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Using Democratic Criteria in Participatory Technology Decisions

© 1999 by Richard E. Sclove


Nations such as the United States have evolved elaborate checks and balances, enshrined in formal constitutions, for ensuring that we never enact a new law that would subvert our basic constitutional principles and cherished political values. By what perverse logic can we justify holding technologies -- which plainly produce repercussions on social structure as sweeping and profound as any law -- to a lesser standard?


Summary. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (½ page)

1. Democratizing Technology: Historical & Theoretical Background . . . . . . . . . . . (2 pages)

2. Debating & Applying Democratic Design Criteria . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (1 page)

3. European Scenario Workshops . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (2 pages)

4. Using Democratic Criteria Within Scenario Workshops . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(3 pages)

5. Democratic Politics Versus Economics-As-Usual . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (½ page)

6. Next Steps (including What You Can Do) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (½ page)



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[Note: You are welcome to copy or reprint this essay in its entirety for non-commercial purposes. However, commercial republication requires advance permission from author Richard Sclove (E-mail ]


No nation on earth has an effective system for taking into account the profound effects that technologies exert on basic social and political structures, including on democratic values and institutions. The absence of such a capability stunts fulfillment of the democratic promise, thwarting people's opportunities to establish the lives, communities, and societies they wish.

In response, the Loka Institute has initiated a project on "Identifying Democratic Technologies." Our objective is to develop participatory tools for evaluating crucial but neglected social repercussions produced by technologies. If successful, such tools can function as alternatives to the economically-grounded methods (such as cost-benefit analysis) that, despite their inability to take into account technologies' structural social impacts, today dominate decisions about technology.

Our immediate effort involves adapting "scenario workshops," a participatory technology assessment method developed recently in Europe, to incorporate the debate and use of criteria for evaluating technologies' social and political significance.



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Using Democratic Criteria in Participatory Technology Decisions

by Richard Sclove <>, The Loka Institute

1. Democratizing Technology: Historical & Theoretical Background

No nation on earth has an effective system for taking into account the profound effects that technologies exert on social and political structures, including on fundamental democratic values and institutions.

Historic Example -- Improving Public Health/Compromising Democracy: In the late 19th century, U.S. cities experienced epidemics of typhoid fever and other diseases. Over time, public health experts identified the culprit as sewage-contaminated drinking water supplies. Either local or state governments could have taken charge of the needed clean-up, but political centralization won out. State governments began appointing new public authorities to manage water and sewage on a translocal, regional scale. The result: public health improved dramatically, but local autonomy and municipal democracy suffered.

Moreover, this case set a precedent emulated in other areas of infrastructural improvement: roads, ports, energy sources, and telephone services. In each case, civic decisions were shifted from municipalities (where decision-making forums were often accessible to workers and everyday citizens) to larger, more remote state and national political arenas (where generally only wealthy businesses and individuals possessed the resources needed to exert influence). By neglecting more local means that were available at the time for addressing urban needs, the U.S. underwent a fundamental change in political structure -- yet without any of the political deliberation or due process that would normally be considered appropriate to transformations of this character and import.[1]

In a more contemporary vein, I have written elsewhere of a "Cybernetic Wal-Mart Effect" -- the danger that unregulated electronic commerce, by draining revenue from local economies, could erode community vibrancy, public spaces, and the buffering that a robust local economy affords against the vagaries of impersonal global market forces. On all three counts, this would impair conditions vital to healthy democratic self-governance. [2]

Interest in the relationship between technology and democracy has mushroomed over the past decade, both among scholars and in practice. The vast majority of this constructive effort has involved investigating the privileged role of technical experts in technological and environmental decisions, or else is concerned with new mechanisms for broadening participation in such decisions.[3]

But from another perspective, all of this recent work is covering only half of the necessary terrain. Consider a simple distinction between democratic procedures versus their substantive results. Imagine, for example, a public referendum on whether to abolish the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution (that is, freedom of the press, the right of assembly, and so on). In this case, the public referendum process -- that is, citizens voting for their policy preferences -- is the democratic procedure, while the decision ensuing from that process is the substantive result. Notice that democratic procedures do not invariably result in democratic outcomes (for instance, suppose the preceding hypothetical referendum were actually to abolish the Bill of Rights).

This distinction can illuminate the sense in which recent work on the relationship between democracy and technology, while immensely valuable, is also seriously incomplete: These recent efforts are concerned exclusively with democratic procedure in making decisions about technologies. But they omit the equally important question of whether technologies are substantively democratic -- that is, whether a technology's design and use is compatible with perpetuating democratic social relations.[4]

This omission is non-trivial. Just recall the preceding examples of U.S. sewage systems that compromised municipal democracy or the democratic hazards associated with a Cybernetic Wal-Mart Effect. As Langdon Winner wrote in a widely cited 1978 essay, "Do Artifacts Have Politics?":

"Technological innovations are similar to legislative acts or political foundings that establish a framework for public order that will endure over many generations. For that reason the same careful attention one would give to the rules, roles, and relationships of politics must also be given to such things as the building of highways . . . ."[5]

The dearth of practical, systematic effort to ensure that democratic procedures issue in technologies that are substantively democratic -- i.e., that help, both individually and collectively, and both directly and indirectly, to sustain democratic values, procedures and institutions -- is what I call "the missing half" of a democratic politics of technology.

