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GM nation? Public debate: a valuable experiment

As the UK Government moves towards a decision about whether GM crops should be grown commercially in Britain, a major report today (19 February 2004) argues that last summer's Government-sponsored GM Nation? public debate, whilst being both innovative and an important experiment in public engagement, failed to fully meet its potential, and conveyed an overestimate of the strength of anti-GM feeling in the UK.

The report was prepared by a team of independent academic researchers given unique behind-the-scenes access to the planning and implementation of the debate.

Detailed findings of the evaluation team included the following:

  • GM Nation? was an innovative experiment in public engagement on a difficult and highly contentious topic
  • Many of the participants in the debate found it a meaningful and valuable exercise but were sceptical about the impact it would have upon government policy
  • The debate was insufficiently resourced in terms of money, time and expertise
  • By and large the debate failed to engage the uncommitted public (one of its key objectives)

The core evaluation team comprised researchers from Cardiff University, the University of East Anglia and the Institute of Food Research. Tom Horlick-Jones of Cardiff University, team leader of the evaluation project said:

"We spent twelve months gathering data on virtually every aspect of the debate. Our report tells a story of successes and failures. We recognise that the debate was an enormously important experiment, from the point of view of extending and enriching the democratic process, but this is just the start. Now is the time to start to learn the lessons on how to do this sort of thing more effectively."

He added: "The devil really is in the detail here. It's no good announcing a public debate, setting up a board to oversee it, and then to throw money at it. These things need careful design, they need not to be rushed, an
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Contact: Dr. Tom Horlick-Jones
Horlick-JonesT@cf.ac.uk
029-2087-5004
Cardiff University
18-Feb-2004


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