Foresight Food Chain and Crops – a deliberative conference on novel foods

Feeding the Debate

The Foresight program’s Food Chain and Crops for Industry Panel ran an experimental debate on “The Use of Technology in the Food Chain”, under the title “Feeding the Debate”. The project was set up in response to concerns that public opinion and concerns did not tend to be explored until late in development processes with the consequent risk of adverse public reaction. The aim of the experiment was to examine the potential value of different mechanisms for engaging public audiences in the debate about possible developments in the food chain and to assess to what degree the public could engage with developments at a very early stage.

Four different methods were used, each managed separately but covering the same subject matter. The techniques included in the experiment were:

  • A standard quantitative survey;
  • Focus groups;
  • An internet discussion forum; and
  • A deliberative conference.

People Science & Policy Ltd managed the deliberative conference, which was developed during the early summer of 2001 and run on a Saturday in June. The deliberative conference took the form of a one-day meeting with some sessions where the experts and participants interacted and others where the participants discussed issues. During these sessions, they had the option of calling upon the experts to address particular questions. A PSP moderator facilitated all the sessions.

The objectives set for the deliberative conference were to assess:

  • Whether participants were able to express their views freely and openly without feeling intimidated;
  • Whether participants were able to grasp the technologies;
  • The extent to which the participants were able to identify issues arising from the technologies and their proposed implementation
  • How the participants responded to being given potentially conflicting information and views by experts;
  • The impact of having experts present on the process and the debate content;
  • In what circumstances, if any, this approach would be useful to decision-makers of different types with different objectives.

Feedback from the participants both on the day and in a subsequent follow-up conversation by telephone indicated that the format was successful in facilitating full and open discussions. A detailed report of the deliberative conference can be downloaded in PDF format here.

The full report on all the methods “Feeding the Debate” is available from www.foresight.gov.uk.

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