2016 Summer Symposium on Science Communication

5th Iowa State University Summer Symposium on Science Communication

Confronting the challenges of public participation in environmental, planning and health decision-making

3-4 June 2016; Ames, Iowa

Submission deadline:  January 29, 2016

In January 2014, the editor of the leading journal Public Understanding of Science acknowledged that his publication has transitioned from the focus suggested by its name to a new focus on public engagement. Still, he wrote: “the meaning of this transition is not unambiguous.” The purpose of this conference is to explore these ambiguities, in a supportive, yet critical examination of the processes, outcomes and impacts of public participation in decision-making in natural resources, planning and health contexts. A variety of fields have taken up the call to develop new forms of interaction between experts and decision-makers, on one hand, and community residents, patients, landowners, industry representatives and other affected publics on the other. This expanding area for research and practice goes under a variety of names:  public participation, deliberation, dialogue, consensus communication, collaborative governance, participatory modeling, citizen science, among others. Significant creativity has been invested in developing specific practices–indeed, Rowe and Frewer (2005) list 113 mechanisms. We propose to explore both procedural and normative issues in the design, implementation and assessment of public participation processes. Public participation is widely expected to be “better”:  to lead to better physical and social science (e.g., better models), better social outcomes (e.g., trust, collaboration), and better decisions on environmental, health and planning issues. Our goal is to promote a conversation that asks: better in what ways, compared to what, and measured how?

We invite contributions from relevant disciplines including communication, rhetoric, human dimensions of natural resources, planning, science and technology studies, history & philosophy of science, psychology, sociology, etc.–as well as from scientists who have been involved in participation exercises; using approaches including conceptual analysis, case studies, qualitative and quantitative methods. Possible foci include:

  • defining the boundaries of public participation as situated between public consultation and social movements;
  • articulating key assumptions of public participation such as “representation,” “transparency,” “stakeholder,” “democracy,” “expertise” and of course “public” and “participation” themselves;
  • incorporating, accommodating and managing indecorous voices, deep disagreements, skepticisms and irreconcilable conflicts in public participation mechanisms;
  • exploring the affordances of new technologies and media to support public participation;
  • exploring defensible and practical mechanisms for assessing participatory processes, including by defining what “better” means in these contexts;
  • documenting connections between the public participation processes, their immediate outcomes on participants and their long-term impacts on environment, health, and communities;
  • developing sustainable institutions for public participation;
  • linking public participation activities with curricula in secondary and higher education.

Proceedings of the workshop will be published in print-on-demand and electronic formats. For consideration, submit to Jean Goodwin (goodwin@iastate.edu) byJanuary 29, 2016:  (a) a blinded 250-500 word abstract with an additional 5-10 item bibliography, and (b) a separate cover page with complete affiliation and contact information.  Please also indicate the expected status of the work to be presented (from early overview to completed study); note that this will not affect acceptance, as we look forward to promoting dialogue among scholars at different stages.

For further information, see https://scicomm.las.iastate.edu/summer-symposia/2016-summer-symposium/ or contact Dara Wald (dwald@iastate.edu) or Kathleen Hunt (kphunt@iastate.edu).

Program Planning committee: Dara Wald and Kathleen Hunt (Iowa State University) with S. Scott Graham (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee).  Organizing committee: Michael Dahlstrom and Jean Goodwin (Iowa State University)