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GM PUBLIC DEBATE STEERING BOARD
 
MINUTES OF SIXTH MEETING
 
10.30 TO 13.30, 17 DECEMBER 2002
 
INSTITUTION OF CIVIL ENGINEERS, ONE GREAT GEORGE STREET, LONDON SW1
    UNCONFIRMED

    Present


    Professor Malcolm Grant (Chair)
    Ms Anna Bradley
    Dr Dave Carmichael
    Professor Phil Dale
    Ms Clare Devereux
    Professor Robin Grove-White
    Ms Judith Hann
    Mr Lucian Hudson
    Mr Gary Kass
    Mr Stephen Smith

    Secretariat

    Richard Abel
    Pat Wilson
    Mileva Novkovic

    THE MEETING WAS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC TO OBSERVE

    Apologies


  1. Professor Malcolm Grant welcomed board members and observers from the public to the sixth meeting of the steering board. Professor Maxwell had sent apologies.

    Minutes of the last meeting


  2. The Chair said that unconfirmed minutes had been circulated and published and that comments received had now been incorporated in the version circulated to members prior to the meeting. The board confirmed the amended minutes as a correct record and agreed to their being posted on the website as such.

    Action: secretariat


  3. As there were no matters of report, the Chair turned to the only item of business on the agenda, the debrief from Corr Willbourn from the foundation discussion workshops. He welcomed David Corr and an associate, Sam Surl, from Corr Willbourn.

    Foundation discussion workshops


  4. David Corr explained that he would present the findings from the workshops. There would be issues which could be explored in discussion and perhaps analysed further than in the presentation; and a fuller account would be given in their final report, which would be produced in January. He drew attention to cartoons produced in the workshops, which had been posted around the meeting room.

  5. A copy of Corr Willbourn’s presentation is being published on the GM debate website alongside these minutes.

  6. At the conclusion of his presentation, board members thanked Mr Corr warmly for a fascinating and lucid account. The main conclusions from the workshops can be seen at the end of the presentation. Accepting the conclusions, board members agreed that there was a great deal to think about and absorb from the presentation. Members would reflect on the important findings from the workshops and incorporate them in designing the next phase of the debate. In the ensuing initial discussion among steering board members, the following points were made:

    • in response to a question, David Corr explained that the seven ‘frames’ of debate were derived from people's attitudes and their lived understandings (Mr Corr sent a note clarifying the derivation of the frames, following the meeting, which is appended to these minutes);

    • people’s overriding frame was questions and questioning; but the general public did not demarcate issues and facts into categories of ethics, science, economics, etc, as policymakers and professionals tended to. This had implications for how the work of the strands of the GM dialogue was publicly presented individually and collectively. People approached GM issues through their lived experience (food, my family’s health and future, and the cost to me), not experience of GM as such, or a ‘debate’;

    • people might not know much about the subject but they were very skilled at spotting fudge and people were quite capable of giving views relating to decisions about GM even when they were at the questioning stage;

    • starting from the questions people had rather than taking a didactic approach to providing the information would be a much more effective strategy to engage the general public. Material produced for the debate needed to acknowledge the complexity and inter-relatedness of people’s questions: people did not rank their request for more information in neat lists. Indeed, people would be suspicious of an approach that attempted to gloss over this complexity. People also saw GM as part of a technological continuum with a trajectory of development;

    • it was clear people wanted information. They were happy to hear views from each side of the debate and the design of the stimulus material should reflect this. The general public needed space between the opposing views in order to contribute, however: they would not participate in a shouting match between opposing camps. People did not want to attend public events where a ‘rent-a-mob’ was present and to prevent this phenomenon, some workshop participants had suggested that proof of local residence could be required for local or regional events;

    • only activists were aware that a timescale had been set for the debate programme (participants from the general public were not aware that Government had called for a national debate). The researchers thought that there was a sense among the general public in the workshops that there are big issues around GM and the debate should take time;

    • the concerns people might have in relation to GM did not necessarily correlate into interest in the issues, much less interest in debating them. The term ‘GM’ would get a reaction from most people, however, so it was not a case of starting debate from scratch;

    • the researchers said in response to questioning that calling the exercise a ‘public debate’ implied to people that this was a process that was: extensive, reaching lots of people, albeit not comprehensive; expensive; that fed into decision-making; and that involved the public in discussion rather than politicians and experts. (It was ‘particularly the word ‘public’ rather than ‘debate’ that gave out these signals). People had to feel the exercise mattered or they would not want to take part;

    • the material produced to foster debate had to be populist in the sense of being accessible. The workshops strongly suggested that interactive television would be a good medium, although not the only one. If events and activities were too ‘worthy’ people would turn off. If they started with people’s questions, then they would capture people’s interest;

    • board members agreed that the workshops suggested that both sides of the debate needed to rethink the ways in which they had sought to engage the public up to now. There was an opportunity here for lots of organisations to get involved in fostering debate with renewed energy on the basis of the workshop findings;

    • the public debate - and also the other two strands, had to engage with the questions people had raised. Members of the steering board could work with the other strands to tease out what the questions meant for those strands.


