Building for the long haul: Knowledge, human capital, institutions
Wednesday 27 July 2011, 10:30am - 11:50am


Can the Tarrytown Meetings initiative address what is needed not just over the next two to three years, but over the next two to three decades? Does academic and civil society focus on pressing, near-term problems place us too much in reactive mode, with the risk that we will miss the forest for the trees? This panel involved younger actors and scholars working at the seam of academia and civil society, and will explore the following thesis:

“Enabling robust intellectual and political engagement with the life sciences over the next three decades will require collective investment in three “pillars:” (1) building knowledge and expertise, not just outreach; (2) fostering the next generation of thinkers and professional opportunities for them; and (3) enriching the ecology of institutions.

I.  Knowledge: Building: capacity for rich engagement with biotech will require identifying and deepening understanding of the major currents underlying socio-technological change. What are the cross-cutting and recurring challenges that we will face over the next three decades in governance of the life sciences? What can we see when we step back from specific technological domains and look at systemic dimensions: at regulatory institutions and cultures, at politics, at social movements, at law? How do resolutions in one domain shape modes of governance in others? How are markets, individuals, and collectives being refigured around technological controversy in ways that transcend—and may outlast—those technologies? How are models of the human, ideas of the collective good and notions of moral and political community rearticulated around scientific and technological domains like neuroscience, pharmacogenomics, etc.? Who is imagining the technological future, and on the basis of what authority? How can these complex, cross-cutting, long dureé developments be best understood such that interventions can be made?

III.  Human Capital: These challenges require the sustained attention of a diverse community of experts who dedicate their lives and careers to them. These knowledge problems are complex and require time, resources and know-how to be properly addressed. Furthermore, expertise built on the foundation of robust knowledge is a tremendous strategic asset. With appropriate forms of expertise, the community can much more effectively colonize or frontally challenge centers of power. How can young scholars and actors get the training they need to make a real difference—in government, in law, in civil society, in the sciences, in industry and in academia— and how can we enrich the array of career opportunities for them? What commitments must be made, and what infrastructure must be built to do the slow and hard work of channelling individual moral commitment into professional skills and expertise? What stepping-stones must be set to provide young people with pathways to life-time long careers as actors in these domains?

II.  Institutions: While technology-specific problems come and go, institutional and regulatory arrangements have a much longer half-life. They shape how questions are asked, to whom they are delegated, and how they are resolved. To understand these processes in our domains of concern, we must understand the institutions in which they play out. What institutions are most influential in shaping the human future, and what are the opportunities for meaningful engagement in those processes? What forms of power and authority do they represent? What notions of democracy, of government, of individual and collective rights do they represent? How and on what authority do they claim to stand in for the public? How can institutions be strategically challenged, altered and improved to make better collective decisions about biotechnology? How can the other pillars—knowledge and human capital—be harnessed to engender sustained and lasting institutional reorientations?

Panel details

  • 35 minutes | 10-min presentations on the questions
  • 45 minutes | Discussion & and whiteboarding / collecting ideas in these areas; discussion of possible whitepapers, reports and articles