NanoDiode organised a series of citizen & multi-stakeholder dialogues in 2014-2015. A total of 250 citizens and representatives of different stakeholder groups took part in national dialogues in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, in the Netherlands and in Poland. The dialogues continued NanoDiode’s involvement of citizens in the societal discussion on nanotechnologies, started with an online survey and an idea competition for school kids and students. Citizens were invited to discuss their preferences for nanotechnology innovation directly with technology developers from research and industry, public authorities and CSO representatives: What innovation areas, applications or products would the citizens welcome? What are the reasons for such preferences? What would they want to know? What risks do they see?
The citizen & multi-stakeholder dialogues succeeded in creating an open climate where non-expert citizens were able to actively discuss nanotechnologies with stakeholders. The citizens brought forward their own views and ideas: They were especially interested in the potential applications of the technologies, and how they could be developed for the benefit of society. They also gave recommendations for the provision of consumer information.
In a situation where nanotechnologies are not at the top of the public agenda, getting lay citizens to participate in their free time proved to be challenging. Factors that contributed to the attractiveness of the events included the choice for an attractive easily accessible venue, convenient timing, and a focus on real applications, products and questions of daily life. The feedback from participating researchers, companies and public authorities was positive: They said that the dialogues taught them a lot about the preferences of citizens and their ways of thinking.
At the same time, the implementation of the outcomes of the dialogue needs to be critically examined. The NanoDiode dialogues lacked a clear mandate from the participating organisations. As a result, there is little evidence that the recommendations from citizens have been put into practice. The impact of the dialogues is probably more indirect: Different actors are now more likely to involve citizens and take aspects that are important to citizens into account in their future work.
Citizen and multi-stakeholder dialogues can be recommended for early stages of innovation or policy processes. In this stage, citizen involvement can improve the quality and social acceptance of products or policies. Openness in terms of results, flexibility, responsiveness and a clear mandate can be identified as key characteristics of meaningful dialogues.