A Qualitative Process

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The PPP process has something in common with qualitative research. The similarity with qualitative research lies in the analysis and organization of the participants thoughts about hopes and worries into conceptual categories that can serve as a checklist for the receptor site (an entity that legitimately can take action) as it finalizes its decisions about options that will give specific shape to its comprehensive plan.

Geneforum also uses online blogging, public forums, town hall meetings, and surveys for public deliberation on issues where citizens explore benefits, costs and consequences generated by the different levels of community meetings (see implementation process).

From the outset, all with a stake (legislators, citizens, experts, conveners, receptor site) are involved in authentic ways; all have a role in the final agreement; a “bottom-up” process. Public concerns are authentically addressed.

Our experience in Oregon indicates that engaging the general public in complex public policy issues works best when policy makers, the public, and technical expert are understood partners in a common endeavor and as members of the same community with different roles to play in serving the common good.

“Common good” refers to those goods held by a people in common (e.g., public education, culture, penology, and law). It is closely linked to the idea of a republic—which refers to those public things (the res publica ) around which a constitution is created. To hold things in common is the preface to governing in common, which is why republicanism is generally the condition for democracy. It is, in fact, the set of terms around democracy, including citizenship, civic liberty, community and the commons, that are put at risk by the forces associated with globalization.

A deficit of scientific knowledge (scientific literacy) amongst the general public often leads policy makers to rely solely upon expert input and omit or trivialize the ordinary citizen’s role in policy development. However, citizens do not need sophisticated technical knowledge about genomics to play a valuable consultative role in the policy process, namely articulating values that inform the common good of their community. For example, how private genetic information should be used is not a factual matter to be decided by experts, but a value emergent from the community.

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