Nanotechnology Risk Governance (2006 – 2007)

Project Overview

Nanotechnology is an important and rapidly growing field of scientific and practical innovation that will fundamentally transform our understanding of how materials and devices interact with human and natural environments. These transformations may offer great benefits to society such as improvements in medical diagnostics and treatments, water and air pollution monitoring, solar photovoltaic energy, water and waste treatment systems, and many others. The social, economic, political and ethical implications, as well as the risks, are significant. Nanotechnology raises issues that are more complex and far-reaching than many other innovations and poses significant challenges to risk governance structures and processes.
IRGC first addressed the risk governance of nanotechnology in a project which began in early 2005. Using the IRGC’s risk governance framework as a conceptual starting point and with the contributions of experts at two technical workshops, the project team analysed the technology’s benefits and the associated risks, identified deficits in risk governance structures and processes and developed recommendations for overcoming these deficits. In the course of the project, IRGC developed a generic framework for the global risk governance of nanotechnology.
A summary of the project and its recommendations, and downloads of all the materials developed during it (including IRGC’s White Paper “Nanotechnology Risk Governance,” and the Policy Brief, in which we summarise our concluding recommendations), are available on our website. The project was led by Dr. Mihail Roco of the National Science Foundation and Prof. Ortwin Renn, Department of Environmental Sociology at the University of Stuttgart. Both were also co-authors of the IRGC White Paper.

Policy Recommendations

The White Paper and the Policy Brief published in 2006 include the following policy recommendations:

  • Improve the knowledge base
  • Standardise nomenclature, measuring and handling systems
  • Better understanding of risk
  • Improve data sharing
  • Understand the full implications
  • Strengthen risk management structures and processes
  • Identify gaps and remedies
  • Development of Voluntary systems
  • Need to consider anticipatory and coordinated measures for possible events where nanotechnology-based applications would produce irreversible and significant damage
  • Promote stakeholder communication and participation
  • Distinguish between passive and active nanomaterials and products
  • Improve communication strategies
  • Engage the public and make participation count
  • Ensure broad social benefits and acceptance
  • Stakeholder participation in setting priorities
  • Funding for the public good
  • Reduce barriers for developing countries
  • Economic planning to reduce adverse impacts
  • Collaboration between stakeholders and nations
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