Multi-stakeholder contribution to biotechnology environmental assessment
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Institute for Data, Systems, and Society.
Kenneth A. Oye.
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Environmental assessments, such as those for biotechnology applications, are typically conducted by small groups of expert assessors, but scholars and practitioners are increasingly interested in involving diverse stakeholders. In addition to other reasons for broader involvement, researchers have proposed that stakeholders could substantively aid assessment by (1) contributing system knowledge; (2) applying diverse conceptual models; (3) helping available knowledge keep pace with assessment needs; and (4) contributing based on their values, as do narrow expert assessors. Hypothesizing that these types of contribution, suggested theoretically or observed in single workshops, represent key sources of stakeholder contribution across processes, this study examines contribution in several diverse participant processes: an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) workshop on testing schemes for some engineered microbes compared with another EPA office's testing requirements for other engineered microbes; an MIT-Wilson Center workshop series on synthetic biology environmental assessment research needs; and the Food and Drug Administration's engineered salmon environmental assessment along with diverse stakeholder comments and critiques. The study also identifies practical considerations for enabling multi-stakeholder contribution and applies lessons to broader societal processes. The study analyzes process documents, conversations with conveners and participants, and participant observation. It also reviews knowledge about biological processes representing important areas for assessment and research, discussing complexities of knowledge production and use for assessment. Stakeholders contributed in each of the four hypothesized ways across the cases, suggesting that diverse involvement could regularly contribute positively to assessment. Stakeholders also (5) challenged standard assessment approaches, challenges that could aid assessment as well. Practical considerations for enabling diverse participant contribution emerge from the cases: Process continuity over time; credible expectations of authority or influence in decision-making; and balance between predefined structure and flexibility and between technical tasks and enabling non-technical input may be key. Work developing approaches in these areas is needed, including on incorporating nontechnical inputs, on processes encompassing later assessment stages, on integrating diverse participant processes with governance, and on diverse involvement in other aspects of technology development and execution. Better and increased stakeholder involvement could, through substantive content and incorporation of values, enable science, technology development, and decision-making best to serve society.
Thesis: Ph. D. in Science, Technology, and Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, School of Engineering, Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, 2017.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Engineering Systems Division; Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Institute for Data, Systems, and Society
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Institute for Data, Systems, and Society.