The meta‐governance of risk and new technologies: GM crops and mobile telephones

John Walls, Tim O'Riordan, Tom Horlick‐Jones, Jörg Niewöhner

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50 Citations (Scopus)


The stylistic shift from government to governance in the regulation of risks associated with new technologies is often portrayed as an attempt to reach a deeper consensus over public controversies and to avoid future risk management failures. Stakeholder involvement in decision-making through more inclusive and learning styles is seen as increasingly necessary in order to correct the steering deficit of the state, to rebuild trust in state institutions, and to obviate problems caused by uncertainty and different value perspectives in risk assessments. In this paper we scrutinise this model of risk and governance in the light of recent developments in the UK, focusing in particular on the regulation of genetically modified crops and mobile telecommunications technology. We conclude that the shift to governance is best understood in terms of the accommodative response of the state to a number of new challenges: primarily posed by the changing role of the private sector; by pressures on government to engender public trust in the face of shifting social values; and by the related difficulty in taking decisions with confidence and legitimacy. There is a perceived need within government for a more deliberative approach to regulation and standard-setting, achieved by a creative combination of managed scientific order and the establishment of deliberative cooperative institutions. However the creation of deliberative mechanisms and institutions is not an easy passage, especially if it is accelerated by uncontrollable political events. Indeed, we caution against romantic interpretations of governance as indicating a uniform popular trend towards the democratisation of state decision-making, despite the very real opportunities for reform that it affords. Rather, we suggest that a more plausible account is provided by seeing governance as a form of adaptive management necessitated by a series of interlocking economic and social changes, and responses to successive risk management crises.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)635-661
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Risk Research
Issue number7-8
Publication statusPublished - 2005

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