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University of Nebraska Public Policy Center

Developing a Social-Cognitive, Multilevel, Empirically-Based Model of Public Engagement for the Shaping of Science and Innovation Policy

Public engagements involving residents, scientists, and policymakers are increasingly being used to shape policy in the US. Despite the attention paid to such engagements, there is a lack of knowledge and theory concerning which forms, features, and contexts of public engagements are meaningful to participants and produce insightful information that is useful to scientists and policymakers. The major barriers to the advancement of public engagement as a social science, include: (1) the diversity of approaches within and across engagement practices; (2) the lack of theoretical and empirical attention to the reasons why, or mechanisms by which, certain public engagement features connect to various outcomes; (3) the lack of agreement on definitions of “effective” engagement, whether the focus is on the public participant or the policymakers, or, in the case of scientists, others who might use the input; and (4) the correspondent lack of standardized, reliable measures to use to compare different forms and features of engagements.

This project took a step in building a model of public engagement in science and innovation policy by addressing each of these barriers, in the specific context of nanotechnology. The project examined two commonly varied features of public engagement, social context and purpose of the engagement; applied multiple social, cognitive, and related psychosocial theories to predict the probable impacts of these features, as well as relevant mediators and moderators; assessed multiple definitions and indicators of effectiveness; and systematically developed theoretically-based, reliable, and valid measures of constructs that can be used across multiple science and innovation policy contexts in subsequent research.

Expected outcomes of this research included data that can provide a foundation for public engagement model-building, contribute to the scientific understanding of why public engagement outcomes differ across studies, as well as guide the use of public engagements in shaping science and innovation policy, in general, and nanotechnology, in particular.

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