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Engaging stakeholders in policy discussions

There will always be actors that are affected positively or negatively by research, technological development and policy decisions. But often, actors that have a stake in the issues are not automatically consulted or included in the decision-making process, even though they are the ones that will live with the consequences of these decisions. This produces a risk that inappropriate technology may be developed or ineffective policy implemented. In order to avoid this situation, the PACITA project on ageing societies aimed at involving a diverse group of stakeholders to open the discussion to a variety of voices, different kinds of knowledge, perspectives, values and dilemmas.

The underlying argument that supports stakeholder involvement is that it can lead to better-informed policy decisions and more critical discussions about the topic at hand. Typical policy consultations often involve homogenous groups of experts that think along the same lines. Such homogeneity of opinion can weaken the democratic aspect of policy making because the discussion often will evolve around a limited view of the topic. Involving a broader and more balanced spectrum of actors makes the process more diverse and enables the creation of more multidimensional and resilient solutions. Additionally, when the concerned actors are included in the process, it can lead to an easier implementation of policy decisions as the involvement facilitates a stronger ownership of the decision-making process among the stakeholders, therefore allowing more robust decisions to be made.

A broadly recruited, heterogeneous group of stakeholders will have very different backgrounds and experiences with a given topic. We therefore developed future-oriented scenarios to give the stakeholders a common starting point for discussion. Using the scenario workshop method, the stakeholders engaged in forward-looking discussions and identified policy options on a given topic. The purpose of the scenarios is to make the participants more conscious of future developments and choices related to technology in society and to inspire critical reflection. Through such discussions, stakeholders may contribute to the development and identification of new visions and policy options based on their first-hand experience with the topic at hand.

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