Policy, Public

Involving the public in nanotech

Hilary Sutcliffe

18 Jan 2017


The UK government and the UK's various Research Councils have pioneered a number of new approaches to Responsible Innovation, to better understand public views, involve stakeholders in significant decisions about research directions and innovative approaches to considering novel risks early in the research process. It all started in earnest with Nanotechnologies, from 2005 following the publication of the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering's seminal report Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies:  opportunities and uncertainties. 


Public dialogue with Nanotechnologies to inform decision making. 


The UK government pioneered public involvement in nanotechnologies from 2005 to 2014, with the consultations to understand public views through a number of Nanodialogues,Nanotechnologies Engagement Group nano and schools projects.    With the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research, it also undertook to consider a dialogue process to inform future consideration of emerging technologies, which has been influential. 


In 2014 it undertook a further dialogue with the general public to understand perceptions of specific nano-enhanced products and to consult them on the possibility of lifting the moratorium on free nanoparticles in the environment (Hilary was involved on the advisory board of this project).  The outcome on that specific decision has yet to be made.   The full report is available here.


Most of these dialogues elicited from the public the desire to know more about nanotechnologies and new technologies in general.  As MATTER we proposed a website be created to respond to this ongoing request from the public.  


Www.nanoandme.org was created as a pilot, to offer a 'one stop shop' of information for stakeholders - the public or other stakeholders looking to understand what it was; businesses wanting more information about opportunities or about regulation and others interested in the safety of nanomaterials or some of the social or ethical issues associated with their use.


We were very proud of this, and still, over 5 years later, get over 4000 hits per month on the site, despite it not being updated.


Though the concept has been superceded, it is part of our aim at SocietyInside to inspire organisations of all types to communicate much better about their use of technologies.