliberation on science
Geoff Mulgan's blog considers choosing the right methods for greater public engagement in decisions, concluding that scientific issues provide scope for intense deliberation bringing together ethics, foresight etc. The blog differentiates between those issues where specialised knowledge is needed, and how important and contested the fundamental values and beliefs are to the issue.
He particularly identifies a set of specific issues - all of which have been the subject of Sciencewise-funded dialogue projects - on stem cell research, genomics, privacy and personal data, and particularly the issues around mitochondrial research. Unfortunately Sciencewise is not mentioned by name. However, the blog does reflect the ways that dialogue projects funded by Sciencewise have often worked, and current plans to open up these processes more widely.
He describes these issues as an interesting category that falls between others. In this case, there are "issues involving scientific choices that include ethics, some highly specialised knowledge, but also significant public interest. For issues of this kind, open public deliberation may be important both to educate the public and to legitimise decisions."
In these cases, he argues for the "need to involve smaller groups in more intensive deliberation and engagement with the facts, before the process is opened up. The challenge then is how to use these exercises to influence a wider public, which in most cases must involve mass media as well as the internet."
He concludes that:
"The 2010s are turning out to be a golden age of democratic innovation. That’s bringing creativity and excitement but also challenges, in particular around how to relate the new forms to the old ones, online communities to offline ones, the democracy of voice and numbers and the democracy of formal representation.
Crowds can help with many tasks. But they are particularly badly suited to the job of designing new institutions, or crafting radical strategies, or combining discrete policies into coherent programmes. This still tends to be the preserve of quite small groups, in intense face to face conversation.
As a result my guess is that the most successful models in the next few years will fuse representative and direct elements. They will be honest that the buck still stops with elected representatives – and that the online tools are inputs and supplements rather than replacements. They will present conversation and deliberation as preferable to relying on occasional elections, and the odd binary petition. But they will also be clear that the 21st century parliament or city council has to be a hybrid too – physical and digital."