Information for G01295
The issue of framing and consensus conferences (PLA 40)
The consensus conference, at least in the form currently practised in countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands, and, to a lesser extent, in the UK, is an enquiry involving 10-16 citizens who are charged with addressing a socially controversial topic after meeting an expert panel in the subject. However, the concept was originally developed in a different context.
In 1976, the United States Congress became alarmed at the rapid increase in health care costs. In response, the National Institutes of Health established a new mechanism to identify and assess the safety and efficacy of new medical technologies. These ‘consensus development conferences’ generally focused on a specific technology, such as magnetic resonance imaging or dental implants. The conferences were exclusively composed of experts and, after three or four full days of deliberation, would produced a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the technology in question, including full references, an assessment of the quality of the data available and an explanation of the way in which differences of opinion were resolved. The model became widely used, not just in the US, but in European countries, such as Sweden and the Netherlands. By 1995, over 100 medical consensus conferences had taken place in Europe, including ten in the UK and a similar number in Denmark, France and Finland.
This article was published in PLA 40: Deliberative Democracy and Citizen Empowerment (February 2001). Participatory Learning and Action (PLA, formerly PLA Notes) is the world's leading series on participatory learning and action approaches and methods. PLA publishes articles on participation aimed at practitioners, researchers, academics, students and activists. All articles are peer-reviewed by an international editorial board.