It is widely considered that public acceptance is of utmost importance and a necessary pre-requisite for the sustainable development of nanotechnologies. Public acceptance of nanotechnologies is a complex issue, influenced by the role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the media and civil society groups, and characterisations of public perception often fail to capture the full range of issues or concerns. Nevertheless, over the last decade a number of research initiatives and consumer polls have attempted to gauge public awareness and perception of nanomaterials and nano-enabled products (Gaskell et al 2003; PEN 2007; Harris Interactive 2012; Grobe et al. 2012; BfR 2013).
Overall, it appears that the public are still largely unaware of nanotechnology and its applications. Of those who are aware, nanotechnology is generally seen in a positive light. In general, concerns about the risks of nanotechnology are low and there is some evidence to suggest that these may be decreasing further. However, the potential for a significant change in public opinion, due to the way in which nanotechnologies are portrayed by the media and NGOs or as the result of a single negative event, remains high.
Numerous initiatives are underway to promote interaction between institutions and the public, but what is stressed most is that risk communication strategies should involve “early” or “upstream” public engagement. This gives the public the opportunity to inform and shape the direction of research and development and helps to generate and maintain trust and confidence in new technologies.