As India launches itself on a development trajectory in nanotechnology and other emerging technologies, and with agricultural biotechnology being around for some time and fuelling many controversies, the time might be opportune to review the role of public participation in framing science and technology policy in India. Social and political theorists, public interest groups, scientists and policy makers, particularly in the developed world, has widely embraced the concept of increased public engagement in science and technology on the premise that ‘public participation makes for better science and science-based policy’. In India, however, till date, we see a privileging of ‘public awareness’ over engagement. As enunciated by India’s Science and Technology Policy, 2003, one of the main policy objectives has been ‘to ensure that the message of science reaches every citizen of India, man and woman, young and old, so that we advance scientific temper…’ Thus, as India has engaged with new technologies such as agricultural biotechnology, nanotechnology etc., the government policy has been oriented more towards communicating scienc than actually engaging in a dialogue with the people on defining the course for the future. This could in some measure, be attributed to what many critics refer to as the overbearing attitude of the Indian state in its deployment of science and technology for nation building, with public participation becoming more a means of legitimizing science rather than creating room for dissent. At the same time, one can never underestimate the immense challenges for the Indian scientific establishment in communicating information about new cutting edge technologies, to a very diverse Indian population at different levels of educational and economic status. Age-groups, gender, residence in urban or rural areas is some other factors which a science communication strategy always has to keep in mind. Some of the recent developments, particularly in the context of the GM debate, can lead one to an interpretation that India is taking the first steps towards more participatory public involvement, and a tenuous engagement with diverse and dissenting viewpoints.

This paper seeks to review the current state of public participation in Indian science and technology,particularly in the context of the agricultural biotechnology and nanotechnology as well as examine the challenges and opportunities in taking the leap from participation to engagement. The methodology includes desk review of policy and legal documents, science and technology studies literature, media reports as well as focus group discussions and indepth interviews with scientists, ordinary citizens both in urban and rural areas etc.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

From ‘Understanding’ to ‘Engagement’
The road ahead for public participation in emerging technologies in India

Indrani Barpujari   The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)

As India launches itself on a development trajectory in nanotechnology and other emerging technologies, and with agricultural biotechnology being around for some time and fuelling many controversies, the time might be opportune to review the role of public participation in framing science and technology policy in India. Social and political theorists, public interest groups, scientists and policy makers, particularly in the developed world, has widely embraced the concept of increased public engagement in science and technology on the premise that ‘public participation makes for better science and science-based policy’. In India, however, till date, we see a privileging of ‘public awareness’ over engagement. As enunciated by India’s Science and Technology Policy, 2003, one of the main policy objectives has been ‘to ensure that the message of science reaches every citizen of India, man and woman, young and old, so that we advance scientific temper…’ Thus, as India has engaged with new technologies such as agricultural biotechnology, nanotechnology etc., the government policy has been oriented more towards communicating scienc than actually engaging in a dialogue with the people on defining the course for the future. This could in some measure, be attributed to what many critics refer to as the overbearing attitude of the Indian state in its deployment of science and technology for nation building, with public participation becoming more a means of legitimizing science rather than creating room for dissent. At the same time, one can never underestimate the immense challenges for the Indian scientific establishment in communicating information about new cutting edge technologies, to a very diverse Indian population at different levels of educational and economic status. Age-groups, gender, residence in urban or rural areas is some other factors which a science communication strategy always has to keep in mind. Some of the recent developments, particularly in the context of the GM debate, can lead one to an interpretation that India is taking the first steps towards more participatory public involvement, and a tenuous engagement with diverse and dissenting viewpoints.

This paper seeks to review the current state of public participation in Indian science and technology,particularly in the context of the agricultural biotechnology and nanotechnology as well as examine the challenges and opportunities in taking the leap from participation to engagement. The methodology includes desk review of policy and legal documents, science and technology studies literature, media reports as well as focus group discussions and indepth interviews with scientists, ordinary citizens both in urban and rural areas etc.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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