For instance, despite aspiring to conceptual comprehensiveness, the massive Handbook of Science and Technology Studies -- compiled by the international Society for Social Studies of Science -- does not even mention the issue. Neither does Fairness and Competence in Citizen Participation, an otherwise outstanding comparative evaluation of alternative methods in participatory environmental decision-making prepared by Ortwin Renn and colleagues.[6]

In a world of pervasive technology, the recurring failure to consider the impact of technologies on basic social and political structure is as astonishing as it is ominous. In the absence of such effort, democratic institutions will continue to be distorted, thwarted, and further jeopardized by decision-making procedures -- ranging from market interactions and technocratic policy analyses to even the most highly evolved democratic procedures -- that fail to assist participants in considering the structural social consequences of their decisions.[7]

Now, were it true that lay participants normally inquire deeply into the implications of technologies for their society's basic structure, then this concern could be addressed simply by continuing the political struggle for "more democratic participation." However, case studies reveal that while lay people do routinely raise significant social issues about technologies that technical experts are prone to slight, they don't do so sufficiently deeply and systematically to prevent unintended sociotechnological results, including adverse effects on a society's basic democratic structure.[8]

Thus while contemporary industrial and postindustrial societies have grown attentive to economic, health, environmental and selected ethical repercussions of technologies, apparently our cultures still lack the vocabulary, concepts, illustrative examples, and so on that would make it feel natural and legitimate for lay participants to consider broader social, cultural and political impacts in depth and systematically. That is where new assistive tools or participatory procedures would be valuable.

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Cultural Aside: That this limitation is culture-specific rather than humanly intrinsic is demonstrated by the long-running success of Old Order Amish communities in screening technologies to ensure that Amish culture -- including its basic democratic character -- is perpetuated. Despite prohibiting formal schooling past the age of fourteen, the Amish have developed effective participatory processes for testing, debating, and evaluating alternative technologies' social effects. Deploying these methods within a social and political context that already embodies a rather robust democratic character, they are able to make technological choices that perpetuate their culture's democratic quality. As I have written elsewhere:

"If non-experts are incompetent to participate in technological decision making, if it is impossible to learn to perceive technologies unplanned structural social consequences, and if the difficulty of prediction poses an insurmountable barrier to the practicability of a democratic politics of technology, then somebody had better go tell the Old Order Amish." [9]

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2. Debating & Applying Democratic Design Criteria

Democracy and Technology: a book that I published in 1995, takes steps toward addressing our need for tools for evaluating technologies' structural social consequences by developing a set of provisional or "contestable" democratic design criteria for technologies. For instance, one of the criteria I proposed suggests that we should:

"Seek technologies that can enable disadvantaged individuals and groups to participate fully in social, economic, and political life. Avoid technologies that support illegitimately hierarchical power relations between groups, organizations, or polities."[10]

The complete list of criteria developed in Democracy and Technology is posted on the Web at A Provisional System of Design Criteria for Democratic Technologies. Inasmuch as democracy is a precondition for setting other social priorities fairly and effectively, the book argues that use of such design criteria should, in principle, be a first-order consideration in technological decisions. Against this standard, it is striking that, in practice, so far no nation on earth has evolved a systematic capability to take technologies' impacts on democracy into account even as a last-order consideration. (Granting first-order consideration to technologies' democratic impacts is an unfamiliar concept, but it is directly analogous to the practice of ensuring that proposed legislation is consistent with the first-order principles embodied in a nation's constitution.)[11]

Thus one approach to an adequate "democratic politics of technology" would be to incorporate democratic processes for debating, refining, customizing to local circumstances, and then applying such criteria in order to evaluate technologies' effects on democratic social relations. My stress on the need to debate and refine criteria underscores the notion that I intend these criteria not as an endpoint, but merely as a conversational stimulant and starting point -- albeit for a democratically vital conversation that, in the absence of such stimulation, rarely occurs.[12]

However, Democracy and Technology has at least one core limitation that has inhibited practical applications of its provisional democratic design criteria. The book observes that crucial social impacts often emerge from the interaction among seemingly unrelated technologies. Consider in the United States the role of automobiles in driving pedestrians away from streets -- a result now reflected and reinforced materially by the elimination of front porches from homes and the creation of sprawled suburbs that don't even have sidewalks -- and the complementary role of air conditioning, central heating, television, and other home entertainment devices in drawing people indoors. All of these technologies interact to weaken face-to-face social interaction at the local level. A conventional evaluation of a single technology -- say, air conditioning -- is unlikely to detect such combined or synergistic effects.

On this basis, Democracy and Technology reasons that -- beyond debating and refining democratic design criteria -- democratic processes are needed for applying these criteria not only to one technology at a time, but also comprehensively across a society's technological order.[13]

That's a pretty tall order: lay participants are expected to debate and refine multiple democratic criteria, and then use them to evaluate the combined effects of multiple technologies. Can human beings really do that? Thus a central limitation of Democracy and Technology is that it does not describe an institution or democratic procedure that would make this complex task practicable.

