This week I presented in the “scientific and social assessment of emerging technologies for a sustainable society track” with colleagues at the S.Net Conference 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. My paper, “A Novel Architecture for Anticipatory Risk Assessment of Emerging Biotechnologies: the Building with Biology Case”, reported preliminary results of research on public views about emerging biotechnologies focused on pilot events called “Building with Biology” in eight U.S. Science Museums. Under a 3-year NSF Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) Award #1421179 the project, entitled Multi-Site Public Engagement with Science – Synthetic Biology (MSPES), models a novel institutional and programmatic architecture for public deliberation about novel biotechnologies.
This exciting project catalyzes complex multi-directional exchange between publics and expert communities by convening conversations among scientists, engineers, and public audiences around the societal implications of engineering biology. There are eight pilot sites in 2015 and two hundred sites planned for the summer of 2016. The public views component of this research captures information about public responses, opinions, associations, and perceptions with respect to synthetic biology from publics that have come into contact with MSPES project activities.
I ask: What knowledge, awareness and understanding do publics develop about synthetic biology through their public engagement experiences in the MSPES project? What types of institutional, programmatic, and interpersonal relationships and interactions faciliate mutual exchange and learning about the societal context of this emerging area of biotechnology in expert and non-specialist publics?