Evolving Collective Intelligence by Tom Atlee

Exploring how to generate the collective wisdom we need

Exploring how to generate the collective wisdom we need

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May 04, 2005

A Citizens' Consensus Conference on Nanotechnology in Wisconsin

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation convenor Sandy Heierbacher just sent me a notice about the Initiative on Nanotechnology and Society at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which conducted a citizens' consensus conference on Nanotechnology during April and has just posted a report with citizen recommendations.

I think of citizens' consensus conferences as one of the most sophisticated forms of citizen deliberation. They are an official function of Parliament in Denmark, organized by the Danish Board of Technology. Only a few have been held in the U.S., and not always according to the specific Danish technique, which I think is unfortunate. That was the case here, as well:

Participant selection: Usually in the Danish process, participants are chosen as a cross-section of the country, from a sizable pool randomly selected from the whole population. However, in many other countries (including the US) where the method has been used, organizers advertise for participants in media and local organizations. That seems to be the method used by UW-Madison. Unless tremendous care is taken, this latter approach runs the risk of greater bias among the participants.

Briefing sessions: In the Danish approach, participants meet for two weekends, approximately a month apart, before convening in the public forum to hear expert testimony. During those prior meetings they talk extensively with each other and the organizers, learning about each other and the issue they're considering. They play an active role in choosing the experts who will testify to them, as well as what questions to ask. It is not clear how much of this was done in the UW-Madison process. It seems they only met for a day or so immediately before the public forum, which would have at the very least limited their role in selecting experts.

Nevertheless, this is a historic effort to bring an informed, inclusive, common sense voice of We the People into the public dialogue on important issues and I hope to see many more such efforts in the future.

In addition to a press release about this event, Sandy sent me links to the full report of the Madison Area Citizen Consensus Conference on Nanotechnology -- including their recommendations -- as well as a news article about the conference and its recommendations.

I hope the organizers can provide us with more information about this important event here in the Evolving Collective Intelligence blog.


posted by Tom Atlee on Wednesday May 4 2005
updated on Saturday September 24 2005

URL of this article:




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