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3. European Scenario Workshops

"Scenario workshops" -- a participatory technology assessment method developed recently in Europe -- harbor the potential to be modified for this purpose. The "scenario workshop" process was originally devised by the Danish Parliament's Board of Technology (a technology assessment agency) in 1991-1993 to address the following question involving "urban sustainability": How should Danish urban infrastructural systems be reorganized or redesigned so that within two decades Danish cities satisfy the Brundtland criterion for sustainability (i.e., "societies should meet their present needs without impairing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs")?[14]

The basic scenario workshop process is described succinctly elsewhere.[15] For our purposes, key features are that the process begins with experts preparing a base scenario that describes the current situation in a community or society where a scenario workshop is going to be organized, and then four alternative future scenarios. Each future scenario portrays the use of multiple technologies in structuring future daily life, thereby answering two questions about achieving sustainability: "Who shall act, individuals or institutions?" and "How shall they act -- i.e., by adopting different technologies or by altering human/social behavior while using current technologies?"

In the case of the original Danish scenario workshops on sustainability, the four future scenarios for achieving sustainability included:

  • An individuals/high-tech strategy
  • An individuals/low-tech strategy
  • A government authority/high-tech strategy
  • A citizen groups/low-tech strategy

A singular strength of these scenarios is that they are written as simple, engaging two-page narratives of daily life that virtually anyone can easily understand (i.e., no intimidating graphs or numerical tables). To give the flavor of a typical scenario, here is the opening passage of the first future scenario (individuals/high-tech) from the original Danish scenario workshop on sustainability:

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"Mr. Knud Hansen is on his way home from work. Five minutes before reaching the house, he rings the kitchen on his mobile phone to ask the freezer to transfer a ready-made eco-meal to the microwave oven. It is his turn to cook today. The meal will be ready by the time he walks in the front door. At the same time he turns on the heating. Today he took the car to work, but he often works at home sitting in front of the computer screen. This can sometimes be a fairly lonely existence when none of the other members of the family are at home. Personal meetings with business connections are still important, and he and his family also use the car for journeys to and from some of their many leisure activities. One of the things they all go to is folk dancing on Wednesday evenings."[16]

Each two-page future scenario narrative is followed by a succinct analysis in which the basic norm of "environmental sustainability" is broken down and presented in terms of simple, subsidiary criteria (such as kilowatts of electricity consumed per person per day, kilograms of solid waste recycled per person per day, liters of grey-water reused per person per day, and so on.)

Scenario workshops on sustainability use the four initial future scenarios as the starting point for a participatory process in which diverse groups of stakeholders:

  • Constructively criticize each future scenario;
  • Rather than chose directly among these, use the refashioned scenarios as a starting point for developing their own preferred vision of how they would like their community or society to become sustainable;
  • Identify barriers (e.g., cultural, institutional, technical, economic, and legal) to realizing their preferred vision; and
  • Craft action plans for overcoming these barriers.

In European implementations of scenario workshops, the organizers have most often chosen the workshop participants from four affected and influential role groups in any given local community or city: local government officials, business leaders, technical experts, and knowledgeable local residents.

The impact of scenario workshops in Europe has already been significant and is growing. The original scenario workshops on sustainability were conducted in four Danish cities in 1992, and the Danish Board of Technology also aggregated the results to produce a national plan for overcoming the barriers to achieving sustainable cities. This plan has been adopted by the Danish Parliament and is now being implemented.[17] Follow-on scenario workshops conducted in the Netherlands have influenced both local sustainability initiatives (e.g., water management in the city of Ede) and national science policy deliberations. The European Commission has more recently launched a European Awareness Scenario Workshop (EASW) program, which has facilitated the organization of scenario workshops on sustainability in more than 40 European cities, in turn stimulating consolidation of, and learning among, an international network of cities committed to complying with the 1992 Rio accords on the global environment. This process of European diffusion and further elaboration is ongoing, including by developing scenario workshops on new topics, such as social cohesion, societal accessibility, or urban transportation and mobility.[18]

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4. Using Democratic Criteria Within Scenario Workshops

With respect to the crucial "missing half" of a democratic politics of technology, the intriguing features of the scenario workshop methodology are that it is a participatory assessment process that has been shown capable of investigating many technologies at once (e.g., simultaneous and integrative consideration of renewable and nonrenewable energy sources; water and sewage management; and solid waste reduction, recycling, reuse and disposal) using multiple criteria (e.g., the diverse subsidiary criteria of "sustainability" used during the original Danish scenario workshops).

Together, the italicized terms in the preceding sentence exhibit exactly the logic required for realizing the missing substantive component of a democratic politics of technology -- that is, a participatory process that can apply multiple criteria to multiple technologies. The important remaining question is whether the multiple criteria used to assess sustainability within scenario workshops can be supplemented with additional criteria for assessing technologies' structural social and political significance.

Toward this end, Table 1, below, translates the prescriptive democratic design criteria developed in Democracy and Technology into open-ended questions and simpler, more self-explanatory language. Each question is intended to support participants in identifying the various direct and indirect ways that technologies can influence the structural conditions necessary to a healthy democracy:

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Table 1. Questions for Examining Technologies' Political Effects

© 1999 by Richard Sclove <>, The Loka Institute


Equality: Do the technologies in your vision support social relations in which power is shared relatively equally or unequally throughout society?

Cultural Diversity: Do these technologies respect cultural diversity? With such technologies in use, how do you foresee the quality of interaction between different communities and cultures?

