Towards inclusive social appraisal: risk, participation and democracy in governance of synthetic biology

Stirling, A., K. R. Hayes and J. Delborne,  BMC Proceedings,  12:15. 2018.

Frameworks that govern the development and application of novel products, such as the products of synthetic biology, should involve all those who are interested or potentially affected by the products. The governance arrangements for novel products should also provide a democratic mechanism that allows affected parties to express their opinions on the direction that innovation does or does not take. In this paper we examine rationales, obstacles and opportunities for public participation in governance of novel synthetic biology products. Our analysis addresses issues such as uncertainties, the considering of alternative innovations, and broader social and environmental implications. The crucial issues in play go beyond safety alone, to include contending social values around diverse notions of benefit and harm. The paper highlights the need for more inclusive social appraisal mechanisms to inform governance of Synthetic Biology and alternative products, and discusses a few practical methods to help achieve this goal.