Critical participatory governance: connections, learning and reflection

London, Thursday 17 February 2011 

This final workshop of the two-year ESRC Seminar Series ‘Critical perspectives on public engagement in science and environmental risk’ drew together insights and themes from across the seminars, which sought to consolidate a new field of critical public engagement research and practice in the context of anticipatory governance of emerging technologies (such as nanotechnology and synthetic biology), sustainable energy futures, and natural hazards. Moving to consider wider systems of participatory governance of science and the environment provides the backdrop to explore two closely related themes that have been continuing points of tension and constructive debate throughout the seminar series: (i) relations between critical social science, policy and practice; and (ii) questions of learning, reflection and reflexivity within and between individuals, institutions and wider networks.

In considering the roles and relations of actors in participatory governance networks, interactions between critical social science and policy-practice have long been problematic. This seminar series has at times illustrated this very well but also served as a collective experiment in itself, offering up new kinds of connections and collaborations at this interface. What are the roles, relations and purposes of different actors in these participatory governance networks? Why are relations between critical social science and policy/practice often so problematic? Does the institutionalisation and professionalisation of public engagement always lead to instrumental forms of ‘regulatory social science’ or are other forms of collaboration and collective experimentation imagined? How can we build more critically constructive relations at the social science – policy/practitioner interface?

For some time now much critical scholarly attention has been directed at making policy cultures and institutions more reflexive and reflective in their handling of science and risk related-issues, while the notion of learning has formed a key underpinning rationale in the drive towards public engagement, its institutionalisation and professionalisation. What forms of learning about and learning from democratic engagement in science related-issues routinely occur in science-policy institutions and wider networks? Why it is that learning on such issues is often reduced to narrow instrumental forms? How can we go about building more reflective, relational and transformative forms of learning within and between decision institutions and individual scientists, social scientists and participatory practitioners? What possibilities are there for building more reflexive and adaptive systems of governing science and the environment?

To read more about the seminar series see here.


10.00 Registration (Conference Room, The Royal Society)
10.30 Introduction to the seminar and seminar series Dr Jason Chilvers (School of Environmental Sciences, UEA)
11.00 Reflecting on critical participatory governance  The morning session involves reflecting on existing relationships between critical social science, policy and practice, and the nature of learning and reflexivity, in participatory governance of science and the environment. Keynote address Professor Brian Wynne (Lancaster University)
11.30 Group discussions Group feedback and plenary discussion
13.00 Buffet Lunch
13.45 Critical participatory governance futures  The afternoon session looks forward to consider future possibilities for building more constructive relationships, collective experimentation, and reflective learning in participatory governance of science and the environment.  Three short presentations will provide a source of inspiration and ideas:·         Brice Laurent (Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation, Ecole des Mines de Paris)·         Dr Rob Doubleday (University of Cambridge)

·         Dr Jack Stilgoe (Royal Society)

14.30 Group discussions
15.45 Tea/coffee break
16.00 Conclusions and way forward  Concluding discussion of the opportunities created by this seminar and the series as a whole in relation to critical public engagement research, practice, and collective experimentation
5.00pm Close