Individualism And Commonality: Do the technologies in your vision offer people a reasonable balance between time alone and time interacting with others? Are there occasions for people to discover and build areas of common interest?

Empowerment: Are there technologies in your vision that would either hinder or assist socially disadvantaged individuals and groups in participating fully in social or economic life?

Self-Organization: How would the technologies in your vision influence peoples' abilities to form themselves into effective groups and voluntary associations of their own choosing?


Personal Growth: How would the technologies and built environment in your vision affect people's opportunities to develop their individual talents and to pursue their preferred lifeplans?

Technological Burdens: Are there any activities in your vision -- whether explicit or implicit -- that might be especially boring, demeaning, harmful, or harshly stressful? If so, do you see these undesirable activities being widely shared, or would only a minority of people have to do them?

Citizenship: How do you think the technologies in your vision would affect individuals' moral growth and readiness to act as responsible citizens?

Social Learning: Do the technologies and architecture in your vision give people lots of chances to learn about themselves and their world? Are there many opportunities for people to discuss, debate, and share what they know?


Centralization/Decentralization: Would the technologies in your vision tend to be compatible more with centralized (e.g., bureaucratic or managerial) or decentralized (e.g., socially diffused or collaborative) decision making?

Federation: How would the technologies in your vision influence the structure and process of federation--that is, relations between national, local, and other political levels? For example:

  • Exporting Harm: Would any of these technologies export pollution or other kinds of harm from one community to others? Could this provoke conflict among communities and higher level political intervention?
  • Provincialism/Cosmopolitanism: Would these technologies affect the social balance between provincial outlooks (e.g., taking into account only the concerns of your own group or locality) and more broad-minded "global" thinking?
  • Civil Rights And Civil Liberties: How would these technologies influence the protection of fundamental human and civil rights and civil liberties, including minority rights?

Economic Self-Reliance: Do technologies in your vision tend to support community economic self-reliance -- that is, community production for community consumption? How would this affect a community's ability to govern its own affairs?

Democratic Governance: How do technologies in your vision affect the structure, and democratic responsiveness and accountability, of social institutions (such as businesses, financial institutions, and government agencies)?


Sustainability: Are the technologies in your vision consistent with the idea that people should meet their present needs without reducing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs?

Flexibility: Are these technologies flexible -- e.g., would they allow people to change their minds about how they want to live? If some people start to use these technologies, could that force other people to adopt the same technologies, or in any other way narrow other people's social or technological options?

Vulnerability: Are there any technologies in your vision that would be vulnerable to catastrophic sabotage?

Democratic Security: Are there any technologies in your vision that would impair international peace and security, or democracy in other communities and nations?


Suppose that your vision is fully realized. What would be the problems?

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The Loka Institute's project on "Identifying Democratic Technologies" has developed a plan for introducing the debate and use of these democratic questions into the scenario workshop process. In our plan, these questions will be posed, answered, and evaluated by participants during the workshop itself (rather than -- as with the criteria of sustainability used in the original Danish scenario workshops -- deployed initially by expert analysts prior to the workshop).

Introducing democratic questions into participatory processes is not customary, but in at least one important sense it is natural and makes sense. After all, participatory processes already implicitly acknowledge -- in virtue of being participatory -- the centrality of democracy as a social value. That is why such processes are chosen to be participatory, rather than adopting easier and less time-consuming decision-making approaches, such as autocratic fiat. But if democracy is honored in the process of participation, it seems equally reasonable and important to empower participants to ask how the eventual outcome of a participatory process is going to affect their society's basic democratic structure (that is, the possibility of fair and effective democratic participation in the future, on this and any other issues). The purpose of introducing democratic questions is thus not at all to encourage participants to prefer any particular, preordained technology or technological design to another, but rather to grant them cultural permission and support to explore important issues that tend otherwise unconsciously to be neglected.

Experience in organizing participatory decision-making processes suggests that it would be a mistake to ask each workshop participant individually to answer the complete list of questions shown in Table 1. (Ask anyone voluntarily to deploy a list with more than about three items, and they almost always fall asleep.) Instead, we plan to ask each participant to take responsibility for posing just one or two of the questions throughout the workshop. Attention to the full set of questions will thus emerge gradually through group process. We have also developed a simple, playful exercise through which participants will evaluate and propose revisions in these questions.

The final question in Table 1 ("Suppose that your vision is fully realized; what would be the problems?") is of a different character than the rest. Whereas all the prior questions are intended to stimulate participants inquiry into technologies' effects on basic social or political structure, this final question would be posed to the entire group near the end of a scenario workshop in order to stimulate inquiry into unplanned dynamic or second-order sociotechnological effects. (A simple example of such effects: If one proposes to reduce household energy and water consumption via high-tech "smart" houses, then among the second-order effects might be the creation of new businesses and jobs in designing, installing and maintaining these systems, as well as additional social and environmental effects associated with those new business activities.)

Introducing all the questions from Table 1 into a scenario workshop on sustainability in effect will expand the overarching workshop question to: "How can we reorganize all of our infrastructural systems over the next 20 years so that our community becomes environmentally sustainable, while also maintaining or improving the character of our democracy?"

