Institutional policy learning and public consultation: the Canadian xenotransplantation experience

Soc Sci Med. 2011 Sep;73(5):655-62. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.06.041. Epub 2011 Jul 23.


Attempts to evaluate public consultations, participatory technology assessment, and deliberative democracy have typically considered impacts on either policy or participants. The determination of impacts on policy institutions has been limited due to the challenges of tracing effects through the policy process, or penetrating bureaucratic walls. This paper presents findings from a retrospective study exploring the institutional lessons learned from a 2001 Canadian national public consultation on xenotransplantation. The consultation was conducted through an arm's-length process and involved the use of citizen juries in six regional sites. We conducted in-depth interviews of regulatory and policy actors who were engaged in early policy discussions and the consultation process. We reviewed evaluations of this process, both internal and external, which gave us richer insights into what institutional actors saw as the impacts of this consultative experience on their policy environment. Participants in our research identified a broader shift toward openness in policy culture which they linked specifically to the innovative consultation process employed for xenotransplantation. We argue that beyond input into policy decisions, a consultation may have an impact in terms of its contribution to overall shifts in institutional culture (related to institutional learning), such as an "opening" of technological decision processes to a broader range of actors, knowledge, and values.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administrative Personnel
  • Animals
  • Canada
  • Community Participation
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Learning*
  • National Health Programs
  • Organizational Policy*
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Technology Assessment, Biomedical
  • Tissue Donors / supply & distribution
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement
  • Transplantation, Heterologous*