Associate Director of Research at the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society at UC Berkeley
My research seeks to understand the practices, dynamics, and structures of sociotechnical innovation systems. I am interested in establishing criteria for accessing the creative capacities of “sociotechnical crowds” to inform the design of science/society interactions as an input to decision-making and public policy.
Sociotechnical Crowds: Systemic Capacities for Responsible Innovation
New research in 2015/2016 — A revolution is going on in the field of materials. Smart autonomous systems that enable tiny machines to monitor, provide feedback and involve citizens actively in understanding and acting on our own well-being and our environment are in various stages of development. Smart autonomous systems are just one of a multiplicity of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information, technology and cognitive science (NBIC) convergent technologies that signal an increasing interaction between the fields of biology and engineering. NBIC technologies promise to mediate our decision-making relationships with institutions, corporations, and the state. What is new about this mediation is the preference for consulting the group through technology rather than consulting individuals using face-to-face methods.
Analysts of the promise and peril of NBIC technologies express the potential impacts in terms of how one’s own body and experience as an individual is changing. Individualistic frames of reference include intimate enhancement (implanted technologies such as cochlear implants to aid hearing); personal monitoring for efficiency (uses to quantify the self and enhance performance through e-coaching); and the interpersonal (the use of social media for building relationships and robotic companionship for personalized care). The Rathenau Instituut calls this the era of ‘intimate technologies’ wherein machines come between us and get inside of us in increasingly seamless ways. Intimate technologies pose novel ethical and regulatory challenges.
While there is research about the impacts of this technical mediation on the individual, my project aims to understand the social, systemic, civic and democratic capacities of sociotechnical crowds. The concept of “sociotechnical crowds” derives from theorist of technology, Lewis Mumford’s insistence on the primacy of “human parts” in the creation of technologies — collective capacities of labor and knowledge production that make innovation possible. Contra to the dominant theory of crowds as dangerous and unstable entities in need of control,  I assert that sociotechnical crowds do have a multiplicity of behaviours and talents  that depend upon collective capacities rather than individual agency, rational choices or traditional performances of democracy. Moreover, the collective capacities of crowds are strongly influenced in the aggregate by a persistence of material technologies and ecological conditions. Understanding how sociotechnical crowds behave is invaluable for the design of innovation practices, technology assessment and innovation policy.
 Mumford, Lewis. 1970. The Myth of the Machine: 2. Pentagon of Power. 1st ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
 Le Bon, Gustave. 1896. The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. London: T. F. Unwin.
 Canetti, Elias. 1962. Crowds and Power. New York: Viking Press; Mubi Brighenti, Andrea. 2014. The Ambiguous Multiplicities: Materials, Episteme and Politics of Cluttered Social Formations. Palgrave Pivot. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Article in preparation. Gano, G. “Reconsidering the Megamachine: Toward a New Hybridity of Crowd Theory and Technology Studies.” Social Studies of Science.
Book Manuscript in Preparation. The Soft Megamachine: A Hybrid Theory of Crowds and Technology
World Wide Views on Climate and Energy. (June 2015 – December 2016) Subawardee. “Loka Institute Research and Dissemination Project, World Wide Views on Climate and Energy at the United Nations Cop21.” The Danish Board of Technology and the Loka Institute, funded by the KR Foundation.
World Wide Views on Climate and Energy is a global citizen consultation held in 76 countries with nearly 10,000 ordinary citizens on June 6, 2015 to elicit their informed and considered views on the issues that will be addressed at the UNFCCC’s COP 21 meeting in Paris. This is the third “World Wide Views” event (the first was WWViews on Global Warming in 2009 and the second World Wide Views on Biodiversity in 2012). The “inventor” of the program is the Danish Board of Technology and the initiators of this year’s project are DBT, the French National Commission on Public Debate, and UNFCCC. My role is to assess the transmission of the results of the citizen consultation to the global climate change policy makers. I am collaborating in this with Dr. Richard Worthington of Pomona College and Professor Roopali Phadke of Macalester College. We are conducting “event ethnographies” and interviews at the UN General Assembly, where the French government is sponsoring a session to present the WWViews results; at the Bonn preparatory meeting in October; and at COP 21.
PI, Larry Bell, Sr. V.P. for Strategic Initiatives, Museum of Science Boston. Project partners are the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), SynBERC at Stanford and MIT, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the network for Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology (ECAST).
