Background: Experience with public engagement activities regarding the risks and benefits of science and technology (S&T) is growing, especially in the industrialized world. However, public engagement in the developing world regarding S&T risks and benefits to explore health issues has not been widely explored.
Methods: This paper gives an overview about public engagement and related concepts, with a particular focus on challenges and benefits in the developing world. We then describe an Internet-based platform, which seeks to both inform and engage youth and the broader public on global water issues and their health impacts. Finally, we outline a possible course for future action to scale up this and similar online public engagement platforms.
Results: The benefits of public engagement include creating an informed citizenry, generating new ideas from the public, increasing the chances of research being adopted, increasing public trust, and answering ethical research questions. Public engagement also fosters global communication, enables shared experiences and methodology, standardizes strategy, and generates global viewpoints. This is especially pertinent to the developing world, as it encourages previously marginalized populations to participate on a global stage. One of the core issues at stake in public engagement is global governance of science and technology. Also, beyond benefiting society at large, public engagement in science offers benefits to the scientific enterprise itself.
Conclusion: Successful public engagement with developing world stakeholders will be a critical part of implementing new services and technologies. Interactive engagement platforms, such as the Internet, have the potential to unite people globally around relevant health issues.