Between heterogeneity and cooperation: the (electronuclear)scenario as a ‘boundary object’ for decision-making?

Stéphanie Tillement

This paper is based on an interdisciplinary research (social sciences & physics) conducted in the framework of PrISE (Interdisciplinary research project on Electronuclear Scenarios) funded by French NEEDS program. In the continuity of research collaborations initiated in 2014, this project questions the link between scenario (especially electronuclear scenario), and decision-making processes, in the French case. More precisely, we aim at as a tool and a collective process, and, at the scientific, technological and perhaps more importantly political decisions regarding nuclear power and more broadly energy production. Indeed, the implication of the political sphere in the construction and evaluation of scenario and their relationships with communities of practices involved in scenario-making (industrials, academics…) were ‘blind spots’ of previous researches (Tillement et al., 2015, Tillement, 2016). To address this question, we adopt an original methodology based on the organization of focus-groups. In contrast to traditional methods in social sciences, focus-groups enable to structure collective discussions on a specific topic. For now, we organized three focus-groups gathering representatives of three different communities of practices, involved, more or less directly, in scenario- and decision-making processes: 1) “Politics”; 2) “Engineering and Industry”; 3) “Academics”. From the analysis of these focus-groups, we propose in this communication to consider the scenario as a “boundary object” (Star, 2010) that sometimes helps to cross inter-occcupational boundaries and sometimes reinforce those boundaries. On the one hand, scenarios supports knowledge transfers and translation between communities of practices and appears flexible enough to enable different groups to work together without prior consensus or shared goals. On the other hand, scenarios can be ‘instrumentalised’ to serve one particular message or built in a way that makes them very ‘opaque’ or too complex to support any decisions. In these last cases, scenarios rather tend to reinforce boundaries. The political arena in particular appears very far from scenarios and political decisions do not seem motivated by scenarios, for cognitive as well as strategic reason. We conclude with some limitations and avenues for future research.
[1] S. Tillement. Electronuclear and socio-economic scenarios: building Generation IV nuclear power plants decision-making processes, Techincal Workshop: Nuclear Fuel Cycle, Paris, 2016.
[2] S. Tillement, B. Journé, N. Thiolliere et B. Mouginot. Le choix des réacteurs du futur: échelles de temps des scénarios électronucléaires, In Le nucléaire au prisme du temps, Presses des Mines, 2015.