1.3.1 The Structure of the Seminar
Under the design and direction of an experienced independent professional facilitator 13, the two-day ‘Gover’Science’ Seminar was structured around a novel adapted ‘open space’ format.
The idea behind this approach was to get away from a formulaic project-by-project structure. Instead, the aim was to create an unconstrained ‘market place’ for the exchange of emerging ideas and deliberation over their implications – enabling participants a good degree of autonomy from project constraints or the organizer’s own agendas.
As such, the Seminar itself represented a significant innovation in the way in which the European Commission engages with stakeholders in science governance – offering one example of the kind of ‘co-operative research’ process advocated in the recommendations.
The model for this process employed at the Seminar, as described by the Facilitator, was of an ‘expanding triangle’ – successively increasing the scope of discussions as time went on (from initial project findings, through cross-cutting issues to over-arching governance themes).
Within the constraints imposed by the timeframe, participant numbers and available architecture, this afforded a relatively high degree of agency to the participants in defining and selecting the eventual priorities for discussion. A detailed annotated agenda is appended at Annex D.
After introductory presentations from staff in the Science and Society Directorate of DG RTD discussing the European Commission context, the meeting moved to an initial exchange of information concerning the governance implications arising from the participant’s own projects.
This was addressed in smaller self-facilitated discussion groups, organised according to the respective broad empirical fields (biotechnology, health, environment/energy, industrial technology and ‘general engagement’).
The agreed outputs from these sessions are presented in Annexes E to I in this report. Attention then turned in more formally facilitated plenary session to the emerging cross-cutting issues that arise in broad areas of research concerning risk governance, participatory process and science advice.
This was structured with a panel of the most relevant participants responding to questions raised by a ‘shaker’ – and the Seminar as a whole reflecting on the resulting discussion.
The Rapporteur’s accounts of the key outputs from these three sessions are presented in Annexes J to L of this report.
The Seminar then moved on to the most open phases of the deliberations, in which participants themselves each identified a number of issues arising from (or neglected in) the discussion thus far, which they would like to see subjected to further scrutiny in smaller group sessions.
These proposals were then collected and collated in a facilitated plenary session under the broad fields of
‘research needs’, ’social and institutional change’ and ‘science governance strategy’. This yielded a total of more than 50 suggestions, which are displayed as the individual bullet points in the table provided in Annex U.
Subject to group discussion, some of these topics were then grouped together for purposes of voting, as also shown in Annex U.
Participants then voted on those among this combined array of topics that they would like to see made available for smaller group sessions. The pattern of voting is also displayed in the table at Annex U.
This identified a series of seven groups of issues or inter-related topics, which received more than five votes each. The final step in this plenary session was then for participants to choose which among this more restricted series of seven, they would actually like to engage in.
Bearing in mind the need for the smaller group sessions to achieve a critical mass of participants in order to enable effective discussion, this yielded a final set of five themes, which are identified by shading in the table in Annex U.
The five broad themes that emerged from this largely self-organised process were as follows: ‘institutional arrangements for participation’; epresentativeness and participation’; ‘the business case for participation’; ‘knowledge’; and ‘participatory risk communication tools’.
These then formed the basis for self-facilitated small group discussions (with the numbers of participants displayed in each case in the table in Annex U). The agreed outputs from these sessions are presented in Annexes M to Q in this report.
Following a reporting back from each of these five groups, the final stage of the ‘Gover’Science’process involved a facilitated plenary discussion on the over-arching issues that cross-cut these themes.
After some deliberation, the three over-arching issues arising here concerned: ‘independence and pluralism’; ‘collaborative research’; and the ‘embedding of participation’.
These then formed the foci of a final series of three smaller self-facilitated group discussions, the agreed outputs from which are presented in Annexes R, S and T respectively.
In this way, insofar as possible, the ‘Gover’Science’ Seminar enabled a variety of open, intensive, focused and self-organised deliberations around issues identified to be of interest by the 37 participants themselves.
The content of the discussion emerging from this process forms the basic structure of the annexes and shapes the substance of this report.
1.3.2 The Aims of this Report
Having described the expectations and structures underpinning the process of the ‘Gover’Science
Seminar’, it now remains to provide a coherent narrative account of the key themes arising in discussion.
As with any exercise of this kind, it was inevitable that discussion would range across a wide variety of issues and perspectives and that these would interlace in complex ways through the various stages of the process.
The result is a proliferating array of branching avenues of deliberation, some remaining ambiguous or unresolved and others displaying divergent shades of interpretation.
Against this background, the challenge and responsibility for the Rapporteur is to remain faithful to the detailed and highly nuanced way in which these issues and perspectives unfolded and interacted during discussion, whilst at the same time constructing a coherent overall picture of the underlying message.
In attempting to achieve this aim, the present report takes the form of a single cumulative narrative. This is structured according to a series of key cross-cutting issues that emerged inductively to the Rapporteur through a ‘bottom-up’ review of the materials arising from the seminar discussion.
The Rapporteur did not engage in this discussion and has refrained from adding additional points or issues that were not addressed by the participants in the seminar discussion itself.
