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Abstract

In this paper we are interested a class of issues that are especially difficult to address through public engagement processes. These are issues which should (or must) be addressed in the current period but have associated costs, benefits, and impacts that are concentrated in the future. These issues – which might be called ‘future issues’ – are difficult to manage democratically because any public opinions that might help guide policy decisions have not yet developed. At the same time, governments and administrative agencies are often compelled to act before the full implications of these issues are evident and before potentially affected publics are formed and aware of the implications or consequences of these developments. At best, governments and administrators can try to facilitate positive developments or prevent negative outcomes by anticipating potential concerns or conflicts associated with future issues and addressing these in the current period. We argue that small deliberative forums that combine random-selection, education and deliberation are a practical solution to this dilemma. These small forums – or minipublics – can be used to simulate discursive opinions on subjects that have not, or have not yet become topics of widespread public discourses. Our analysis is based on data from a minipublic on salmon genomics that was conducted in November 2008 by the Centre for Applied Ethics at the University of British Columbia. We argue that participating in deliberative events like this one can help citizens develop substantive opinions on technologically and temporally complex issues. We also argue that minipublics can be used to develop anticipatory maps of collectively sanctioned recommendations and discursively developed concerns or considerations. Minipublics on future issues can offer policy makers important insights into the likely parameters of public debates that have not – or have not yet – occurred.

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