How the stories of ordinary people could give them more say over planning decisions

Stories in their own words from men and women directly caught up in debates and controversies over threats from technologies to themselves and their environment are to be recorded and analysed in new research sponsored by the ESRC. This new approach, which pays much more attention to how ordinary people understand risks in the context of their everyday lives, could give them a greater say with planners and policy-makers, according to Professor Nick Pidgeon, who is leading a project team at the University of East Anglia.

The study will concentrate on gathering stories - or narratives - from two contrasting communities in Essex one that has lived for a number of years with a nuclear power station, at Bradwell-on-Sea, and the other close to a major UK airport, at Stansted. Researchers using this 'narrative approach' will explore people's assumptions and values through the stories they tell about their experiences of the risks involved in the place where they live.

Previously, much research of this kind has come from the fields of economics and psychology, trying to assess people's opinions and values through formal questionnaires. But new methods already in use in various types of social sciences research, such as studies of family relationships, produce narratives of people talking in-depth about how a topic forms part of their life-histories.

Now, for the first time, these methods are to be used in an investigation aimed at giving far greater insights into the social, cultural and other factors which lie behind people's attitudes and reactions to technological risks to themselves and to their environment.

It will also be possible to explore various local influences on people's understandings of technological risks, and track how they develop and sustain particular values.

Professor Pidgeon said: "Complex new technologies create uncertainties over their risks, and governments have to be involved in planning and managin

Contact: Becky Gammon
Economic & Social Research Council

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