Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation
About usNews and EventsNews articles

More prominent role for citizens and civil society organizations in innovation

20 November 2013

Citizens and civil society organizations are the new dialogue partners of industry, academia and government agencies with regard to the development of newly emerging technologies such as nanotechnology. ‘It’s an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the implications of promising new technologies enabling more informed decisions to be made’, says Lotte Krabbenborg, who will defend her PhD thesis at the University of Groningen on 29 November 2013.

That civil society participation in technology development is a topical issue become clear in the new European R&D framework programme Horizon 2020, which explores this theme under the slogan Responsible Research and Innovation.

In her thesis, Krabbenborg demonstrates that the required interaction is not easy to achieve. One of the characteristics of newly emerging technologies is the fact that all sort of promises are made by scientists (about better food or cheaper healthcare, for example) without knowing whether they will materialize. So the content for any kind of public debate is not immediately clear. However, Krabbenborg sees possibilities.

Sharing information

An important condition is that developers of technology must be willing to share their activities, considerations and dilemmas about ongoing projects more than is now the case. In this way, civil society actors could help the developers to identify areas that may run into problems.

Krabbenborg cites the example of the Environmental Defense Fund, which joined up with the chemical concern DuPont to devise a risk protocol for nanomaterial based on confidential knowledge of particular production processes.

The scenario workshops organized by social scientists, in which nanotechnology developers and end users were encouraged to respond to each other’s proposals, expectations and activities via explicit moderation, are another good example.

Public sphere

Open public debate about new technologies may one day be a normal societal practice. Krabbenborg: ‘The infrastructure is already in place. Media such as newspapers, TV, websites, Twitter, blog spots, etc. allow people to enter into discussions directly or indirectly about issues that affect society as a whole. But before we can do that for new technologies, all the parties concerned should develop new skills and engage in a learning process.’

Missed opportunity

In addition, Krabbenborg warns that more interaction does not necessarily mean more informed decision-making. The recent Dutch Societal Dialogue on Nanotechnology is an example of a missed opportunity.

‘What went wrong? A wide range of societal issues was addressed in separate projects, but not everything was disclosed in the subsequent public reports. In its evaluation, the special committee was more interested in creating visibility for nanotechnology and reaching a wide audience than in the actual content. Looking back, you can only conclude that despite all the good intentions, the dialogue fell short of the mark in this respect.’

Curriculum Vitae

Lotte Krabbenborg (Groenlo, 1980) studied at the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht. She conducted her research in the Science and Society Group of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences of the University of Groningen. Her PhD research was part of the national R&D Consortium NanoNed (now NanoNextNL), Technology Assessment Department.

Krabbenborg’s supervisors were Prof. M.P. Gerkema, Prof. A. Rip, Dr H.A.J. Mulder and Dr H.J. van der Windt, and her thesis is entitled ‘Involvement of civil society actors in nanotechnology: creating productive spaces for interaction’.

Krabbenborg has worked as a postdoc at Radboud University Nijmegen since October 2012.

More information: Lotte Krabbenborg, e-mail:

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.31 p.m.
printView this page in: Nederlands

More news

  • 20 May 2019

    Forthcoming honorary doctor Titia de Lange: Splicing ropes and aging

    Titia de Lange has dedicated most of her working life to researching long telomeres – the ends of chromosomes. She was awarded an honorary doctorate in June for her ground-breaking research. De Lange’s first experiment as a PhD student, under the supervision...

  • 17 May 2019

    "Worms man" Dr. Jeroen Onrust wins Science Prize Campus Fryslân 2019

    Bioloog Jeroen Onrust mag zich de winnaar noemen van de Wetenschapsprijs Campus Fryslân 2019. Onrust onderzocht voor zijn promotieonderzoek bij Rijksuniversiteit Groningen/Campus Fryslân het belang van regenwormen op de vruchtbaarheid van agrarisch...

  • 16 May 2019

    Grote spiraalstelsels maken zeer efficiënt sterren

    Grote spiraalstelsels, zoals onze naaste buur de Andromedanevel, laten bijna geen gas- of stofdeeltjes onbenut bij het vormen van sterren. Dat hebben Nederlandse astronomen berekend aan de hand van de draaisnelheden van ruim honderd nabije stelsels...