What is a Consensus Conference?
Consensus conferences are an exciting way for lay people to have input into complicated science and technology-related policy questions. This consensus conference is named after a process by which the Danish government stimulates informed social debate on complex issues facing society and provides a mechanism for public input on pending legislation and policy. The stated goal is to “broaden the debate on a given issue and include the viewpoints of non-experts in order to inform policy-making.”
The consensus conference process involves assembling a “lay panel” of people who are not experts on the chosen topic. Here, the lay panel was composed of 14 residents from the Boston area. The group learned about the topic of biomonitoring through a carefully planned program of reading, expert testimony, and discussion over two weekend-long sessions. Through this process, they developed a set of key questions for experts in the field. Their deliberations culminated in a public Consensus Conference where experts addressed the panel’s questions with opportunity for Q&A by the panel and the larger audience. The panel summarized its findings, concerns, and recommendations in a report that it presented on the final morning of the conference. In Denmark the report is addressed directly to Parliament. Here in Boston, the report will be distributed widely to policymakers, the media, academics, and other interested groups.
For more information on Consensus Conferences, see:
- The Danish Board of Technology
- The Jefferson Center
- “Town Meetings on Technology,” by Richard Sclove
For examples of other Consensus Conferences, see: