The goal of the project "Bürgerdialog Zukunftstechnologien" (Citizens' dialogue on future technologies) was to initiate a wide and continuous discourse with the public about prospective challenges regarding technology development. These dialogues made it possible for scientific and technological approaches to better incorporate the needs, concerns and expectations of citizens to a certain degree. For this, regional dialogue events concerning different technology fields were conducted during which participants were first informed about relevant research and key technologies in order to then articulate their opinions and ideas and to represent them in a public dialogue together with representatives from politics, the economy and science. Topics of the three dialog rounds were energy technologies for the future, high-tech medicine, as well as demographic change.
Furthermore, the project evaluated the process of the dialogues and their results, explored the (different) expectations of all stakeholders involved concerning participation and – in addition - discussed how these results could be made useful for processes of technology assessment. Particular attention was paid to the question what legitimation the results of the process could achieve. Interestingly, the scope and the financial dimension of the dialogues allowed for a quantity of participants that is usually common for the size of representative surveys in Germany, exceeding the typical range of participative processes, which in turn enabled representativeness regarding quantitative considerations.
The BMBF (Federal Ministry of Education and Research) put a consortium consisting of ITAS (Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis), IFOK (Institute of Communication and Organization) and ZIRIUS (Center for Interdisciplinary Risk and Innovation Studies) in charge of the implementation of the dialogue process. In close collaboration with the ministry a three-phase procedural model was developed that contained different discursive and participative elements.
During the first stage of the individual dialogue rounds, focus groups were conducted offering contextual insights and basic frameworks for the actual dialogues.
Subsequently, in the framework of six to eight regional citizen conferences (with approximately 100 participants each), the respective topics of the dialogue were mutually discussed by citizens with the assistance of experts. Also, the participants had the possibility to state first courses of action for how politics and society should deal with future technologies. This stage was accompanied by an online consultation offering even more citizens than only the ones invited to the dialogues to participate in the process, independent of time or location.
During the third stage the citizens - in a concluding national citizens’ summit - developed a citizens’ report based on the outcomes of the regional citizens’ conferences and the online consultations. All stages of the dialogue were accompanied by a circle of experts which consisted of experts from science, economy, environmental protection and civil society. During the detailed implementation of this general model, the procedure was adjusted to the particular topic of the dialogue, e.g. in one case the optional, open format of the Bürgerwerkstätten (citizens’ workshop) was added.
The key activities of ITAS in this project consisted in the scientific monitoring of the respective topics of the dialogue, in the evaluation of the process on the basis of qualitative methods and assistance concerning design and implementation of the individual modules of the dialogue.
Detailed information, all public documents and the results of the particular dialogues and conferences are available on the homepage of the Citizens’ dialogues: www.buergerdialog-bmbf.de