The GoNano project: Governing nanotechnologies through societal engagement

(Nanowerk Spotlight) The EU-funded GoNano project explored how co-creation can be used to enhance the responsiveness of nanotechnology research and innovation. Responsiveness is understood as the capacity and willingness of researchers and developers to integrate societal considerations in the early stages of technology development.
Co-creation can enhance responsiveness by enabling productive collaborations between researchers and societal stakeholders over longer timeframes, leading to tangible outcomes such as a new research avenue, proposal, product, or prototype.
Over the course of three years, GoNano brought together citizens, civil society organizations, industry, researchers, and policymakers across Europe to align future nanotechnologies with societal needs and concerns. The co-creation process aimed to demonstrate how researchers can work with public and professional stakeholders to create novel suggestions for future nanotechnology products.
As the project is now entering its final phase, we would like to communicate our key findings and produced resources to stimulate others to continue the GoNano co-creation approach.

The GoNano co-creation approach

In its approach to co-creation, GoNano followed an iterative ‘circle of co-creation’.
The co-creation process builds on exploratory research on how to facilitate and pursue a co-creation process. Key findings from previous and ongoing EU and national engagement projects and relevant academic literature were reviewed and summarized. Insights included lessons on the design and framing of engagement events; issues to consider in taking into account gender and diversity: a view from nanotechnology researchers and industry on promising research and innovation areas in nanotechnology health and food, and related issues for societal debate (complemented by interviews of best practice in co-creation); and an overview of the EU policy landscape.
Based on these outcomes, we developed a methodology for an iterative co-creation process to integrate societal considerations in nanotechnologies, combining face-to-face citizen engagement, stakeholder workshops, and online consultations in three pilot countries, each focusing on different thematic areas (health in the Netherlands, food in the Czech Republic, and energy in Spain).
The overall design of the GoNano co-creation approach
Figure 1: The overall design of the GoNano co-creation approach. (click on image to enlarge)
During the citizen engagement, GoNano first discussed possible future nanotechnology application areas with citizens to identify their wishes, needs and concerns. Participating citizens had access to a wide range of background materials developed by the project, including future vision video clips and brochures.
Building on the outcomes of the citizen workshops and online consultation, stakeholder workshops were organized in each of the pilot countries to co-create concrete ‘responsive’ design suggestions for future nanotechnologies.
The product suggestions from the first stakeholder workshop were shared and discussed more widely through online citizen consultation. The results from the online consultation were, in turn, used as input for the second round of stakeholder workshops, focusing on the uptake of the responsive design suggestions of the previous round.
In total, some 92 product suggestions have been collected over the course of the project. These suggestions vary significantly in scope and nature. GoNano selected five narratives and used them as input for five audio-visual vignettes capturing the development of the concrete product suggestions and/or research aims that emerged from a collaboration between citizens during the citizen workshops, and stakeholders and citizen during the stakeholder workshops:
  • Researcher on energy: identifying unforeseen implications for a sustainable energy future (watch on Youtube)
  • Industry on food: broadening the scope of food packaging (watch on Youtube)
  • Policymaker on food: setting targets for regulation and legislation (watch on Youtube)
  • Researcher on health: bridging the gap between research and industry (watch on Youtube)
  • Citizen on health: improving autonomy and well-being for diabetes patients (watch on Youtube)
  • Sharing our lessons learned

    The overall GoNano experience has elucidated opportunities and challenges of co-creation as a tool to enhance the responsiveness of research and innovation. The GoNano co-creation experience resulted in the following insights and lessons learned:
  • The GoNano experience suggests that focused, guided interactions between different stakeholders can in principle lead to novel suggestions on how to integrate broader considerations in research and innovation decisions.
  • Participants appreciated the co-creation events and valued the opportunity to learn from stakeholders with whom they would not normally engage.
  • Participants realized that the productive integration of societal considerations in research and innovation will, to a large extent, depend on mutual learning between stakeholders, and the shared conviction that broader societal perspectives matter.
  • The gap between the appreciation of broader issues around research and innovation, and the actual integration of those issues in daily research practices and priorities remains significant: the challenge is to get from constructive dialogue to practical action.
  • Co-creation processes need to identify the concrete interests and address the motivations of all participants; maintain continuity of thought; ‘translate’ needs and concerns from the social realm to practical options in the technological realm; and drill down to the level where the discussion topics and identified courses of action are specific enough to affect the decisions of the actors involved.
  • On a concluding note, aligning research and innovation to societal needs and values is not just a matter of deciding what sorts of future applications European citizens and stakeholders want and need. It is also a matter of practically realizing the desired change. Calls for responsiveness will need to identify the win-win opportunities where ‘doing good’ and ‘doing well’ coincide.

    Co-creation tools and materials to enhance the responsiveness of nanotechnology research and innovation

    A selection of helpful tools, animations, interviews, and guidelines developed by GoNano to understand and practice co-creation.
    1) Training and community building for researchers and engineers: webinars, road to co-creation, co-creation toolkit, GoNano winter school, RMIT micro-credentials.
    2) Engagement for citizens and civil society organizations: Citizen guide, policy briefs and a database on how to get involved in the Nanodebate.
    3) Policy recommendations: Three white papers and seven policy briefs
    If you want to know more about the project you are welcome to participate in the GoNano online Conference, which will take place on October 29th, November 5th and November 12th 2020. Free sign up.
    Provided by the GoNano project

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