Friday, August 22, 2008

Public outreach done right? New NRC report

The National Research Council's Panel on Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making just released their summary report on how to conduct successful public outreach on science and technology.
[The report] assesses whether, and under what conditions, public participation achieves the outcomes desired. Claims from all sides are considered and evaluated as a central point of the study, in order to provide an overall assessment of the merits and failings of participation. The book also offers guidance to practitioners and identifies directions for further research."

(Click here for the full report.)
See also a short article from the NY Times on the new report:
"The council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, produced the report (“Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making,” at at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the departments of energy and agriculture. [Committee chair] Dr. Dietz said it aims to draw together an abundance of new research on what he calls “the melding together of science and democracy” and to offer guidance for agencies beginning public outreach."
What is most interesting, maybe, is the fact that the committee roster did not include a single communication scholar. Communication as an academic discipline, of course, has provided decades of research on how strategic communication and public outreach can work hand in hand to encourage and inform public participation. And the effectiveness of many previous engagement efforts was in fact compromised precisely because organizers did not understand the mass and opinion dynamics that often contaminate or crowd out well-meaning outreach efforts.


Bruce Lewenstein said...

Another arm of NRC will release a study on "learning science in informal environmnents" soon, from a committee that DOES include communication (and other social science) scholars. Here's a link to the study description: