One of the frequent criticisms of government policies regarding nanotechnology, nanoindustry, or nanomaterials, is that the public is not involved in the decision making process or that the public is not informed about the risks, benefits, etc.
In December 2008, the Australian Office of Nanotechnology (AON) tried a new approach to that problem by creating a "Social Inclusion and Community Engagement Workshop". By inviting representatives from Government, Academia, Industry, NGOs, and the general public, the AON sought to create dialog and
. . . . a positive culture between key stake holders . . . . This workshop would help create a partnership approach to discussing, developing and delivering social inclusion and engagement policies and practices for AON and the stakeholders involved or interested in nanotechnology.
The report issued by AON about the workshop describes key points raised by each stakeholder group. Two key points emerge as common to all groups, although each group expressed it differently:
1) The need for a sharing of knowledge and information with each other in language that each group could understand and
2) A need to continue and expand the workshop as a way of building trust and overcoming divisions.
All too often, Industry, Government, Academia, Activist Groups/NGOs and the general public allow walls to develop, walls that block out communication and understanding with others. To paraphrase and disagree with Robert Frost, good walls do not good neighbors make.
The report is well worth reading and one can only hope that its findings are followed up on with more workshops in Australia and similar ones in the US and Europe as well.