June 2012

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Richard Sclove

Hi Alex,

Your post is rich in many good insights and suggestions. Your basic notion of trying lots of small-ish initiatives in online -- or online + face-to-face -- engagement sounds like one sensible way forward.

To date, it looks to me like open (i.e., self-selected participant) online engagement shows some promise for brainstorming or for analyzing certain types of well-defined issues (primarily relatively factual or technical issues, in which conflicting values are not much in play).

However, a core challenge in technology assessment -- that is, in understanding the broad societal implications of technologies or of technology-intensive issues -- is that conflicting values are almost always in play.

In that case, engagement (whether face-to-face or online) presumably needs to include representative samples of everyday people from all walks of life, not self-selected people or even self-selected experts (because in either of those latter cases the results will exclude or misrepresent the full range of social values and life experience in the wider society).

[Footnote: I'm not saying that there isn't also a role for experts and representative of organized stakeholder groups. There certainly is. But here I'm focusing on the necessary contribution from laypeople.]

Participatory technology assessment usually involves gathering a random sample of laypeople, neutrally facilitating their conversations, and then allowing them to chew on balanced information from diverse experts and stakeholders, deliberate, and then reach their own conclusions.

How much of that can occur online, using what kind(s) of technology platforms, remains a highly open question, I'd say.

Not that it's an area in which I'm expert, but I haven't yet seen ways to use open source engagement to capture a fairly balanced range of societal values, concerns and life experiences. Open source engagement is highly prone to being biased by who chooses to participate . . . or by which group has the resources to mobilize its supporters to engage.

I hope one day you may find the time to read my full report on “Reinventing Technology Assessment” (part of the basis for Darlene Cavalier’s post on the Discover blog) and to respond creatively to some of the challenges framed there, and to the report's unanswered questions. You can download the report at www.wilsoncenter.org/techassessment

Richard Sclove

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About Future 2.0

  • The field of futures and forecasting is undergoing a revolution. Since the field was founded in the 1950s, the problems futurists must make sense of have become much more complex. The tools we can use-- and could develop-- to follow trends and forecast possible futures have become more sophisticated. The audiences we try to reach have expanded. The media we use to communicate have changed. And our knowledge of how people and groups actually think about and respond to the future has evolved greatly. The purpose of this blog is to make sense of how the field is responding to these changes, and try see where the field is going-- in effect, to forecast the future of futures.

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