Thursday, April 19, 2007

Public's Role in Developing Technology Policy

A March 2006 article by Jennifer Winter entitled "Public Involvement in Technology Policy: Focus on the Pervasive Computing Environment" provides an interesting review of the public's role in developing technology policy. The paper appeared in Vol. 36, Issue 1 of the Association of Computing Machinery's ACM SIGCAS, a publication that "brings together computer professionals, specialists in other fields, and the public-at-large to address concerns and raise awareness about the ethical and societal impact of computers." You can download a copy of the paper by registering (free) at

"This paper examines the role of the general public in informing technology policy, observing that public involvement often occurs only through the electoral process or via feedback after plans have been implemented. Planners and policymakers are not necessarily in touch with the feelings and desires of the public who will be affected by their decisions. For this reason it is important to seek a clearer understanding of the views of citizens who are not typically involved in the planning or design process in order to guide the evolution of technology, as well as to highlight areas where there may be some discrepancy between planners and the needs of everyday users. To broaden the inputs into discussion of emerging problems related to pervasive computing in the State of Hawaii, both information and communication technology specialists (including government policy makers) and members of the general population were invited to participate in a multi-phase study. Differences in perception between specialists and the general public were identified in all phases of research. Specialists were identified as being more focused on near-term issues related to barriers affecting the growth of high-technology industries within the State. Non-specialists showed greater concern for "human" issues, including issues related to the control of technology. Importantly, both groups independently described a need for increased public participation in the process of technological development. Analysis also revealed that both groups found the problem statements generated by non-specialists to be valuable contributions, arguing for their inclusion in the process of problem identification and further supporting the use of participatory planning methods."
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