Traditionally, the process of risk assessment is undertaken by experts who use a 'sound scientific' approach. Recently, the notion of public participation in assessing risk has grown in popularity as a result of diminishing public confidence in expert-based and quantitative approaches. However, the author argues that public participation remains more often to be seen as something tacked on to the 'real' matter of expert scientific assessment. This article outlines the difficulties and problems of expert risk science and the benefits of including a lay understanding of the issue. In particular, the notions of surprise, diversity and ignorance surrounding a specific topic are often ignored by experts with more narrow perspectives, but may be appreciated by a lay person. The article then discusses the potential in allowing representations of the widest range of perspectives through the use of the 'multi-criteria mapping' (MCM) method. Using the case study of a UK pilot study that used MCM in order make a comparative appraisal of the use of a genetically modified crop (oilseed rape), the author describes how the study was conducted and what issues it raised.
International Institute for Environment and Development