The GoNano project has published a working paper on the design and outcomes of the first round of stakeholder workshops organised in the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Spain. The stakeholder workshops are a key part of the GoNano project: integrating the lessons learned in the first exploratory stages of the project and the citizen workshops, the workshops aimed to raise awareness with stakeholders that the early consideration of the needs and values of citizens and societal stakeholders can add value to innovation in nanotechnologies.
Summary of the report
Five stakeholder workshops were held in the three designated GoNano pilot countries in February and March 2019. The University of Twente (UT) organised three workshops in the thematic area of nanotechnologies and health in the Netherlands: the first workshop on 12 February focused on diabetes, the second workshop on 5 March looked at sensors, and the third workshop on 7 March discussed health policy. The Technology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences (TC CAS) organised a fourth workshop on nanotechnologies and food in Prague on 28 February. A fifth workshop on nanotechnologies and energy was held in Barcelona by the European Office of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), also on 7 March.
Collectively, the workshops have mobilized almost one hundred stakeholders around co-creation in nanotechnologies. The events provided productive spaces for engagement and mutual learning between a wide range of stakeholders: researchers, producers, policy makers, civil society and citizens. The workshop discussions gave rise to interesting suggestions: in the diabetes workshop at UT, citizens’ concerns about the ownership of medical data sparked a discussion about data management, highlighting considerations that might be of use to the product developer in further developing a data management plan.
In the sensor workshop, interactions with envisaged future users of a biomedical sensor raised the researcher’s awareness of the performance criteria that will determine adoption of the sensor. These examples suggest that ‘exposure’ to use considerations further down the line can attune research design to future use contexts.
Reflection on the findings
Looking at the learning objectives for the stakeholder workshops, the results suggest that the workshops succeeded in raising awareness with stakeholders that the early consideration of the needs and values of citizens and societal stakeholders can add value to innovation in nanotechnologies. But the workshop findings also point to barriers for co-creation. It proved difficult to connect the input from the citizens to the research agendas and concerns of the professional stakeholders. The findings suggest that there is a trade-off between inclusiveness and specificity: the decision to treat all stakeholder perspectives on an equal footing for reasons of inclusiveness may come at the cost of a clear action perspective. Conversely, the choice of one particular action perspective to enable specificity is – by definition – partial and exclusive.
These observations reconfirm the complexity of the GoNano co-creation process as a whole: it is far from self-evident how broader societal considerations can be applied meaningfully to research and innovation practice. It requires insight in the individual, day-to-day decisions being taken in nanotechnology research and innovation (and respect for the limited room for manoeuvre at that level); a deep understanding of public perceptions of, and attitudes towards, nanotechnologies; a process that allows participants to build a relationship and develop a shared language in which their contribution to the problems at hand can be meaningfully expressed; and above all, the capacity to ‘translate’ needs and concerns from the social realm to practical options in the technological realm in real time.
This is a tall order indeed, but it is exactly what needs to happen to realise the policy prescriptions underlying the notion of Responsible Research and Innovation and the Science in Society-movement in general: “to encourage actors in their own disciplines and fields to participate in developing Science in Society perspectives from the very beginning of the conception of their activities.”