This project is aimed at pushing beyond traditional modes of communicating with public audiences rooted in “public understanding of science” modalities into the mechanisms and perspectives associated with “public engagement with science” (PES). The project will support informal educational institutions as facilitators of such PES activities through which mutual learning takes place among research experts and various publics.
In its history, the Earth has been repeatedly struck by asteroids, large chunks of rock from space that can cause considerable damage in a collision. Can we—or should we—try to protect Earth from potentially hazardous impacts? An innovative project between NASA, the US government’s space agency, and a group ECAST—Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology—is planning to do just that: allow ordinary citizens a say in decisions about the future of space exploration.
In November 2014, several hundred people in Phoenix, Boston, and online came together to learn about NASA’s Asteroid Initiative and to consider and discuss different approaches to dealing with the opportunities and threats posed by asteroids.
Related Activities & Publications:
Tomblin, David, Richard Worthington, Gretchen Gano, Mahmud Farooque, David Sittenfeld, and Jason Lloyd. 2015. Report: Informing NASA’s Asteroid Initiative: A Citizen’s Forum.Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology (ECAST) under NASA Cooperative Agreement / Grant Number: NNX14AF95A.
Paper. Society for the Social Studies of Science Annual Meeting 2015.”Space: the “First”, not “Final”, Frontier for participatory Technology Assessment”
Paper. Z Pirtle, M Farooque, G Gano, D Guston, A Kaminski, J Kessler. AIAA SPACE 2015 Conference and Exposition, 4651. “The Public Informing Upstream Engineering: A Participatory Technology Assessment of NASA’s Asteroid Initiative”
Funded by the National Science Foundation under the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), Futurescape City Toursare interactive, community engagement projects where participants explore how new technologies could change their city and their lives in the near future. Springfield is one of six cities, including St.Paul, MN; Portland, OR; Phoenix,AZ; Edmonton, Alberta; and Washington, D.C., hosting engagements in which local residents, stakeholders, scientists and engineers tour their neighborhoods and talk about how new technologies like nanotechnology may change buildings, transportation, food, healthcare, energy use and more.
Gano, Gretchen. (under review) “Participatory Technology Assessment as Urban Technological Wayfinding.” Journal of Urban Technology.
Selin, Cynthia, Kelly Rawlings, Kathryn de Ridder-Vignone, Gretchen Gano, Jathan Sadowski, Carlo Altamirano, Sarah Davies, Mindy Kimball, and David Guston. (in press) “Experiments in Engagement: Designing PEST for Capacity-Building.” Public Understanding of Science.
Selin, Cynthia and Gretchen Gano. (2015) “Seeing Differently: Enticing Reflexivity through Mediating Participation in Futurescape City Tours.” InParticipatory Visual and Digital Research in Action. Edited by Aline Gubrium, Krista Harper, and Marty Otañez.
World Wide Views on Biodiversity. (Fall 2012) Project Manager. Science Technology and Society Initiative, University of Massachusetts Amherst; Museum of Science Boston; and Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology (ECAST)
In 2012, I managed research at one of four U.S. sites of the global technology assessment, World Wide Views on Biodiversity (WWVB). Hosted by the Danish Board of Technology, WWVB was a global citizen dialog held in twenty-four countries that incorporated public views on biodiversity governance at the United Nations Conference of Parties on Biological Diversity (COP 11). The project’s ultimate aim was to develop a policy instrument as input to transnational governance that would systematically aggregate and report on citizen views at the global sites to UN delegates. Supported by a $14.7K UMass Amherst Public Service Endowment grant, I and an interdisciplinary team of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students recruited one hundred citizen participants, facilitated structured dialog, and conducted multi-modal social research. I produced a co-authored policy report and spoke at the report’s release hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Science and Technology Innovation Program.
The NETS project was designed to investigate the development of digital resources to advance the collection, dissemination, and preservation of ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) research associated with the development of nanotechnology and other emerging technologies. The NETS project addressed the challenge of marshalling resources, academic collaborators, data managers, and digital repository services for large-scale, multi-institutional and disciplinary research projects. The central activity of the project was a June 2013 workshop that gathered key researchers and digital librarians together to plan the development of a disciplinary repository of data, curricula, and methodological tools. Stakeholders representing the nano and emerging technologies ELSI community were invited to the workshop, including researchers and professionals from organizations such as the two NSF Centers for Nanotechnology and Society, the Museum of Science Boston, Network for Computational Nanotechnology/nanoHUB, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the National Institutes of Health.