The framework: TA understood in informational and relational terms

TA can be described in both informational and relational terms. On the one hand, the informational view characterizes TA practices based on the particular knowledge that they generate, namely knowledge about the societal aspects of S&T. The relational approach, on the other hand, starts with the insight that the TA field owes its continuing existence and position to support from its clientele. Our framework combines the two approaches based on the understanding that the informational and relational aspects go hand in hand. In support of this framework and adding to existing knowledge on TA, we try in the following first of all to come to grips with the relational aspects of TA.

Modelling TA in relational terms

Understanding TA in relational terms implies taking full account of the position that TA occupies in a social network (e.g. a governance network at regional, national, or European level) and acknowledging that various bonds enable and constrain the activities of organizations performing 'TA-like' functions. To create an evidence base for analyzing these relational factors, we scrutinized the interaction between existing PTA organizations and various social actors (Van Est and Ganzevles, 2012, Ganzevles et al., 2014, PACITA, 2014). The following four societal 'spheres' were defined to group actors in the institutional landscape around PTA organizations: parliament, government, civil society, and S&T. The choice of these four spheres was dictated by the most common characteristics of European PTA. For PTA organizations, their institutional linkage with parliament is of primary importance. Government, however, may also play a crucial role – for example, as a sponsor but also a recipient of advice. In addition, relationships with civil society (in the case of public participatory TA) may play an important role in the practice of PTA. And since PTA is ultimately about governing S&T, the model could not have done without the inclusion of S&T as a societal sphere. Of course, these choices do not imply in any way that other spheres such as media, industry and business are not relevant in many ways to TA in general.

To map existing models in terms of their relations with the four selected societal spheres, PTA organizations were asked to express the involvement of each of the four social in percentages. The results show that PTA organizations indeed establish and maintain multiple relationships with the four discerned social spheres. PTA organizations differ from each other to the extent that they interact (on the institutional, organizational, and project levels) with the four distinct social spheres. Out of the fifteen theoretically conceivable interaction models, the mapping process in the PACITA project identified five distinct PTA models that are currently operational in Europe.

figure 1.1 Four spheres involved in the relation model of PTA

figure 1.2 Currently operational models of (P)TA

We studied the linkages between TA and the four distinguished social spheres on three (interconnected) levels: institutional, organizational, and project. The macro-level or institutional-level concerns the political support for a TA organization that has the parliament as one of its main (formal) clients. It also concerns the way in which TA is legitimized and framed as an institutional solution for the governance of, often societally controversial, developments in research and innovation. The meso-level, or organizational level, concerns the politics of shaping and controlling the TA organization that has the task to perform PTA. Finally, the micro-level, or project level, relates to doing TA. Issues at this level are as follows: choices about the framing of the topic, choices between kinds of method, and strategies for establishing communication between the project and parliament or other recipients.. Our modelling of TA in relational terms is founded on the notion of informational interaction mechanisms, loosely defined as communicative procedures or routines on the institutional, organizational, and project levels for enabling and constraining the involvement of actors from the above-mentioned four social spheres in shaping the practice of TA. We discern nine interaction mechanisms: client, funding, evaluation committee, board, working program, project staff, project team, project participatory methods, and project revising and/or reviewing. While the first five interaction mechanisms play out on the institutional and/or organizational levels, the latter four all play out on the project level.

In the following pages, this framework is applied to three different cases, illustrating how the relational conceptualizing of TA(-like) activities may help to analyse the process of institutional pathfinding and adjustment, as well as institutional issues that underlie concrete TA projects.

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