Using Public Engagements to Provide Input and Insights into Policy, Legal, Ethical, and Other Impacts of Science

By Lisa M. PytlikZillig, Alan J. Tomkins, Peter Muhlberger, Rosevelt L. Pardy, Thomas Jack Morris, Yuris A. Dzenis, Joseph A. Turner and Timothy P. Collins.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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Fueled in part by governmental regulatory requirements and in part because of science’s own interest, public engagements are used to provide input about the policy, ethical, legal, social, and other impacts of science and technology. While public engagements show promise for ensuring that public values are incorporated into science and technology policy, current models of public engagement are disconnected from empirical evidence, are too general to guide decisions about public engagement in specific contexts or for specific purposes, and fail to adequately explain why public engagement outcomes differ across studies. In this paper we briefly review prior models, as well as an approach to building new models that we are currently employing in our research. We describe preliminary results from an experimental study conducted using our approach, which varies the cognitive goals emphasized by an engagement concerning nanotechnology, and the social context for giving input. Results suggest that variations in these factors do matter: Compared to individual input, group discussion of input questions resulted in less-focused, less argumentative, and more active and self-regulated forms of engagement; and emphasis on cognitive learning goals did appear to support learning to a greater extent than emphasis on critical thinking goals. We conclude that future experimental research is warranted and necessary to populate a social science of public engagement with models that answer questions of which public engagements work under what conditions, for what purposes, and why.

Keywords: Ethics, Public Participation, Citizen Engagement, Technology and Science

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.273-290. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 857.806KB).

Lisa M. PytlikZillig

Research Assistant Professor, Public Policy Center, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA

Lisa PytlikZillig is a researcher at the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center and a Research Assistant Professor at the Center for Instructional Innovation. Her research focuses on the application of social psychological and educational theories to understanding and improving public engagement with and public input on policy decisions.

Alan J. Tomkins

Director, Public Policy Center, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA

Alan J. Tomkins directs the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center. His research interests include the study of what works in public participation for participants and policy makers, and the components of public trust and confidence in public institutions.

Peter Muhlberger

Texas Tech University, Texas, USA

Peter Muhlberger is a political communication and political psychology researcher at the Center for Communications Research in the College of Mass Communications at Texas Tech University. His work focuses on the social and political implications of online and face-to-face public engagement and the political roles of ideology and identity.

Rosevelt L. Pardy

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska, USA

R. L. Pardy, Professor, School of Biological Sciences, is a member of the UNL Academy of Distinguished Teachers. His research interests emphasize inflammatory molecules from algae; he teaches introductory biology and advanced courses in special topics.

Thomas Jack Morris

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA

T. Jack Morris is a Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences. His research interests are in the area of viral-host interactions in plants, and he regularly teaches undergraduate courses in Introductory Cell & Molecular Biology and General Virology.

Yuris A. Dzenis

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska, USA

Yuris Dzenis is R. Vernon McBroom Professor of Engineering Mechanics. His research interests are in the area of advanced structural and functional composite and nanostructured materials and nanofibers.

Joseph A. Turner

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska, USA

Joseph A. Turner is a Professor, Department Chair, and Brightfelt Distinguished Scholar of Engineering Mechanics. His research interests are associated with characterization of a variety of materials and their microstructures using ultrasound/acoustics, nanoindentation, and atomic force microscopy.

Timothy P. Collins

University of Nebraska, Nebraska, USA

Tim Collins is a graduate student in the political science department, and a research assistant at the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center. His research interests are in the area of the biological causes for political attitudes and behaviors, as well as American politics, media, and public participation.