Scope and Goals
The primary goal of the public engagement initiative is to come up with practical solutions to the challenges facing the adoption of GMOs in Canadian agriculture. The engagement activities will entail consistent interactive deliberations between specialists and non-specialists to establish conditions for sharing information about GMOs (Moore para. 5). The project will inform and consult the citizens to enhance their comprehension the complexity of the GMO issue. In particular, it will focus on the risks and benefits of GM crops to the Canadian agriculture. The project will run for six months beginning in April through September 2016.
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Why Engage the Public
Anti-GMO proponents often feed consumers with misinformation, which creates concerns over the safety of GMOs. Therefore, proper communication is required to educate the public and support informed decisions by the Canadian policy makers. The engagement initiative will define the complexity of the GMO issue, build consensus, and promote the understanding of the risks and benefits of GM crops. The anticipated roles of the public include:
- Inform – educate the citizens about GMOs, issues being addressed, and areas that require their opinions.
- Consult – collect information and views from the public.
- Collaborate – work with stakeholders to develop and adopt identified solutions.
Who are the Stakeholders?
This public engagement will seek to capture the perspectives and sentiments of stakeholders from diverse groups, including the public (consumers), academia, anti-GMO proponents, Agri-biotech firms, local authorities, and farmers. Each stakeholder category has distinct interests in the issue.
Public Engagement Tools
This project will use a multi-faceted public engagement approach to engage the public. The rationale for the choice of an integrated approach is to use a variety of media that support collaboration between stakeholders to develop a consensus on the GMO issue. As the OMSSA notes, public engagement is a collaborative exercise that provides participation opportunities to all citizens (12). A multidisciplinary approach will support the public’s roles in the project, i.e., inform, consult, and collaborate.
Rowe and Frewer state that educating the citizens empowers them to participate effectively in a two-way communication (252). Therefore, the tools selected will promote the public’s understanding of the technical details underlying the GMO technology and provide a platform for information exchanges. They include:
The aim is to involve stakeholders from industry, academia, and health care to inform the public about GMOs and how they are produced. According to Scheufele, at this level of engagement, one aims to educate the public through open houses, local media, factsheets, brochures, and information displays (56). The public will be called upon to participate in awareness campaigns in community settings. In this case, the citizens will function as the consumers of information about GMOs while the participants from industry, academia, and research will be the disseminators. The inclusive engagement techniques will include translation of the material into the French language to ensure that everyone benefits from the information.
Integrated Face-to-face Discussions
The goal of participation in discussions is to gather and document information, individual experiences, and viewpoints of the public on the place of GMOs in Canadian agriculture. The selected tools/activities for this engagement include public meetings, workshops, focus groups, and internet platforms (OMSSA 16). Engagement is essentially a group action that depends primarily on social connections (Besley 209).
Therefore, face-to-face discussions will help generate the interactions necessary for information exchanges between the public and various interest groups. In this regard, the discussions will not only inform the public, but they will also serve a consultative role. The citizens will be active participants of interactive debates, contributing their input to the GMO discussions. The key issues raised will help in the formation of strategic approaches for adopting GMOs in agriculture.
Online consultation forums will be held to obtain the views and feedback from citizens who may not attend the public meetings. The visitors will be able to raise and respond to questions about the benefits and risks posed by GMOs. It will also involve experts (academics and researchers) interacting with users to moderate the discussion. In this regard, the public will share their concerns about the GM crops.
Regional representatives drawn from consumer groups, farmers, research institutions, and local government will participate in webinar sessions on ethical and social issues surrounding GMOs. Over 1,000 participants will access presentations and give their feedback on the engagement activities. They will be able to give directions as well as their views and priorities concerning the cultivation GMOs.
How this Approach Satisfies the Interactive Component of Public Engagement
An effective public engagement approach has an interactive component. It entails speaking and listening to others for the mutual benefit of all stakeholders involved (Ahteensuu and Siipi 131). Different forms of activities may be required to promote interactivity during the engagement process. Face-to-face discussions through public meetings are necessary when close interactions are needed. The public meeting, workshops, and focus groups will provide an opportunity for building personal relationships between the stakeholders. On the other hand, the webinar sessions and online forums will be appropriate for obtaining input and feedback from the public.
The approach also creates favorable conditions for networking and collaboration between stakeholders drawn from the biotech industry, academia, and health care. The fact that the project activities will be held within community settings addresses the barriers to accessibility. In addition, the translation of the materials into French will ensure that the engagement process is inclusive.
Evaluating the Outcome
The initiative will be evaluated based on four milestones. First, the participant’s role in the engagement process will be assessed based on their responses. The role must reflect a positive influence on the citizens throughout the project. The citizens can be active participants, practitioners, advisors, or users of information. Additionally, the stakeholders’ roles during the engagement must reflect their interests in the GMO issue. The second evaluation criterion will involve the efficiency and timeliness of the engagement process. An effective engagement should yield a mutual decision within the proposed timeframe.
The stakeholders, including the public, agri-biotech firms, policy makers, and farmers, among others, must indicate that they are satisfied with the process. A survey will be conducted to determine the participants’ views on the fairness and accessibility of the project. The success of this process will depend on its inclusivity. The policy makers must also use the public engagement results to inform regulatory policies. It is expected that the proposals and recommendations put forward by the public during the engagement will inform decisions and policies on GMO cultivation and consumption in Canada. It is further anticipated that people from different ethnic backgrounds, ages, and occupations will participate in the project.
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Ahteensuu, Marco and Helena Siipi. “A critical assessment of public consultations on GMOs in the European Union.” Environmental Values 18.2 (2009): 129-152. Print.
Besley, John. “What do scientists think about the public and does it matter to their online engagement.” Science and Public Policy 42.2 (2015): 201-214. Print.
Moore, Gemma 2011, Engaging members of the public in research and teaching: purpose, examples and practice at UCL. Web.
Ontario Municipal Social Services Association [OMSSA]. Guide to accessible public engagement. Ontario: OMSSA, 2013. Print.
Rowe, Gene and Lynn Frewer. “A Typology of public engagement mechanisms.” Science Technology Human Values Spring 30.2 (2005): 251-290. Print.
Scheufele, Dietram. Science communication as political communication. New York: National Academy of Sciences, 2013. Print.