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5. Democratic Politics Versus Economics-As-Usual

Using democratic questions within scenario workshops is one promising approach to supplying the missing, substantive half of a democratic politics of technology. Doubtless many other valuable approaches are conceivable; thus one aspiration of the Loka Institute's new project on Identifying Democratic Technologies is to stimulate others to seek new methods for empowering people to grasp and guide the deeper social significance of the technologies that seem almost daily to make, unmake, and remake our lives.

Of course, today most technological decisions are economically driven, either by competitive market forces, by the lobbying of economically motivated interest groups, or by technocratic policy analyses (e.g., formal cost-risk-benefit analyses or applied neoclassical welfare economics) that are themselves grounded in conventional economic theory. Indeed, in many quarters it has become taken for granted that economic considerations and calculations provide the sole rational basis for making decisions. However, these diverse economic approaches all suffer the crippling limitation that they are incapable of grasping technologies' indirect structural consequences -- even though attending to a society's basic structure ought always to be a first-order public concern.[19]

Nations such as the United States have evolved elaborate checks and balances, enshrined in formal constitutions, for ensuring that we never enact a new law that would subvert our basic constitutional principles and cherished political values. By what perverse logic can we justify holding technologies -- which plainly produce structural social repercussions as sweeping and profound as any law -- to a lesser standard?[20]

Economically-grounded methods are fundamentally incapable of seeing or caring that we need sewer systems that protect public health . . . but without sacrificing municipal democracy. Internet commerce can be a fine thing . . . provided that democratic community life and democratic self-governance are not made sacrificial victims to a Cybernetic Wal-Mart Effect. The speed and freedom of private automobiles, the blessed comforts of air conditioning and central heating, and the pleasures provided by music videos and cable television must not blind us to the combined harm such technological marvels have apparently wrought upon our civic life.

The answer is not, of course, to turn our backs on technology or economics. But we must recognize that a healthy society is one that honors technology and the economy by subordinating both to the prerequisites of democracy and to other democratically decided social priorities.[21] When that happens, we will find that we can have satisfying jobs, public health, personal security and national security, comfort, convenience, entertainment, innovation and, yes, even economic efficiency in forms that are compatible with -- not counterfeit surrogates for -- our highest democratic ideals. That is, we can have the preceding social goods and democracy too . . . but only once we learn to scrutinize technologies for their structural social and political effects.

The urgent need to restore technology, the economy, and economic theory to their proper stations as handmaidens rather than usurpers of democracy is the animating force behind the Loka Institute's new project on Identifying Democratic Technologies.

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Send Your Comments on this essay, or on the Loka Institute's project on Identifying Democratic Technologies, to Richard Sclove <>.

Pilot Tests, Venues, And PartnershipsPilot Tests, Venues, And Partnerships: The Loka Institute is currently seeking venues, institutional partners, and funding that will enable us to test these new participatory tools in practice. We are interested, of course, in testing the democratic questions listed in Table 1 (above) within one or more scenario workshops on sustainability. But we are also interested in testing them within scenario workshops on other topics, or within other methods of particpatory technology decision-making (such as participatory design or deliberative citizens' panels on technology policy.) If you are seriously interested in assisting or partnering in such an effort, please contact the Loka Institute at If you are seriously interested in assisting or partnering in such an effort, please contact the Loka Institute at <>.

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My work on scenario workshops using democratic design criteria has benefitted enormously from the advice of Ida Andersen, Lars Klüver, and Steffen Stripp (Danish Board of Technology); Morten Elle and Michael Sørgaard Jørgensen (Danish Technical University); Yvonne van Delft and Tjeerd Deelstra (International Institute for the Urban Environment, The Netherlands); Francisco Fernandez (Innovation Program, D.G. XIII, European Commission); Sarah Kuhn (University of Massachusetts-Lowell); Susan Cozzens (Georgia Tech); David Rejeski (U.S. Council on Environmental Quality); Bart Schultz (University of Chicago); Paul Stern (U.S. National Research Council); Thomas Webler (Antioch New England Graduate School); Douglas K. Taylor (The Loka Institute); and several insightful anonymous reviewers.

This work has been made possible to date thanks to the financial support of the National Science Foundation (NSF Award No. SBR-981003), the Danish Board of Technology, the Dept. of Technology & Social Science at the Danish Technical University, the European Awareness Scenario Workshop program, and thanks to general support to the Loka Institute from the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Albert A. List Foundation, the Menemsha Fund, and the generosity of individual Loka Institute donors.

I am grateful to the Innovation Program of the European Commission for the honor and trust bestowed in making me the first non-European officially appointed as a National Monitor in the European Awareness Scenario Workshop program (certifying my qualifications to develop and organize scenario workshops at the national and international levels.)

Thanks to one and all! -- Dick Sclove, The Loka Institute

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1. Richard E. Sclove, Democracy and Technology (New York and London: Guilford Press, 1995), pp. 119-129. [Return to text.]

2. See, for example, Richard E. Sclove and Jeffrey Scheuer, "The Ghost in the Modem: For Architects of the Info-Highway, Some Lessons From the Concrete Interstate," Sunday Outlook Section, The Washington Post, 29 May 1994, p. C3; Richard E. Sclove and Jeffrey Scheuer "On the Road Again?: If Information Highways Are Anything Like Interstate Highways--Watch Out!," in Rob Kling, ed., Computerization and Controversy: Value Conflicts and Social Choices (2nd ed., San Diego: Academic Press, 1996), pp. 606-612; Richard Sclove, "The Democratic Uses of Technology," Thought and Action: The NEA Higher Education Journal, vol. 14, no. 1 (Spring 1998), pp. 9-18. [Return to text.]

