Case 3: Placing a TA project in a cross-national context

The relational model can usefully be applied to concrete TA projects. The PACITA sub-project 'Future Panel on Public Health Genomics' had a transnational approach and involved a consortium of organizations from both PTA and non-PTA countries. It made use of the Future Panel method, in which, from the very start, a panel of MPs (the Future Panel) co-determines the research agenda, together with a broad range of experts and guided by TA specialists. In the PACITA experiment, the Future Panel method was used in a cross-European context. In this sense, the project was truly a methodological experiment (see Chapter 6).

Analysing this project at the micro (project) level, the meso (organizational) level, and the macro (institutional) level enables us to highlight some essential connections between these three levels and formulate some lessons for the future use of TA methods in a cross-national context. We learn that there is therefore a need for more knowledge about how the relational basis is established for TA in networks of organizations and on the transnational level.

At the project level, an important aim of the sub-project was to support evidence-based policy making on Public Health Genomics (PHG). However, it turned out to be difficult to connect the evidence base provided on a range of issues related to PHG to the European political and policy debate in a constructive way. The Future Panel consisted of MPs from different national parliaments, who had to discuss policy issues and options concerning PHG on a European level. Accordingly, the research and policy agenda that evolved in the PACITA project did not always match the political issues and the context, which members of the Future Panel, and members of the task team had to face on the national level. This gap between the national and European political agenda also limited the opportunities for dissemination of the project results, at both the European level and the national level.

At the organizational level, the close cooperation between established (P)TA institutions and organizations in countries without such institutions presented some practical challenges. These challenges, however, were taken into account to stimulate mutual learning and are discussed in Chapter 6. The cross-national dimension of these challenges, however, needs special attention. Within the PACITA project, the relational TA perspective was applied to clarify the interactions between one particular organization and the various identified social spheres: parliament, government, society, and S&T. But the team responsible for the Future Panel on PHG was not drawn from one organization with a clear position in the 'possibility space' of TA at the European level. In fact, the team was deliberately composed of members who represent organizations with different positions in that possibility space. There is a clear lack of knowledge about how TA projects are set up in cross-national networks of organizations.

At the institutional level, the institutional conditions for effectively connecting the project results to policy making were not in place. Future Panel members were invited as individual MPs, with no formal appointment by their respective parliaments. As a result, the connection between the project results and the respective parliaments was not very robust. And although funding was in place, it was not clear who the client actually was. We think that this is also true for many other FP7-funded projects. Many European Commission–instigated experiments revolve around the possibility of cross-European TA-like activities (Barland et al., 2012). One might argue that the EC is the client since it funds the projects and since EC-funded projects typically involve reporting in the form of sending deliverables with the project results to the EC. Our way of looking at TA presents a more involved type of client, either on the project, organizational, or institutional level. This raises the question of whether the proper institutional conditions are in place to truly connect the outcomes of EC-funded cross-European TA-like activities to policy making.

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