Public deliberation on explosives, the environment, and microbial genomics

In 2010 a public deliberation was conducted with colleagues at UBC on the topic of "Explosives, Genomics, and the Environment". Although the public deliberation is complete, analysis of the event and public recommendations coming out of this deliberation is ongoing.

RDX is a commonly used explosive for military and industrial applications. It is relatively inexpensive and easy to handle. RDX is also a neurotoxin and implicated in numerous adverse health outcomes. Owing to the extensive use of RDX globally, there is growing concern with finding appropriate methods for remediation. One promising method involves bioremediation using micro-organisms Gordoniaand Rhodococcus. Efforts are currently underway to study the mechanisms whereby RDX is degraded by these organisms.

These scientific, technological, and environmental issues surrounding RDX use intersect and have important implications in the social and political sphere. However, hardly any public discourse exists on these issues. The present study was conducted to develop an initial understanding of public responses to these issues and to provide a mechanism to collate public input for potential policy recommendations. Explosives, Genomics, and the Environment: A Public Deliberation (or ‘RDX Talk’) is a deliberative public engagement event, conducted over two weekends in Vancouver, Canada, in April 2010. Based on principles of deliberative democracy, RDX Talk sought to identify as wide a range of relevant perspectives as possible, to provide these as input for the deliberation, to have participants listen to each others’ views and meaningfully engage with the issues, and finally to attempt to come up with collective statements or recommendations on key issues to be recorded and made available to policy makers.

A random, demographically stratified sample of 25 individuals was selected from the greater Vancouver area to participate in this event. Participants were provided with background reading materials and presentations by experts on different aspects of the issues to be discussed. Participants convened for a total of four days of deliberation. Participants first worked towards an agenda of topics to discuss, and then collectively formulated recommendations under the topic headings. Each recommendation was subjected to a final vote with attention given to the reasons underlying both the majority recommendation and to opposing voices. All participants also completed pre- and post-event surveys. For more information on RDX Talk see here: http://www.rdxtalk.org/.