French parliamentarians have now in their hands an explicit proposal to consider the democratization of science and technology:
“Today, the exercising of citizenship needs to be expanded beyond elections and beyond civic organizations. But this exercising of citizenship needs to be institutionalized and framed — it would be vain and even dangerous to pretend that citizenship is an innate skill. Citizens conventions (“conventions de citoyens”) are an answer to this concern. They aim at establishing a new democratic bond. We hope that parliamentarians will consider this law proposal.” (from Michel Callon, Marie-Angèle Hermitte, Florence Jacquemot, Dominique Rousseau and Jacques Testart, “Les citoyens au pouvoir!”, Libération, November 26 2007)
The law proposal, available here from the Fondation Sciences Citoyennes, develops the model of citizens conferences into a binding institutional mechanism, called here “citizens conventions”, that will bring public participation to the forefront of parliamentary debates on hot science and technology issues. A random but representative sample of lay citizens is constituted, then formed into the particular controversy at stake. A precise protocol determines how several sources of expertise and of opinion are called into the process. The content of the debate is set by this group of citizens, and, after, deliberation, the several opinions and recommendations are submitted to parliamentarians, who have to vote a resolution. Of course: just a protocol. More details are available in the proposal.
Details: democracy, as the devil, is probably in them. (One particularly interesting one is the “actors log” or “cahier d’acteurs”: a four-pages document that can be spontaneously addressed to the convention on some particular topic, which looks most blog-compatible, as it seems.)