3. See, for example, David Dickson, The New Politics of Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988); Joseph G. Morone and Edward J. Woodhouse, The Demise of Nuclear Energy: Lessons for Democratic Control of Technology (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989); Daniel J. Fiorino, "Environmental Risk and Democratic Process: A Critical Review," Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, vol. 14 (1989), pp. 501-547; Daniel J. Fiorino, "Citizen Participation and Environmental Risk: A Survey of Institutional Mechanisms." Science, Technology, and Human Values, vol. 15, no. 2 (Spring 1990), pp. 226-43; Frank Fischer, Technocracy and the Politics of Expertise (Newbury Park: Sage, 1990); Philip J. Frankenfeld, "Technological Citizenship: A Normative Framework for Risk Studies," Science, Technology, and Human Values, vol. 17, no. 4 (August 1992), pp. 459-484; Technology and Democracy: The Use and Impact of Technology Assessment in Europe, Proceedings of the 3rd European Congress on Technology Assessment, Copenhagen, 4-7 November 1992, 2 vols. (Copenhagen: TeknologiNaevnet [Danish Board of Technology], 1992); Åke Sandberg, et al., Technological Change and Co-Determination in Sweden (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992); Frank N. Laird, "Participatory Analysis, Democracy, and Technological Decision Making," Science, Technology, and Human Values, vol. 18, no. 3 (Summer 1993), pp. 341-61; Gary Chapman and Joel Yudken, The 21st Century Project: Setting a New Course for Science and Technology Policy (Palo Alto: Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, 1993), pp. 169-189; Sandra Harding, Sandra, ed., The "Racial" Economy of Science: Toward a Democratic Future (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993); Ortwin Renn, Thomas Webler, and Peter Weidemann, eds., Fairness and Competence in Citizen Participation: Evaluating Models for Environmental Discourse (Dordrecht, Boston and London: Kluwer Academic, 1995); John Doble, "Public Opinion About Issues Characterized By Technological Complexity and Scientific Uncertainty," Public Understanding of Science, vol. 4 (1995), pp. 95-118; Simon Joss and John Durant, eds., Public Participation in Science: The Role of Consensus Conferences in Europe (London: Science Museum, 1995); Andrew D. Zimmerman, "Toward a More Democratic Ethic of Technological Governance," Science, Technology, and Human Values, vol. 20, no. 1 (Winter 1995), pp. 86-107; Technical Expertise and Public Decisions: Proceedings of the 1996 International Symposium on Technology and Society, June 21-22, The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey (Piscataway, NJ: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 1996); Paul C. Stern and Harvey V. Fineberg, eds., Understanding Risk: Informing Decisions in a Democratic Society (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1996); Technology and Democracy: Comparative Perspectives, Proceedings from the January 1997 TMV Conference, 5 vols. (Oslo, Norway: TMV Center for Technology and Culture, University of Oslo, 1997); J. Grin, et al., Technology Assessment Through Interaction: A Guide (The Hague, The Netherlands: Rathenau Institute, 1997); Carl Mitcham, "Justifying Public Participation in Technical Decision Making," IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, vol. 16, no. 1 (Spring 1997), pp. 40-46; Thomas Webler, "Organizing Public Participation: A Review of Three Handbooks," Human Ecology Review, vol. 3, no. 1 (1997), pp. 245-254; Thomas Webler, and Seth Tuler, eds., "Human Ecology Forum: Essays and Commentary" ["Varying Perspectives on the U.S. National Research Council's Understanding Risk Report"], Human Ecology Review, vol. 5, no. 1 (Summer 1998), pp. 35-64; Rebecca Henderson Chatfield, Sarah Kuhn, and Michael Muller, eds., PDC 98: Proceedings of the Participatory Design Conference, Seattle, Washington, USA, 12-14 November 1998 (Palo Alto, CA: Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, 1998); Rene von Schomberg, ed., Democratising Technology: Theory and Practice of a Deliberative Technology Policy (Hengelo, The Netherlands: International Centre for Human and Public Affairs, 1999); Brian Martin, ed., Technology and Public Participation (Wollongong, Australia: Science and Technology Studies, University of Wollongong, 1999). [Return to text.]

4. On the distinction between democratic procedure and democratic substance as it applies to technology, see Richard E. Sclove, Democracy and Technology (New York and London: Guilford Press, 1995), esp. pp. 26-33. [Return to text.]

5. Winner's 1978 essay is reprinted in Langdon Winner, The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), chap. 2; the quote is from pp. 28-29 of the latter chapter. For an earlier articulation of Winner's perspective, see Lewis Mumford's seminal article, "Authoritarian and Democratic Technics," Technology and Culture, vol. 5, no. 1(Winter 1964), pp. 1-8. [Return to text.]

