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  Home > EU Projects > Science Education projects > PATH- Participatory Approaches in Science and Technology  

PATH- Participatory Approaches in Science and Technology

The PATH project will form a network bringing together academics, practitioners, policy-makers and stakeholders to exchange knowledge and develop future directions for the involvement of society in the deliberation of science-based policy issues.

Project aims
  The project aims to draw together theoretical insights and empirical lessons of participatory approaches for science-based policy development.  Its main objectives are to:
• develop a network of policy-makers, stakeholders (e.g. from industry and NGOs), academics and members of civil society to exchange knowledge and experience of deliberation in science and technology policy development;
• analyse the conditions under which existing methods are successful in facilitating debate between scientists, policy-makers and the public, and to develop innovative means to improve policy development;
• explore how different values and interests are best mapped, represented and taken into account at different scales in science-based policy formulation;
• synthesise information across different contexts about how participatory deliberative and inclusive methods in science-based policy can be advanced within the European Union to establish consultative institutions in policy-making processes.

Why “Participation”?
Some feel that representative democracy is no longer sufficient in formulating environmental policy and making decisions on long-term issues. Reasons range from a lack of trust in the existing advisory and decision-making mechanisms to questioning underlying motives and communicated assertions of the governmental decision-making apparatus.
By and large there are no formal structures within that apparatus that allow different viewpoints and more socially framed values to be voiced and considered. These, however, are important in the debate about science and technology issues which are often complex, far-reaching, irreversible and characterised by conflicting interests.  Also, substantial uncertainty, in terms of the occurrence of an event and its understanding and description, and ignorance exist. 
The issue is not only about innovation and what type of progress is desirable and acceptable but also about when and how decisions are made and by whom. Current institutional arrangements are struggling with when and how to accommodate calls for earlier and more active involvement of ordinary citizens and all kinds of interested and affected parties in policy formulation.
“Citizens don’t just want a vote – they deserve a voice in what happens, an impact on decisions that impact their lives, and a government responsive to their needs and visions”.

‘Participatory processes’ have been advanced as one way to broaden involvement in decision-making, driven by international agreements.  In recent years, there have been many examples of formalised deliberation amongst and between ordinary citizens, stakeholders and specialists using methodological tools such as focus groups, consensus conferences, citizens’ juries and scenario workshops.  Yet despite a substantial body of research and past practical experience, approaches to public participation are often ill-considered, ad hoc and miss windows of opportunity to actually inform policy development.

Issues of representation and scale
The project will focus specifically on two persistent challenges: scale and representation.
To date, participatory processes have largely been used at a local scale. deciding over a specific issue (e.g. the siting of waste repository or processing facilities), but many technology and environmental challenges operate at the national and international scale.  Some participatory processes have extended to policy concerns at the national scale but only few have actively involved large numbers of participants.  International agreements and regulations, and their implementation at the national scale, however, increasingly encourage or require the inclusion of civil society in policy formulation processes.
Of particular interest here are those which go beyond consultation and actually aspire to achieve active participation from an early stage.

Project activities: key events and outputs

  • Copenhagen Workshop, 1-3 June 2005: this international workshop involved about 45 people examining scale and representation issues in participatory approaches.  Specific topics of interest included:
    -differences and similarities in participatory approaches used at the local and national levels;
    -scope and limitations of information and communication technologies to facilitate large scale participatory processes;
    -how to enable people from different backgrounds to participate and deliberate together;
    -traditional concepts of representation versus new concepts and challenges;
    -power relations in old and new models of representation;
    -inclusion of ‘silent voices’;
    -can lessons from one context be transferred to another?Two policy briefs are planned: one on the theme of scale issues in participatory processes, the other on representation.  They will use material from presentations and discussions of the workshop to summarise current thinking, suggestions for good practice and possible options for the future.
  • Edinburgh Conference: “Involving the public in science-based policy development”, 4-7 June 2006: this conference will involve about 120 participants, building on the outcomes of the workshop and exploring innovative approaches to participation using three different case studies:
    -the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture;
    -biodiversity conservation;
    They have been chosen to represent high-profile policy issues ranging, respectively, from several-years long controversies, through current regulatory requirements, to emerging issues.  Likely additional themes to be addressed include the assessment of critical views of participation in science-based policy; integration of best practice elements; new forms of risk communication; and rebuidling trust between actors and in institutions.
    Three scientific papers are planned which will be presented at the conference.  These will take a critical look at advances in public participation in policy deliberation on each of the three case study topics.

The partners
The PATH Project is coordinated by the Socio-Economic Research Programme, Macaulay Institute, UK. The other partners are:
-Danish Board of Technology, Denmark,
-Department of Developmental and Social Psychology, University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Italy,
-Department of Economics and Resource Management, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Norway,
-Department of Economics, Sociology and Law, UFZ – Centre for Environmental Research, Germany,
-Institute for Environmental Science and Technology, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain,
-Institute for Environment, Philosophy and Public Policy, Lancaster University, UK,
-Institute of Social Sciences, University of Stuttgart, Germany.

PATH is a 30 months project funded by  the European Commission under the Science ad Society activity area. It started on April 2004.

For more information visit the project website:

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