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Lessons learned: Implications for the democratic governance of S&T

Defining TA in relational terms opens up a new way of understanding TA and leads to a new way of questioning TA and both its role and impact in the way that modern society deals with S&T. This section explores what implications our new approach has for the future of TA and, more generally, for the democratic governance of S&T. We believe that this set of lessons is relevant not only to the TA community but also to all kinds of TA-like activities, one important instance being the responsible research and innovation (RRI) activities that will be developed in the context of Horizon 2020.

The lessons learned are structured by the three key elements of our model: (1) connecting to four societal spheres; (2) making connections on the micro-, meso-, and macro-levels; and (3) making connection by means of interaction mechanisms. Our reflections have led to nine lessons.

table 1.1 Key elements of the relational model of TA and related research issues and lessons learned

Connecting to four spheres

Characterizing PTA

Research within the PACITA project shows 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. As we saw earlier, the mapping process in the PACITA project identified five distinct TA models that are currently operational in practice in the field of PTA. The PACITA research thus confirms that it makes sense – both conceptually as well as practically – to talk about PTA in terms of its relationship to four spheres – parliament, government, society, and S&T. Moreover, PTA can and does play out in many different forms, and these forms can all be effective in their own manner. Consequently, the following two lessons can be drawn:

Lesson 1: Understanding TA in informational and relational terms

From both a conceptual and a practical point of view, it is important to understand TA both in informational terms (as a form of science-based policy advice) and in relational terms. According to the relational view, it is essential to consider the relationships of knowledge sharing and trust that TA organizations build up and maintain with different societal spheres, such as parliament, government, society, and S&T.

Lesson 2: TA can effectively play out in many institutional and organizational forms

Each of the models identified in the study can be effective in a specific context.

Bridging PTA and non-PTA countries, and PTA and TA countries

Our model has been developed to characterize TA institutes. As a result, the model can be used to typify TA organizations that either do or do not have a parliament as one of their clients. This is illustrated by the Austrian TA organization ITA, which was characterized as 'shared governmentscience involvement in TA'. Our model thus creates an intellectual level playing field between PTA and TA organizations, and also between PTA and non-PTA countries, and even TA and non-TA countries. Creating such an intellectual level playing field has been a major drive behind the PACITA project because it is a necessary condition for mutual learning between PTA and non-PTA countries, which was the key objective of PACITA. Our inclusive model acknowledges the similarities between the various types of TA – ranging from parliamentary towards constructive TA and even non-institutionalized forms of TA – and enables us to study the similarities and differences between the various TA organizations and their activities. Based on this argument, we draw two further lessons:

Lesson 3: Intellectual level playing field is needed between PTA, non-PTA, and TA

The relational conception of TA creates an intellectual level playing field between PTA and non-PTA countries, between PTA and TA organizations, and treats various types of TA-like activities on an equal footing. This is a necessary condition for stimulating a mutual learning process between different countries, organizations, and TA-like activities. This perspective is also needed to show the added value of TA within the broader network of S&T governance activities.

Lesson 4: When setting up new TA organizations, consider the whole institutional possibility space

Since TA can play out in many different forms and since each can be effective in a specific context (see lesson 2), countries with an interest in setting up TA are encouraged to consider the whole 'possibility space' in order to select the model that is particularly suited to their political and societal demands and their institutional contexts.

TA and the governance of S&T

TA plays a role in the broader challenge of the democratic governance of S&T. Since our model treats various types of TA institutes and various types of TA-like activities on an equal footing, it opens up possibilities to study to what extent various TA institutes within a national or international setting can complement each other. In order to understand the complexities of the governance of S&T, there is a strong need to reflect on the interaction between the various research and engagement processes in the various social spheres and to reflect on the organizational and institutional constraints that these processes encounter. Such a comprehensive approach is especially needed to get to grips with the particular added value of TA within the broader national network of S&T governance activities.

Lesson 5: Acknowledge the organizational and institutional constraints that the governance of S&T may face

In order to understand the complexities of the governance of S&T, we need to reflect on the interaction between the various research and engagement processes in the various social spheres and to reflect on the organizational and institutional constraints that these processes encounter.

Long-term institutional dynamics and adaptability

Appreciating the dynamics of TA on the institutional level is crucial for the future of TA, with regard to creating new institutions and maintaining existing institutions or adapting them to new political demands. Our model makes it possible to study the institutional development of a TA organization over a long period of time. The PACITA project shows that we need to take into account a long-term perspective to get to grips with that process. For example, it was found that in many countries the political debate about setting up PTA took a long time, often more than a decade. Moreover, existing institutes may radically or gradually change their institutional position.

