The responsibility for safeguarding the environment, human health, and community livelihoods is often considered the realm of governments. However, to the extent that governments fail to keep pace with technological innovations and respond to concerns regarding their societal impacts, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have attempted to fill this void as representatives of publics and public interests. The degrees to which NGOs are shaping, or even replacing, state governance – and the consequences of such trends – are subject to much debate, and the central concern of this conference.  

Democratizing Technologies focuses on NGOs with environmental and social justice concerns regarding new technologies and asks: How can NGOs produce more equitable and sustainable outcomes of emerging technologies? What are the implications of NGO participation in governance for democracy and technological futures? The conference is global in scope and brings together social scientists, science experts, government regulators, and NGO leaders to consider how NGOs – by engaging broader publics, media and policy makers – can and should influence technological investment, advancement, and regulation within a rubric of “responsible development,” exploring such questions as:

  • To what extent, and in what areas, are NGOs attempting to fill the governance roles traditionally provided by states – and with what results?
  • What are the views and priorities of NGOs regarding diffusion of new technologies?
  • When are the agendas and policies advocated by NGOs adopted by states or in international agreements? When do industries or companies comply with NGO-advocated standards?
  • How do NGOs, especially those that are local- or nation-based organizations, advocate public interests with respect to technologies that have global implications?
  • How do NGOs help shape the science and technology-related areas in which scarce public resources are invested?
  • What are the challenges for NGOs in the global media environment?  How do NGOs manage a media landscape where attention is unpredictable?
  • Which NGOs gain access as participants in S&T governance-related issues – and how is such participation determined?
  • How are new media changing the landscape for NGO engagement, participation, recruitment and dissemination?
  • Is NGO fundraising getting easier or harder, and why?

These questions will be explored as they relate to a range of new technologies, for example: (1) nanotechnology, (2) synthetic biology and biotechnology, (3) neuro-cognitive technology, (4) information technology, (5) spatial analytic technology, and (6) 3-D printing and robotics.

Participants are invited to discuss how these new technologies relate to such issues as: (1) environmental justice, (2) workplace safety, employment, and the quality of work, (3) global socioeconomic equity, and (4) the role of NGOs in producing and disseminating information regarding the promises and risks of new technologies and their societal implications.

This conference will contribute to the outreach efforts of all participants – academic researchers, government, and NGO representatives – and will facilitate cross-institutional dialogue and cultivation of international networks of organizations with interests in the nexus of technology and society.