I Expanding Technology Assessment


Seeing Technology Assessment with New Eyes

Rinie van Est, Michael Nentwich, Jurgen Ganzevles and Andrй Krom

Abstract: Van Est et al. present a 'relational' model for analysing technology assessment (TA) institutions. Expanding on metaphor of TA as a bridge between science, society and policy, the authors describe how such bridges are established in terms of network relations. European TA institutions in various ways link parliaments and governments with civil society and science. In part, TA projects provide such linkages, but importantly, TA institutions in themselves also provide informal personal links between societal spheres. With

in-depth examples from different European member states, Van Est et al. provide institutional entrepreneurs with rich material for imagining institutional TA arrangements that might fit within their own national arenas.

Klьver, Lars, Rasmus Шjvind Nielsen, and Marie Louise Jшrgensen, eds. Policy-Oriented Technology Assessment Across Europe: Expanding Capacities. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. doi: 10.1057/9781137561725.0010.

Creating institutional platforms for technology assessment (TA) has proved possible via different nationally specific pathways. In examining these pathways, previous reflections on the institutionalization of TA have focused on the relationships between TA institutions and national parliaments. However, movements both internal and external to TA mean that relations to other societal spheres have gained increasing importance for many TA institutions. In order to provide insight into the full range of possible institutional arrangements for delivering policyoriented TA services, we provide a model for the network relations that help to create and sustain TA institutions. We then draw out implications for the design of S&T governance.

A relational framework allows for a better understanding of technology assessment and its role within the complex of institutional relations underpinning the governance of science and technology (S&T) in society. Understanding TA in relational terms implies taking full account of the position that TA occupies in a social network (e.g. a governance network) and acknowledging that various bonds enable and constrain the activities of organizations performing 'TA-like' functions. We apply this model to existing TA institutions and develop a typology of ways that TA may evidently fit within national institutional contexts. Our motivation is to help institutional entrepreneurs and political supporters of emerging TA platforms to imagine arrangements that will fit their specific national arenas. We seek to provide evidence of the relations between TA, other public institutions, and other societal sectors in order to guide strategic processes of network-building around the promotion of national TA capacities. Moreover, we argue that TA can and should be seen as a necessary part of democratic S&T governance.

The model expands upon a long-standing metaphor for TA as a provider of 'bridges between science, society and policy' (Decker and Ladikas, 2004). The model concretely maps the relationships between existing parliamentary technology assessment (PTA) institutions and four societal 'spheres' involved in S&T governance, namely parliaments, governments, S&T, and (civil) society. The mapping takes into account a range of mechanisms of interaction between these spheres, distributed on a macro (institutional), meso (organizational) and micro (project) levels. The model thereby illustrates how (P)TA functions in terms of information exchange and relational trust-building between different societal actors.

Comparing the results of our case studies, it is clear that 'parliamentary TA' is much broader than the label suggests. While parliament remains an essential base for most existing policy-oriented TA organizations, building and maintaining credibility towards actors within government, S&T, and society in the broad sense is important for operating effectively and with legitimacy – even for TA offices nested inside parliaments. Five different organizational variants of TA are currently operational where different weight is given to each of these societal spheres. There are thus many strategies to pursue in countries that want to establish TA-like support functions, and the material provided here will help to make the best of the opportunity structures that exist in each individual country.

Lessons learned, relevant to promoters of TA-like arrangements, include:

� Acknowledge the dependence of TA in order to achieve independent advice with an impact

� Consider the whole institutional possibility space when setting up

new TA organizations

� Foster relationships on the institutional, organizational, and project


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