No particular consultations have been conducted with individual participants. The result therefore does not necessarily reflect the Rapporteur’s own opinion, or that of any single perspective.
In this, the Rapporteur’s task is significantly eased by the fact that the thrust of the discussion at the meeting was so well focused, coherent and convergent.
In order to substantiate the detailed elements in this narrative, the main report is cross-referenced in some detail to a series of Annexes, indexed [A] to [U].
For those reading the electronic version of this report, the reference indices provide a hyperlink to each respective Annex. The hyperlink toolbar can then be used to move forwards and backwards between particular points in the main report and the relevant general discussion in the Annexes.
Each Annex provides in bullet-point form, a more comprehensive account of the discussion at each specific stage in the Gover’Science process. These points comprise a complete record of the flip chart sheets and facilitator’s presentations from each working group.
They are augmented by the present Rapporteur’s own notes of those discussions where he was present – including the entirety of the plenary discussions.
References to external sources are given only where these were explicitly referred to in discussion. In addition, the Rapporteur has been able to draw on audio recordings of the main plenary discussions.
Each bullet point included in the Annexes is referred to at least once in the main narrative report. Taking the main narrative and the detailed annexes together, it is hoped that this twin structure successfully reconciles a range of conflicting needs.
- For the general reader, the main report presents a single cumulative narrative, entirely reliant on, and drawn inductively from, the seminar discussions.
- For those present at the seminar, or for those who wish to trace the different detailed contributions to the narrative, the Annexes show how the individual elements in this account are authentically grounded in the complexities of the deliberative process undertaken at the seminar.
2 The Status Quo---Strengths and Weaknesses
2.1 Shared Understandings
2.1.1 A Diversity of Contexts
Given the complexity of the national, institutional, disciplinary and sectoral interests represented in the ‘Gover’Science’ seminar, it not surprising that there exists some variation in detailed understandings of concepts like ‘public engagement’, ‘citizen participation’, ‘stakeholder deliberation’ and ‘inclusive process’.
Examples of the different concrete approaches mentioned or implicit at the seminar include: consensus conferences, participatory modelling, science shops, citizen’s panels, stakeholder commissions, transdisciplinary teamwork, focus groups and deliberative committees and polls.
These may variously be applied to a series of different types of issue in science governance, including: risk regulation, technology policy, expert advice and science communication [R].
They may involve a diversity of different social actors and emphasise a variety of forms of communication, deliberation and negotiation [K].
They may be initiated by a range of different interests, including public agencies, private sector firms, scientific institutions, civil society organisations or the science-society research community itself [R].
Although the broad elements of these emerging new processes are relatively clear, detailed definitions of precisely what distinguishes them from conventional practices of policy consultation prove rather more elusive.
It was agreed at the seminar, that the specifics of what constitutes ‘participation’ depend not just on perspective, but also to a significant extent on the circumstances [Q].
Here, many further particular applications, contexts, forms and degrees of participation were debated in the seminar – including variants and permutations on many of the approaches identified above.
In order to gain an overview, one useful and well-established (if slightly simplistic) schematic summary discussed at the seminar, is Arnstein’s classic ‘ladder of participation’ [K] 14.
This represents increasing degrees of participation as successive steps running from (at the non-participatory end) (i) ‘manipulation’ and (ii) ‘therapy’; through (conventional practices of) (iii) ‘information’, (iv) ‘consultation’ and (v) ‘placation’ and on to (more truly participatory) (vi) ‘partnership’; (vii) ‘delegated power’ and finally (viii) ‘citizen control’.
As the genuine empowerment of participants increases, so the scope for rhetorical ‘tokenism’ on the part of powerful sponsoring interests decreases with each successive step in this sequence.
It is clear that Arnstein’s scheme is highly limited as a framework for serious or detailed analysis. Many at the Seminar were concerned that it is somewhat simplistic and ambiguous – lending itself to rhetorical use and raising questions over feasibility [K].
However, the scheme at least holds the value of revealing quite clearly a common understanding at the seminar, that discussions of participatory process in the context of science governance in Europe, imply frameworks, procedures and methods that lie at the ‘high empowerment’ end of Arnstein’s scale.
In other words, policy initiatives aimed at fostering organisational reputations, managing public perceptions and alleviating stakeholder concerns – no matter what their other merits and irrespective of how they may be described – are all quite different things to genuine participatory process.
Likewise, traditional techniques for the communication of scientific information and conventional modes of science policy consultation all fall well short of the symmetrical two-way dialogue and open, in-depth deliberation implied by these terms.
It is with these particular connotations that this report will therefore follow discussion at the seminar in using the convenient term ‘participatory process’ to describe a variety of frameworks and procedures.
Their detailed designs and contexts may differ, but each hold in common particular qualities. For our purposes, these key qualities comprise an emphasis on inclusive engagement with a diversity of social actors, symmetrical two-way dialogue, open in-depth deliberation, and the prioritising of empowerment and agency on the part of the participants’ themselves.
14 S. Arnstein, ‘A ladder of citizen participation in the USA’, J. American Inst. Planners, Vol 35 (1969), p216-224.