Broadening public input into science policy decision making: can the democratic model for science communication influence scientific, innovation and technological trajectories?

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O'Mahony, Catherine
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University College Cork
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This PhD thesis investigates the potential use of science communication models to engage a broader swathe of actors in decision making in relation to scientific and technological innovation in order to address possible democratic deficits in science and technology policy-making. A four-pronged research approach has been employed to examine different representations of the public(s) and different modes of engagement. The first case study investigates whether patient-groups could represent an alternative needs-driven approach to biomedical and health sciences R & D. This is followed by enquiry into the potential for Science Shops to represent a bottom-up approach to promote research and development of local relevance. The barriers and opportunities for the involvement of scientific researchers in science communication are next investigated via a national survey which is comparable to a similar survey conducted in the UK. The final case study investigates to what extent opposition or support regarding nanotechnology (as an emerging technology) is reflected amongst the YouTube user community and the findings are considered in the context of how support or opposition to new or emerging technologies can be addressed using conflict resolution based approaches to manage potential conflict trajectories. The research indicates that the majority of communication exercises of relevance to science policy and planning take the form of a one-way flow of information with little or no facility for public feedback. This thesis proposes that a more bottom-up approach to research and technology would help broaden acceptability and accountability for decisions made relating to new or existing technological trajectories. This approach could be better integrated with and complementary to government, institutional, e.g. university, and research funding agencies activities and help ensure that public needs and issues are better addressed directly by the research community. Such approaches could also facilitate empowerment of societal stakeholders regarding scientific literacy and agenda-setting. One-way information relays could be adapted to facilitate feedback from representative groups e.g. Non-governmental organisations or Civil Society Organisations (such as patient groups) in order to enhance the functioning and socio-economic relevance of knowledge-based societies to the betterment of human livelihoods.
Community-based research , Nanotechnology , Conflict resolution , Patient groups , Scientific literacy , Science communication , Science policy , Science shops , Public engagement in science
O'Mahony, C. 2011. Broadening public input into science policy decision making : can the democratic model for science communication influence scientific, innovation and technological trajectories?. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.