22 Mar 2023 Publications

The evolution of public risk perception related to nanotechnologies

Evaluation of how public risk perception evolved

Project Deliverable by BNN
Gov4Nano, Grant Agreement No. 814401  (Topic: NMBP-13-2018 – Risk Governance of nanotechnology (RIA) )
Date of publication: March 2023
Area: Design for Technology Development (DfTD)
BNN team involvement: Susanne Resch, Johanna Scheper, Caitlin Ahern, Beatriz Alfaro, Andreas Falk


The general public and civil society organisations can be sceptical about nanotechnology and its related risks. It is important to identify, analyse and understand their needs in order to address them effectively. In the context of the H2020 project Gov4Nano, BNN focused on characterizing how risk perception emerges in civil society, paying particular attention to how they get their information.

The deliverable entitled Evaluation of how public risk perception evolved from the beginning of the project until the project’s end provides numerous insights for establishing an organisational form for Nano Risk Governance, including what should be considered with respect to public’s perception of risk and how to strengthen the trustworthiness of civil society. It also highlights the role of training and education through various examples.

From 2019 to 2023, several activities were carried out, most of them jointly with Gov4Nano’s NMBP-13 sister projects NANORIGO and RiskGONE. These activities were based on literature reviews, as well as previous experience and expertise of the project partners.

At the initiative of RiskGONE, a joint online public survey on risk perception was launched and analysed, and compared to state-of-the-art literature. Also, a joint stakeholder survey was conducted to determine how to increase the trust of various stakeholders in risk governance.

In addition, education and training activities were conducted to, on the one hand, transfer expert knowledge to the next generation of nano-scientists and raise awareness of risk governance issues among young researchers, and, on the other hand, to assess whether individual risk perception has changed after specific knowledge about the risks and benefits of nanotechnology and its applications has been provided.

Our research showed that the public risk perception towards nanotechnologies has not changed significantly in recent years. Public attention and discussion on the general topic have decreased. When public discussion did arise, it was not focused on nanotechnologies in general, but on a very specific material and application (more or less independently of whether it was “nano”). Nevertheless, it is important to be aware of how public risk perception is built, and how trust in tech governance can be addressed and strengthened by incorporating trust drivers.

Education and training are also important factors that do not directly influence risk perception, but should help laypeople to better understand the complexity of an issue. As safety research evolves and new knowledge becomes available, new approaches should also be applied to risk governance. The organisational form for Nano Risk Governance should monitor and, where appropriate, support training and education activities by providing scientifically sound State-of-the-Art information.


Figure 1. Playing Seeing Nano matching game with BNN at European Researchers’ Night 2022 in St. Pölten, Austria.


In conclusion, regular dialogues with all stakeholders and scientific-based communication using different communication and information channels are key to a future organizational form for Nano Risk Governance.

Get the Gov4Nano Deliverable 3.8: Evaluation of how public risk perception evolved from the beginning of the project until the project’s end from the link below.