6. Sheila Jasanoff, Gerald E. Markle, James C. Petersen, and Trevor Pinch, eds., Handbook of Science and Technology Studies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1995); Ortwin Renn, Thomas Webler, and Peter Weidemann, eds., Fairness and Competence in Citizen Participation: Evaluating Models for Environmental Discourse (Dordrecht, Boston and London: Kluwer Academic, 1995). The closest attempts to heeding Lewis Mumford's 1964 call to develop a "democratic technics" involved the 1970's heyday of the appropriate technology movement and, recently, the more narrowly focused hopes being invested by some in the Internet and in other new telecommunications technologies. On the appropriate technology movement, see David Dickson, Alternative Technology and the Politics of Technical Change (Great Britain: Fontana/Collins, 1974); Ken Darrow, and Mike Saxenian, Appropriate Technology Sourcebook: A Guide to Practical Books for Village and Small Community Technology) Stanford, CA: Volunteers in Asia Press, 1986); and Langdon Winner, The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), chap. 4. On democratic hopes and limitations involving telecommunications see, for example, Christa Daryl Slaton, Televote: Expanding Citizen Participation in the Quantum Age (New York: Praeger, 1992); Lawrence K. Grossman, The Electronic Republic: Reshaping Democracy in the Information Age (New York: Viking, 1995); Richard E. Sclove, Democracy and Technology (New York and London: Guilford Press, 1995), pp. 30-31, 79-81, 108, 135-138, 237-238; Douglas Schuler, New Community Networks: Wired For Change (Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1996); Richard E. Sclove and Jeffrey Scheuer "On the Road Again?: If Information Highways Are Anything Like Interstate Highways--Watch Out!," in Rob Kling, ed., Computerization and Controversy: Value Conflicts and Social Choices (2nd ed., San Diego: Academic Press, 1996), pp. 606-612; Richard Sclove, "The Democratic Uses of Technology," Thought and Action: The NEA Higher Education Journal, vol. 14, no. 1 (Spring 1998), pp. 9-18; Robert W. McChesney, Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1997); and Hubertus Buchstein and Jodi Dean, eds., "Special Section: Democratizing Technology/Technologizing Democracy," Constellations, vol. 4, no. 2 (1997), pp. 205-282, and Manuel Castells' magisterial account of the role of information technologies in advancing economic globalization, thereby promoting a crisis of democracy -- hopelessly fragmented citizenries chafing under the tenuous sovereignty of weakened states (Manual Castells, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, 3 vols. [Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 1976, 1977, 1998]). [Return to text.]

7. This is a central theoretical point developed in Richard E. Sclove, Democracy and Technology (New York and London: Guilford Press, 1995). [Return to text.]

8. Sclove, Democracy and Technology, (note 7, above), pp. 48-53, 191-195. [Return to text] or

9. See Sclove, Democracy and Technology, (note 7, above), pp. 6-9, 56-59, 173. [Return to text.]

10. The quoted democratic design criterion is derived in Sclove, Democracy and Technology, (note 7, above), pp. 109-118. The nine democratic design criteria proposed in Democracy and Technology are developed and discussed on pp. 59-151; the argument for developing and using such criteria is developed and discussed on pp. 26-33, 155-160. Published reviews of Democracy and Technology include: Mark B. Brown in Organization and Environment (Sept. 1997), pp. 321-324; Matthew Wald in The New York Times Book Review, 25 Feb. 1996; Bart Schultz in Ethics, vol. 107, no. 2 (January 1997), pp. 364-366; Arthur B. Shostak in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 546 (July 1996), pp. 176-177; Steve Cohn in Ecological Economics Bulletin, vol.2, no. 4 (1997), p. 12; Daniel Sarewitz, "Caveat Emptor: Review of Democracy and Technology by Richard E. Sclove," Issues in Science and Technology, vol. 12, no. 4 (Summer 1996), pp. 87-90; David Hakken, "Democratizing Technology?," Science as Culture, vol. 6, part 1 (1996), pp. 149-152; Jeffrey M. Berry in Journal of the American Planning Association (Spring 1997), pp. 287-289. Carl Mitcham in Technology and Culture, vol. 38, no. 2 (April 1997), pp. 531-533; Howard Rheingold in Wired, Nov. 1996, p. 219; Keith Jones in Journal of Urban Technology, vol. 3, no. 2 (1996), pp. 97-99; Tom Wakeford in Science, Technology, and Human Values, vol. 22, no. 3 (Summer 1997), pp. 388-390; Thomas C. Hilde in Canadian Philosophy Review, vol. 16, no. 3; Michael Kreek in Human Economy newsletter, vol. 15, no. 2 (Spring 1996), pp. 9-10; Lee F. Kerckhove in Teaching Philosophy, vol. 21, no. 3 (Sept. 1998), pp. 283-285; Howard A. Doughty in Innovation Journal, 18 May 1998; and Kenneth Westhues in Catholic New Times, 26 May 1996, p. 13. Schultz and Mitcham question the reliance of Democracy and Technology on a neo-Kantian normative foundation, but they do not challenge the book's provisional democratic design criteria. It's fun to read the Hakken and Berry reviews side by side: the former takes me to task for regarding "capitalism and democratic technology as largely compatible"; the latter complains that Democracy and Technology is "an unremitting attack on capitalism." My reaction to these polar opposite interpretations: I enjoy watching the discomfort one engenders by not fitting neatly into people's preconceived categories. Less facetiously: part of the confusion results from Berry and Haaken's failure to consider that that there might be many alternative actual and possible forms of capitalism. The current, globally dominant forms of capitalism are, in my view, antidemocratic in many respects. However, I can imagine various alternative capitalisms that, while not democratically ideal, would offer more scope for democracy than what we see now. See also note [12], below. [Return to text.]

