Epistemic Standards for Participatory Technology Assessment

Suggestions Based Upon Well-Ordered Science

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When one wants to use citizen input to inform policy, what should the standards of informedness on the part of the citizens be? While there are moral reasons to allow every citizen to participate and have a voice on every issue, regardless of education and involvement, designers of participatory assessments have to make decisions about how to structure deliberations as well as how much background information and deliberation time to provide to participants. After assessing different frameworks for the relationship between science and society, we use Philip Kitcher's framework of Well-Ordered Science to propose an epistemic standard on how citizen deliberations should be structured. We explore what potential standards follow from this epistemic framework focusing on significance versus scientific and engineering expertise. We argue that citizens should be tutored on the historical context of why scientific questions became significant and deemed scientifically and socially valuable, and if citizens report that they are capable of weighing in on an issue then they should be able to do so. We explore what this standard can mean by looking at actual citizen deliberations tied to the 2014 NASA ECAST Asteroid Initiative Citizen forums. We code different vignettes of citizens debating alternative approaches for Mars exploration based upon what level of information seemed to be sufficient for them to feel comfortable in making a policy position. The analysis provides recommendations on how to design and assess future citizen assessments grounded in properly conveying the historical value context surrounding a scientific issue and trusting citizens to seek out sufficient information to deliberate.