Hydraulic Fracturing: Toward Better Deliberation

When the conversation opened up on the second day of our November workshop, after my presentation on acceptable risk, the project team and the invited participants spent much of the remainder of the morning developing and jotting down ideas for fostering better, more informed and more constructive public deliberation about hydraulic fracturing.

Our initial ways of phrasing the questions were rough, and many of them were likely to be perceived as biased against one group or another, playing on stereotypes, say, of engineers or of some of the more strident individuals who might show up for a public hearing.

In the weeks that followed, the project team at Georgia Tech revised the list, and reconsidered it, and revised it again.

The end result is a set of questions that will frame the work of our second workshop, now scheduled for early April:

Initiating a deliberation

  • Who is interested to engage in this sort of deliberation?
  • What steps do you take to ensure the deliberation includes those who would be affected by the resulting decisions?
  • How do you foster effective communication between technical and non-technical players? How do you develop a common language for discussing contexts and values?
  • In communication, how is the balance to be struck between transparency and the need to protect private or privileged information on the part of one participant or another?

During the deliberation

  • How do you foster mutual respect and a willingness to attend and respond to varying points of view?
  • How do you establish ground rules for deliberation, including standards of reasonableness and acceptable modes of expression and argumentation?
  • How are ground rules to be enforced, if individuals do not abide by them?
  • What is the appropriate role of emotion – e.g., anxiety or anger – in the deliberation?

Training and education to make deliberation possible and meaningful

  • Is it possible to change the engineering curriculum to prepare engineers and scientists to participate effectively and responsibly in public deliberation? What can we do at Georgia Tech in particular? (e.g., Honors, program)
  • What is the meaning of engineering in its social and political context? What is scientific responsibility?

This is likely to be my last post about hydraulic fracturing, for a while. In the mean time, I’d be interested in any comments or questions about the project, and especially about our plans for the second workshop.

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