11. See Sclove, Democracy and Technology, (note 7, above), pp. 26-32, 36-37, 157-158, 239-241. [Return to text.]

12. This is a point overlooked by critics Sheila Jasanoff, "Review of Democracy and Technology," American Political Science Review, 90, no. 3 (Sept. 1996), pp. 659-660; Rein de Wilde, "Sublime Futures: Reflections on the Modern Faith in the Compatibility of Community, Democracy, and Technology," in Sissel Myklebust, ed., Technology and Democracy: Obstacles to Democratization -- Productivism and Technocracy (Oslo: TMV, Center for Technology and Culture, University of Oslo, 1997), pp. 29-49; and Rob Slade, "Review of Democracy and Technology," Democracy and Technology," The Risks Digest, vol. 20, no. 5 (6 Nov. 1998). My published response to de Wilde appears as Richard E. Sclove, "Lost in de WILDErness: A Brief Foray Into the Sublime Mysteries of Technology, Democracy, Charles Lindbergh, Rein de Wilde, and Dr. Pangloss," in Myklebust, ed., Technology and Democracy, pp. 51-62. My answer to Slade appears as Richard Sclove, "Author Response to Slade Review of Democracy and Technology," The Risks Digest, vol. 20, no. 11 (8 Dec. 1998). [Return to text.] or

13. Sclove, Democracy and Technology, (note 7, above), pp. 31-33, 99, 155-157, 198, 208, 217-222. [Return to text.]

14. World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future [The Brundtland Report], (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). [Return to text.]

15. Ida Andersen, et al., "The Scenario Workshop in Technology Assessment," in Technology and Democracy: The Use and Impact of Technology Assessment in Europe, Proceedings of the 3rd European Congress on Technology Assessment, Copenhagen, 4-7 November 1992, vol. II (Copenhagen: TeknologiNaevnet [Danish Board of Technology], 1992), pp. 446-455; and Penny Street, "Scenario Workshops: A Participatory Approach to Sustainable Urban Living," Futures, vol. 29, no. 2 (1997), pp.139-158. Extensive information about European scenario workshops is also available from the Web site of the European Awareness Scenario Workshop program of the European Commission at <>. The European scenario workshop method discussed here is significantly different from scenario workshops that have originated in the business world; for an accessible introduction to the latter, see Peter Warshall, et al., "Scenarios for the Future," Whole Earth, no. 96 [Spring 1999], pp. 76-111. In the business world, the focus of a scenario workshop tends to be on building several alternative predictive world scenarios, with respect to which participants attempt to craft matching adaptive contingency plans for their corporation. European scenario workshops, in contrast, assume a more malleable, socially constructed world. That is, rather than assume that the world is an external given to which they must adapt, diverse participants strive to craft a common normative vision of what they would like their community or society to become in the future, and then they devise action plans for making their vision come true. [Return to text.]

16. From Morton Elle, Urban Ecology of the Future, trans. Rob Bilderbeek (Copenhagen: Danish Board of Technology, 1993), p. 31; available on the Web at <>. [Return to text.]

17. Barriers to Urban Ecology, Project Publication No. 2/1993 (Copenhagen: TeknologiNaevnet [Danish Board of Technology], 1993). [Return to text.]

18. European Awareness Scenario Workshops: First Meeting of the National Monitors, 23rd of May 1997, Luxembourg (Luxembourg: European Commission Directorate General, 1997); Penny Street, "Scenario Workshops: A Participatory Approach to Sustainable Urban Living," Futures, vol. 29, no. 2 (1997), pp.139-158; Igor Stefan Mayer, Debating Technologies: A Methodological Contribution to the Design and Evaluation of Participatory Policy Analysis (Tilburg, The Netherlands: Tilburg University Press, 1997), p. 102 and chap. 5; and Fleximodo Manual (Delft, The Netherlands: International Institute for the Urban Environment, 1998). [Return to text.]

19. This argument concerning deficiencies in neoclassical welfare economics, cost-benefit analysis, and allied techniques is elaborated in Sclove, Democracy and Technology, (note 7, above), pp. 161-179. [Return to text.]

20. The argument that technologies and societal legislation are functionally analogous species of social structures is worked out in Sclove, Democracy and Technology, (note 7, above), pp. 10-24. [Return to text.]

21. Compare Karl Polanyi's notion that it is essential to "re-embed" the economy in society, rather than allow the economy to become a socially disembedded (i.e., autonomous) force that dictates macro-sociopolitical outcomes. See Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (1949; reprinted Boston: Beacon Press, 1957); Karl Polanyi, Primitive, Archaic and Modern Economies: Essays of Karl Polanyi, George Dalton, ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971); Fred Block and Margaret R. Somers, "Beyond the Economistic Fallacy: The Holistic Social Science of Karl Polanyi," in Theda Skocpol, ed., Vision and Method in Historical Sociology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), pp. 47-84. [Return to text.]

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