Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Presenting my PhD research - conference schedule summer 2014

By Helen

In an attempt to get as much feedback as possible on my PhD work whilst I write it up, and to take advantage of cheap conference fees for graduate students, I've developed a fairly ambitious conference schedule for the summer. The titles and abstracts for my various talks below give a decent outline of the main elements of my PhD work. I'm dipping my toe into a few new disciplinary contexts as well to see how I fit in at the British Sociological Association and at a political science department, partly with a view to helping me work out what to do post-PhD and where I might want to be based in future. If you are going to be around at any of these conferences and would like to meet up - give me a shout!

British Sociological Association Annual Conference April 23rd
Contested objects: evidence, publics and boundaries in open policy-making

Despite its prominence in British politics as a key rhetorical device for politicians and organising principle of civil service reform, the object of open government (or open policy) remains highly contested and ill-defined. This term has been interpreted both as a threat and an opportunity by advocates of institutionalised attempts by government and scientists to engage citizens in knowledge and decision-making. Drawing on detailed qualitative research using interviews, document analysis and participant observation, this talk will investigate attempts by actors in and around the government-funded public participation body ‘Sciencewise’ to adopt this dominant discourse to their advantage and to become actively involved in processes of meaning-making and boundary work around the term. Informed by an understanding of the intellectual, political and geographical roots of these most recent commitments to openness in policy and science, the challenges, tactics and motivations of pursuing commitments to democratic engagement through this new object will be discussed. This empirical analysis will feed into a broader exploration of how the object of open government has been translated and become embedded in different contexts, and what its effects are in these diverse settings. To bring up-to-date the now familiar story of the shift from public understanding of science to more institutionalised ‘upstream’ engagement in the UK, the talk will conclude with an assessment of what the current political fashion for ‘openness’ might mean for the future of institutionally orchestrated attempts to involve citizens in science and science policy.

New Perspectives on the problem of the public May 15th, 3pm
Producing the publics of UK science policy: public dialogue as a technology for representing, knowing & constructing publics

The twenty-first century has witnessed the emergence of increasingly institutionalised methods for public involvement in and engagement with policy-making, especially in the domain of science policy. In the UK Government context, the arm’s-length body Sciencewise, funded by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills has been a central part of this institutionalisation of public participation. Since 2004 Sciencewise has been promoting and supporting the use of ‘public dialogue’ processes to involve public voices and concerns in live science policy decisions, through partnerships with government departments and research councils. Drawing on the critical vein of scholarship in science and technology studies which is beginning to engage with the institutionalisation of public participation (e.g. Braun & Schultz, 2010; Irwin, 2006) this paper will explore the organisational and political contexts of Sciencewise’s public dialogues. It will describe the emergence of public dialogue as a method or technology for representing and producing knowledge about publics, and discuss how the meanings and practice of public dialogue within Sciencewise have changed over the last decade. The paper will then argue that public dialogue both shapes and is shaped by existing policy orders and commitments, constructions of the public, and definitions of the policy problem under discussion. Such relational perspectives on publics and public participation are necessary for providing a more critical account of how governments represent, know and construct public voices in policy-making, and what consequences these different technologies might have.

Braun, K., & Schultz, S. (2010). “ ... a certain amount of engineering involved”: Constructing the public in participatory governance arrangements. Public Understanding of Science, 19(4), 403–419.

Irwin, A. (2006). The politics of talk: Coming to terms with the “new” scientific governance. Social Studies of Science, 36(2), 299–320.

Science and Democracy Network Annual Meeting, June 30th - July 2nd
Institutional experiments for democracy and learning: the case of Sciencewise, UK

Increasingly disconnected from its origins in the laboratory, ‘experimentation’ has become a metaphor used to describe a variety of forms of knowledge-making and governance. This paper explores the analytic resources provided by the use of the metaphor of ‘experimentation’ to describe both democratic practices and processes of institutional learning. In the context of the study of democracy, experimentation evokes a sense of being constantly in-the-making, trialled and re-trialled to find moments of epistemic and political settlement. With reference to institutional learning processes, experimentation similarly implies an open-ended interaction between norms, values and practical experience. Using the case study of the UK Government-funded body Sciencewise, which supports and advocates public participation processes around science policy, institutional experiments in learning and democracy will be described, including: an experiment in developing methods for horizon scanning for future science and technology policy challenges; experimentation around the creation of a community of practice for civil servants interested in public participation; and attempts to become involved in defining elements of UK government discourse around ‘open policy’. It will be argued that studying such processes as experiments or instances of experimentation helps us to understand their relevance to democratic practice and learning, and to be conscious of their broader institutional and political effects in the ongoing re-making of British democracy. The paper will end with a consideration of how the metaphor of experimentation could be used to further aid capacities for institutional reflection and reflexivity in the democratic governance of science.  

RGS-IBG Annual Conference Co-producing socio-technical futures panel August
Co-producing UK science policy futures: imaginaries, organisational learning & public participation

Socio-technical imaginaries (Jasanoff & Kim, 2009) of potential futures are a vital component of organisational learning processes, both constructing and being altered by everyday organisational practices and understandings. This talk will explore organisational learning processes within the Sciencewise programme, an arm’s-length body funded by the UK Government Department for Business Innovation & Skills which orchestrates ‘public dialogue’ projects around key science and technology policy decisions. Taking inspiration from Macfarlane’s (2011) ‘learning assemblages’, learning is understood to be the co-production of socio-technical imaginaries with codified forms of organisational knowledge, technical objects, and everyday organisational routines or assumptions. Imaginaries relating to the open policy/open science agenda, implicit beliefs in the societal goods provided by scientific and technological progress, and the fear of future public controversies around certain areas of science and technology, among others, have both shaped and been influenced by several organisational learning processes from within and around the Sciencewise programme. Drawing on in-depth qualitative fieldwork, the talk will examine the role of public participants in shaping, being enrolled into or even being co-produced themselves by certain imaginaries of the future, alongside the co-production of such imaginaries with more mundane and bureaucratic aspects of the Sciencewise programme. The talk will end by calling for a rejuvenated politics of socio-technical imaginaries at the science-policy interface and beyond, which recognises the diverse material and social implications of such imaginaries and emphasises the need for further empirical exploration of the (organisational) spaces through which they are constructed and contested.

Jasanoff, S., & Kim, S.-H. (2009). Containing the Atom: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and Nuclear Power in the United States and South Korea. Minerva, 47(2), 119–146.

Macfarlane, C. (2011). Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell

RGS-IBG co-production of co-production panel August
Co-producing the participatory co-productions of UK science policy

Procedures for citizen involvement in science policy decision-making have become a common if not institutionalised part of UK Government structures and practices. One of the principal institutions coordinating this ‘co-production’ of science policy is the arm’s-length body Sciencewise, which is funded by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and supports ‘public dialogue’ projects around important forthcoming science policy decisions. This paper will argue that these public dialogue projects are not only an instance of ‘making policy together’, but are also co-produced relationally with visions of the future, policy and organisational commitments and structures, problem definitions, and publics themselves. This will be illustrated through an exploration of the construction, orchestration and broader effects of a public dialogue and knowledge exchange process which Sciencewise oversaw in 2013, concerned with identifying new and emerging science policy issues. The multiple products of this process can only be grasped with attention to the political and organisational contexts and the subtle inclusions and exclusions of the public dialogue exercise, alongside procedural details. It is thus necessary to attend to the relational co-production of such forms, rather than seeking to only understand what happens within the processes themselves.

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