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Genomics Forum · Events

Upstream engagement with science and technology: Opportunities and challenges: A mini-symposium

Workshop   18.07.2011






Upstream engagement Jameson M. Wetmore (Arizona State University) & Jack Stilgoe (University of Exeter)Jameson M. Wetmore is an assistant professor at the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes and the School of Human Evolution & Social Change at Arizona State University. He examines the relationship between technology and society in a variety of different ways. His current projects include helping practicing engineers and scientists reflect on the social implications of their work and exploring the ways in which different religions analyze, evaluate, and speak out about nanotechnology.

Jack Stilgoe has spent his professional life in the overlap between science policy research and science policy practice, first at UCL's department of Science and Technology Studies, then at the think tank Demos, and most recently as Senior Policy Adviser at The Royal Society. At Demos, he initiated and ran a range of projects, advising and working with organisations such as BIS, Defra, the Food Standards Agency, EPSRC, BBSRC, MRC, Practical Action, the Environment Agency, the European Space Agency, Unilever and Pfizer. At the Royal Society, he ran the study that produced the influential report The Scientific Century. He is currently employed as a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, where he is developing a framework for responsible innovation in emerging technologies such as nanotech, synthetic biology and geo-engineering.

Organised by

ESRC Genomics Forum


The University of EdinburghCollege of Humanities and Social ScienceSt John's LandHolyrood RoadEdinburgh EH8 8AQ

Event details

Social scientists are increasingly inclined to engage directly with scientists and engineers to consider the social aspects and implications of their research, and to ensure that those implications are reflected in science and technology policy. So-called "upstream" engagement -- engagement that takes place early in the R&D process -- brings with it particular opportunities and particular challenges. Upstream engagement provides an opportunity to ensure that scientific and technological R&D develops in ways that are responsive to societal needs and concerns. But at the same time, it needs to take account of the uncertainties inherent in the R&D process. This mini-symposium will include presentations by two social scientists who are actively involved in upstream engagement with scientists, engineers and policy makers, and will provide a chance to discuss the opportunities and challenges involved in such work.


Jameson M. Wetmore (Arizona State University) - Swimming Upstream: When Scientists and Engineers are More Concerned about Science and Technology than the PublicAbstract: Thus far, few Americans know much about nanotechnology and fewer still worry that it will cause any problems. Government agencies, corporations, and academic organizations have taken steps to generate discussion, gather public input, and create a smooth transition to a nano-enabled world, but there are still few discussions amongst the public. To deal with this problem the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU has developed a number of efforts to get scientists and engineers engaged in thinking about the ramification of their work earlier in the process rather than later. This talk will argue that active participation by scientists and engineers can be a way to both generate the knowledge needed for anticipatory governance and to motivate decision makers, if not the public, to take proactive steps.

Jack Stilgoe (University of Exeter) - From Upstream Engagement to Responsible Innovation Abstract: Over the last ten years, we have seen growing recognition among policymakers that debates about emerging technologies such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology and geoengineering need to be opened up to new perspectives. A number of experiments in ‘upstream engagement’ have taken place. Taken together, these experiments have revealed early suggestions ofpublic values that might usefully inform governance. But confusion about the purposes of upstream engagement and institutional obsession with processes of engagement have obscured more important questions about the politics and governance of science and technology. I propose that a recent re-framing ofthis agenda in terms of ‘responsible innovation’ provides a constructive way forward.

Further details


After the event

View Jack Stilgoe's presentation - From Upstream Engagement to Responsible Innovation (PDF, 2,469 KB)

View Jameson M. Wetmore's presentation - Swimming Upstream: When Scientists and Engineers are More Concerned about Science and Technology than the Public (PDF, 1,547 KB)