  7. It was agreed that Corr Willbourn would bring forward further examples of the specific questions arising from the workshops, to aid production of stimulus material for debate activities and to provide more material to be taken into account by the other two strands. They would do this quickly, in advance of finalising the whole report. A draft report from the workshops would be sent to the board for comment in mid-January, before the next steering board meeting.

    Action: Corr Willbourn


  8. In the meantime, the Chair invited members to send any further comments on the initial findings to David Corr via the secretariat.

  9. The chair and board members thanked Corr Willbourn warmly for their work. The findings from the workshops would generate real momentum for the public debate.

    Any other business


  10. There was none.

    Next meeting


  11. The next steering board meeting would be held on 21 January at the New Connaught Rooms, 61-65 Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, London WC2B 5DA. It would be open to the public to observe.

    Steering board secretariat
    19 December 2002

    EXPLANATORY NOTE FROM CORR WILLBOURN


    In response to Anna Bradley's question regarding the frames and attitudes I hope the following clarifies the issue:

    To begin with, it is important to re-iterate that the majority of the general public we spoke to are not at all engaged in the issue of GM, and hence do not already frame the issues around GM as such. Of course, when we engaged them in discussion it became very apparent that the public do have many, many latent views, thoughts, feelings etc about it.

    However, even once cathected it is still reasonable to say that the public don't actually frame the issues in any noticeable conscious way. They just have lots of issues. These issues arise from a number of streams, so to speak, but are founded in their lived experience and manifest in a number of attitudes or pre-dispositions.

    The attitudes we noted are not, we believe, unique to the issue of GM. We would expect to see some of these attitudes (passivity, progress, suspicion, possibilities, anxiety, que sera, sera) arise in relation to a number of other topics. Thus the attitudes do not frame the issues but structure the way a person meets the various issues.

    Fundamentally, people frame issues in terms of their own lived experience. For example, most people nowadays are removed from the processes of food production. That is most of us meet food in the supermarket - often being quite oblivious to how the item even got there. Thus people's attitudes to food quality, safety etc are founded in their relationships to supermarkets and shopping much more than they are by any relationship to producers and processors. Thus if we want to engage people in a useful discussion about food we need to start at the supermarket. Of course, the conversation doesn't need to stay there - it can then move on to consider wider aspects of the food production process.

    The same is true of engaging the public about GM - we need to start where and how people live their lives. Naturally, once the conversation moves on to GM we will see the 6 core attitudes we outlined - passivity, progress, suspicion, possibilities, anxiety, que sera, sera - manifesting themselves.

    Attitudes are effectively perceptual biases which allow us to see and think certain things, and cause us to not notice other things - and they often go further by causing us to not notice the fact that we are not noticing!

    It is also crucial to understand that although we outlined the six core attitudes how any one individual manifests the attitude in relation to a specific GM issue will be different. For example, two people may meet the issue of commercialisation of GM crops essentially with the same attitude - say - anxiety. However, one may be anxious primarily about direct health risks, whilst the other is mainly anxious about the loss of old varieties and a potential loss of flavour in GM crops. Thus while we need to be aware of attitudes - as they modulate response to any and all issues, they are not the whole story.

    This is where the frames come in. The seven frames we outlined come from the data but are interpretative. They represent some broad categories which are inclusive of the issues raised by our diverse sample. They are related to people's attitudes and their lived understandings but in a complex rather than simple one-to-one correspondence (i.e. the frame of food cannot be mapped simply onto a single attitude such as suspicion or anxiety - both of these attitudes will play different roles across all seven frames depending on the individual engaging with the issue etc)

    What we are saying is that these frames represent the broad categories we must bear in mind when producing stimulus (or in structuring the debate). Within each of these categories we will see people's core attitudes manifest. And if we want to speak to rather than at people we should ground the content of each frame in people's lived experience.

    David Corr, 18.12.2002

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