Lesson 6: TA institutes need to adapt to changing demands

Over a longer period of time, the political and societal demands for TA change. In order to survive, existing TA organizations have to adapt to these changing circumstances. The 'space of possibility' offers ample opportunities for such adaptation. For example, a country may first set up a TA organization and later on gradually develop its PTA capacity, by building up stronger relationships with parliament and include parliamentary TA types of activities.

Making connections on the micro-, meso-, and macro-levels

Our model stresses that the relationships between the TA organization and the various social spheres are developed and maintained on three levels, each of which has its specific features and dynamics. Up till now, most research efforts have been put towards understanding and mapping the relationship between PTA and parliament on the institutional level. The country reports of the PACITA project (PACITA 2012) is one of the first attempts to get to grips with how the relationship between PTA and the parliamentary process is shaped on the project level. Although these, often personal, contacts on the practical level often have a major effect on the impact of PTA, these types of activities of a PTA institution are rarely mapped or reflected upon. And how contacts between PTA and parliament are shaped on the organizational level is well known for PTA organizations that work very close with parliament, but they are far less known for the PTA organizations that operate at a distance to parliament. In addition, even less is known about the way in which PTA organizations set up and maintain relationships with the other three social spheres: government, S&T, and society. Here another complexity pops up in that these spheres consist of networks of organizations. It would be valuable to have more knowledge about to what extent and in what way a TA organization organizes and maintains its connections with various clusters of organizations (e.g. different governmental institutions.

Lesson 7: Foster relationships on the institutional, organizational, and project levels

Relationships between TA organizations and the various social spheres are developed and maintained on the institutional, organizational, and project levels. So far, literature on PTA institutions has focused on the institutional relationship between PTA organizations and parliaments, and too little attention has been given to the relationships of such organizations with the other social spheres and how contacts are shaped on the organizational and project levels.

Organizational and institutional conditions for successful TA projects

The description of TA methods often focuses on the project level. Our model implies that the impact of a certain method will also depend on institutional and organizational conditions. This dependency has received little attention from both scholars and policy makers. Most methodological descriptions take for granted that a TA organization with the proper human capacity and skills exists to perform the method and that such an organization has the proper institutional mandate to perform the method. This, however, is not the case, neither on the national nor on the international level.

An important question that will be addressed is: if a particular TA method developed at the national level is used on the European political level, then to what extent does the impact of that method depend on well-developed relationships between TA and the political system on an institutional and organizational level?

At the moment, the notion of responsible research and innovation (RRI) politically frames, enables, and constrains contemporary discourse on how to properly enact the democratic governance of innovation. In the context of Horizon 2020, many TA-like RRI activities will be sponsored and set up. Also, in this context, it is important to address not only methodological questions, but also questions about the organizational and institutional conditions needed to guarantee a proper impact of those activities.

Lesson 8: Improve the institutional and organizational conditions for success of TA-like activities

The policy impact of a certain TA method will depend not only on the quality of the method and the result but also on whether well-developed relationships exist between TA and the political and governmental sphere, both on the organizational level and on the institutional level. It is important to strive for such conditions in case of TA-like RRI activities that are sponsored in the context of Horizon 2020.

Understanding interaction mechanisms

Many TA organizations, in particular PTA institutions profile themselves as independent organizations. By taking a relational perspective, our model stresses that creating and maintaining bonds with clients and other relevant actors is crucial for being relevant and having an impact. By acknowledging the dependence of TA on the four social spheres, the way in which interactions between TA and the four social spheres are exactly shaped on the three levels that we distinguished becomes an important research issue. In other words, it is relevant to open up the black box of the interaction between TA and parliament, government, S&T, and society and to study the interaction mechanism used by TA organizations. So the crucial challenge for TA organizations therefore is to deliver independent, trustworthy forms of science-based policy advice and maintain good relationships with the various social spheres at the same time. In this way, independent advice, good relationships, and impact on policy can all be achieved in the long run

Lesson 9: Acknowledge the dependence of TA, in order to achieve independent advice with an impact

The challenge for TA organizations is to deliver independent, trustworthy, science-based advice and at the same time establish good relationships with the various social spheres.

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