The Nanotechnology Public Engagement Programme (NPEP) is an initiative funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and implemented by SAASTA, a business unit of the National Research Foundation (NRF). The programme was born of the government’s National Nanotechnology Strategy (NNS). Launched in early 2008, the main objective of the NPEP is to enable effective dissemination of information targeted at enhancing the public’s knowledge and understanding of nanotechnology and also creates a ‘climate’ that is favourable for public knowledge and education to enable informed decision making on nanotechnology innovations so as to improve the quality of life. NPEP further assists in the translation of academic research in nanotechnology for the consumption of the public, industry and the policy makers and therefore being a service to these diverse groups of stakeholders.
Just as in every technology, public acceptance of nanotechnology is the key when it comes to commercially developed nanotechnology products because ultimately, it is the end-users who will influence the trajectory of nanotechnology. It is inevitable that public perception of nanotechnology will be shaped by the news and information that the public receives about the technology, informing their attitude and behaviour towards it. This makes it necessary that adequate information about the technology is timeously provided to educate and enable the public to make informed decisions. Their involvement at this early stage is thus, imperative.
It is for this reason, among others, that the National Strategy has identified one of the key initiatives in supporting the vision of the strategy as ensuring that the implementation of the strategy occurs in a manner that fosters open debate and public access to information. This, therefore, necessitated the development of a communication programme, to inform, educate and engage the public with nanotechnology and its potential societal impact.