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In a ballroom at the Arizona Science Center one afternoon in 2017, more than 70 Phoenix residents—students, teachers, nurses, and retirees—gathered around tables to participate in a public forum about how cities can respond to extreme weather such as heat waves. Each table was covered in colorful printouts with a large laminated poster resembling a board game. Milling between the tables were decisionmakers from local government and the state. All were taking part in a deliberative process called participatory technology assessment, or pTA, designed to break down the walls between “experts” and citizens to gain insights into public policy dilemmas involving science, technology, and uncertainty.

Foreshadowing their varied viewpoints and experiences, participants prepared differently for the “extreme weather” of the heavily air conditioned ballroom, with some gripping cardigans around their shoulders while others were comfortable in tank tops. Extreme heat is something all the participants were familiar with—Phoenix is one of the hottest cities in the country—but not everyone understood the unequal way that heat and related deaths affect different parts of the Valley of the Sun. Though a... see more