Consensus Conferences – A Case Study: Publiforum in Switzerland with Special Respect to the Role of Lay Persons and Ethics

  • Barbara Skorupinski
  • Heike Baranzke
  • Hans Werner Ingensiep
  • Marc Meinhardt


This paper focuses on experiences from a case study dealing with the Swiss type of a consensus conference called “PubliForum” concerning “Genetic Technology and Nutrition” (1999). Societal and ethical aspects of genetically modified food meanwhile can be seen as prototypes of topics depending on the involvement of the public through a participatory process. The important role of the lay perspective in this field seems to be accepted in practice. Nevertheless, there is still some theoretical controversy about the necessity and democratic legitimacy of participatory processes in general, and especially about those dealing with technological or environmental problems (sustainable development) concerning society. From an ethical point of view, a lot of heterogeneous problems concerning contents and procedures of public participation can be pointed out, not only on the theoretical level but also in practice, e.g., concerning the communication process between laypersons and experts. The intention of our paper is to give hints and to clarify criteria that support the communication process leading to a dialog of autonomous citizens and which especially consider ethical aspects in the field. One important result is that there must be an orientation for all members of a consensus conference having clear rules and knowing their different roles that support transparency, credibility, and fairness of the whole procedure and a “good product”: a substantial final document or citizens’ report.


autonomy consensus conferences GM food  lay persons publiForum 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barbara Skorupinski
    • 1
  • Heike Baranzke
    • 2
  • Hans Werner Ingensiep
    • 3
  • Marc Meinhardt
    • 3
  1. 1.Unit für Ethics in BiosciencesUniversity of BaselBaselSwitzerland
  2. 2.Moraltheologisches SeminarRheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität BonnBonnGermany
  3. 3.Universität Duisburg-EssenInstitut für PhilosophieEssen Germany

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