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Last Updated: June 25, 2013
The purpose of FCT is to address some of the limitations and tensions (Delgado et al 2010) that STS scholars contend with when moving from theory to practice in PE activities (see Methods and Approaches to PE).
As Delgado et al have argued, “It is important that one seeks to remain alert, aware and transparent about the conflicts or tensions that are created when theoretical ideals are implemented in the complex realities of practice. These, however, have the ability to be creative tensions, inspiring innovation, experimentation, and future research into alternative options and solutions” (840).
During the pilot we found ourselves making tough decisions in relation to our theoretical ideals in order to manage the complexities of implementation, but we hope those decisions resulted in an alternative option or solution for public engagement exercises.
A. Capacity Building
In particular, we hope that by focusing on the method, and not the outcome of the FCT, we have proven the value of “capacity building in a deliberative society.” In this way, the “Why should this exercise be done” is answered by what Stirling (2008) and Fiorino (1990) have referred to as “substantive and normative” rationales. We do believe that capacity building will result in a more democratic society, where citizens have greater power to shape sociotechnical infrastructures. In addition, we believe that PE exercises are necessary to developing that power, and therefore, are “the right thing to do” (Delgado 831).
B. Citizen Driven Agendas
Relying on citizen driven agendas allows us to approach the “framing battle” among experts, citizens, social scientists, and policy makers by giving the authority to the citizens. Although we were reflexive and are aware of the extent to which we framed the sessions through our own attention to technologies in society, we did so cautiously, and with the hope that our frame would provide a safe zone, inside of which participants could develop and renegotiate their own frames, as well as deciding what we should frame our approaches to technologies around.
Citizen driven agenda do not wholly solve the problem of competing frames. However, by carefully and reflectively introducing our own substantive research outcomes into the sessions, we do believe that in general we opened up dialogue rather than closed it down (Delgado 831), particularly because the goals we did want to achieve were kept subsequent to the curiosities and concerns of the participants AND because we did not demand a consensus to be reached.
Background: Debating Frames
Inviting citizens to set the agenda while including other expert-participation within that agenda allows us as social science researchers to maintain a more diffuse power dynamic ( see Wynne’s concept of radical lay expertise).
Learning to build capacities has more effect when assessments are authentic. How can we maintain authentic assessments? By allowing participants to set the topical agenda and using our skills as moderators and experts of public engagement to serve those means.
We know how to manipulate and manage power dynamics, build trust, and further enable all types of expertise to be present and seen as valuable contributions.
Drawbacks: This is an ideal. In fact even with our interventions and facilitation, some participants were better skilled at monopolizing the agenda.
Invitation of experts to Session II only, allowed citizen participants to “have the upper hand.” As researchers we demonstrated our belief in the value and validity of citizens’ authority and interests by having experts SERVE citizen’s interests.
As part of this we carefully orchestrated the conversations to try to encourage multi-directional learning and conversation. If anything, we assumed a deficit of knowledge for the experts. With practice in conversation, exposure to particular views and access to learning interactions not previously accessible we allowed the experts to improve their capabilities to relay knowledge.
Drawbacks: Not all experts responded. One still brought slides.
C. Material Deliberation
Anthropologists and sociologists have come to value images as valuable representations of culture and for ethnographic studies (see Clover 2006). In particular, images and photography have been studied as a way for often silenced subaltern groups to have a more powerful voice. Although some STS scholars have recognized the unequal power dynamic between citizens and scientific experts, in relation to science and technology, few PE exercises have used images and/or photography as a way to level the playing field and rely less on reasoned argumentation. FCT demonstrates how material and affective knowledge contributes to a “deliberative society” (Davies et al 2012).
D. Integration of Science and Technology Stakeholder Expertise
We addressed issues around representativeness, by designing our sessions in such a way as to allow the participants to define their participation and their interest in participation, not around their expert professional authority, but around whatever self-described curiosity they brought. We purposely tried to help participants talk to each other about their “interests and concerns” as opposed to their “professional allegiances.”
In addition, we chose participants who had expressed an interest in emerging technologies, sustainability, and the future of Phoenix, in general. After those participants chose the subject areas which they were most concerned with, we then invited stake holders, and other experts to the conversation, to increase the depth of the conversation, give access to people and places participants might not normally have without our intervention, AND to expose participants to the variety of frames these invited guests brought to the discussion. Because the setting had already been determined in which there was to be no consensus- instead the event was a sharing of perspectives, and perhaps, a broadening or changing of perspective- the experts did not overtake the interactions. In fact, the PE activity was a learning experience for the experts and stakeholders as well, as they were directly exposed to people and perspectives of which they may not have previously been aware.