Developing and Testing a Method for Using Democratic Design Criteria Within Participatory Technology Assessment

Project Details


This project will develop and pilot test a participatory technology assessment method that incorporates systematic attention to technologies effects on democracy. Scenario workshops use several competing scenario narratives -- each describing the role of alternative infrastructural technologies and institutions in advancing an important social objective (such as environmental sustainability) -- as their starting point. Diverse groups of stakeholder participants: (1) critique and revise each scenario; (2) use the refashioned scenarios as one basis for developing preferred future visions for their own community or society; (3) identify barriers (e.g., cultural, institutional, technical, economic, and legal) to realizing their preferred visions; and (4) craft action plans for overcoming these barriers. This project will modify the scenario workshop process to incorporate the participatory application, evaluation, and refinement of a set of technological design questions derived from democratic criteria developed in Democracy and Technology, a book published by the co-principal investigator in 1995. To demonstrate and evaluate these methodological innovations, the project will conduct a pilot scenario workshop in the ethnically diverse city of Lowell, Massachusetts, involving approximately 40 local stakeholder representatives. The project will evaluate the workshop process, as well as its follow-up impact within the city of Lowell. The methodological innovations resulting from this project have the potential to: (1) assist societies in coming to terms with the crucial but often-neglected effects of technologies on social and political structure; (2) find applicability in a wide variety of science, technology, and environmental decision-making contexts; (3) stimulate other scholars to pursue research into socially important but neglected democratic implications of technologies; and (4) provide one practical alternative to economistic methodologies -- such as cost-risk-benefit analysis and applied neoclassical welfare economics -- that, despite numerous recognized limitations, today dominate the discourse of technological decisions in public and private arenas alike.

Effective start/end date9/1/008/31/03


  • National Science Foundation: $210,166.00


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