The Consensus Conference
A consensus conference is a chaired public hearing with an audience from the public and with active participation of 10-15 lay people (sometimes called the jury or the panel) and a corresponding number of different experts. The experts may be from different disciplines and/or from different schools within a discipline.
The conference lasts three days for the active participants plus the time for preparation. The lay people decide the 'key questions' they want to set the speakers. The speakers 'give evidence' (which can be conflicting), the citizens cross-question them, and then retire to develop their recommendations on the key questions and come as close to consensus as possible. The results are published as a report, available to government, industry, scientists, the media and the community. In some countries, these reports have directly influenced the development of legislation.
The underlying purpose of the consensus conference is to initiate an informed debate on a limited subject where ordinary (lay) members of society can be involved in a purposeful way in influencing the decisions reached by politicians on important scientific and technical issues.
In Europe the concept has been taken up and developed most notably by the Danish Board of Technology. The Danish Board of Technology has through a number of years harvested experience in this type of meeting that makes it possible to include the public and their experiences in the technology assessment. A detailed description of the procedure and an archive with 13 electronically documented consensus conferences can be found on their website.