Study Background

Last Updated: July 29, 2013

The Futurescape City Tours are an experience of co-inquiry and a research study to understand novel forms of public engagement.

PictureIn Fall of 2012, researchers with the Center for Nanotechnology in Society conducted a Phoenix-based pilot, which advanced the methodological understanding for national citizens deliberation exercises in 2013 that will take place in six different cities around the U.S. If you are interested in participating in 2013, send an email to kathryn.deriddervignone[at]

Science policy and research has, over the past decades, been marked by a growing focus on increasing public participation and engagement. There is an increased concern with incorporating democratic principles in scientific governance, and many scholars and practitioners are now looking for new ways to embed public values into decision-making processes.

The influential European Commission report Science and Governance: Taking European Knowledge Society Seriously, for instance, suggested that, in the context of the Lisbon Agenda, there is a need to completely rethink the narratives and assumptions of scientific management. Similarly, the Commission's report Global Governance of Science calls for greater reflexivity and openness within the cultures of science, as well as the promotion of “critical reflection and discussion with regard to both the means and ends of science – by means, e.g., of selective research projects and public activities that require interdisciplinary collaboration and citizen participation.”

In an attempt to respond to the growing calls for increased citizen participation and innovation in science policy and research, the Futurescape City Tours are being developed at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University (CNS-ASU). CNS-ASU researchers are interested in testing out innovative practices of public and stakeholder engagement with science and technology, and understanding their outcomes.

We will use the Futurescape City Tours as an opportunity to study the ways in which deliberation can break free of traditional workshop spaces, like citizen juries, and how it can be anchored in more place-based experiential engagement, like a tour. Through observing the pre- and post-tour focus groups, the tour itself, and administering a follow-up survey, we will work to understand the nature and features of innovative tools of public engagement. 

Research Design

The Futurescape City Tours will bring together  citizens to discuss the implications of nanotechnology for the city. In doing so, this project creates a space for deliberation about technology and society and enables small groups of participants to interrogate the directions such technologies are taking in their cities. The citizen group is composed of engineers working with nanotechnology directly, stakeholders from the community, or those who have interest in the directions of science and technology for their city.

The project leaders will design a conversation space that focuses on emerging technologies and nanotechnology and their connection to urban landscapes and sustainability, yet will use techniques that begin with citizen concerns and curiosities, rather than starting with a focus on technological promises and risks. One aim of the project, as with many CNS projects, is to amplify citizens’ skills to engage with complex technological subjects and to develop and articulate their own views on the desirability and implications of sustainability and nanotechnology.

Thus, the Futurescape City Tours seek to: 1) understand how new methods of public engagement work and with what consequences; 2) engage citizens in critical reflection about the risks and benefits of nanotechnology for the city; and 3) connect with CNS’s vision of anticipatory governance.

About the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU

CNS-ASU combines research, training, and engagement to develop a new approach to governing nanoscale science and engineering (NSE) and other emerging technologies. The 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, signed into law in 2003 (Public Law 108-153), mandates integrating research on societal, ethical, and environmental concerns with nanotechnology research and development to ensure that NSE advances “bring about improvements in quality of life for all Americans.”

CNS-ASU responds to this directive by envisioning and developing ways to anticipate the transforming power of emerging technologies and govern them appropriately.  Using the methods of “real-time technology assessment,” CNS-ASU seeks to enable its vision of anticipatory governance through enhanced foresight capabilities, engagement with citizens and lay publics, and integration of social science and humanistic work with NSE research and education. 

Decades before the most important outcomes of nanotechnology and other emerging technologies fully unfold, complex social relations are beginning to take shape.  CNS-ASU probes the hypothesis that a greater ability for reflexivity–that is, social learning that expands the range of available choices– can help guide the directions of knowledge and innovation toward socially desirable outcomes, and away from undesirable ones. Towards this end, we believe:

Public engagement in research and innovation strengthens its societal value.

Knowledge and society are “co-produced” through the interaction of scientists and non-scientists in a variety of settings. Non-scientists should not simply be educated in technical facts and concepts, but also engaged early on in discussions about scientific research and whether it might advance important societal goals.

From large-scale deliberations to informal science settings, CNS-ASU designs and tests new forms of public engagement to generate opportunities for true dialogues about emerging science and technology. The Futurescape City Tours is the latest attempt to create and explore an innovative approach to participation and engagement.

Foresight and anticipation are crucial, even while prediction is impossible.

All governing requires some orientation to the future.  But what kind of perspective, and which future?  We cannot predict the research or the societal outcomes of NSE and other emerging technologies.  Nevertheless, CNS-ASU explores ways of making the future tractable through the rigorous development of scenarios and the study of how we can deliberate about the future using tools ranging from prototypes and models to games and science fiction.

Integration of societal perspectives in laboratories increases the opportunity for informed deliberation and reflective choice.

CNS-ASU does not determine which outcomes are desirable or undesirable, nor does it impose agendas on NSE researchers. Rather, believe greater reflexivity will expand the realm of informed deliberation and increase the opportunity for conscious choice, thus enhancing the quality of research outcomes. CNS-ASU helps scientists, technologists, and citizens develop a greater capacity to understand where scientific and social values come from, what they mean, and how they may be related to decisions about emerging science and technology.

Visit the Center for Nanotechnology in Society home page for more information.

CNS-ASU research, education, and outreach activities are supported by the National Science Foundation under cooperative agreement #0937591.