Technology Assessment for Parliaments – Towards Reflexive Governance of Innovation

Danielle Bьtschi and Mara Almeida

Abstract: Bьtschi and Almeida explore TA's importance for policy making today, taking into consideration parliamentarians' needs and expectations. The chapter highlights the challenges policy makers have to face when dealing with science, technology and innovation and discuss how TA can address them at an institutional level. These challenges go beyond the complexity

of STI policy issues. Globalization challenges policy making on science and innovation as issues spill over national boundaries. As innovation is increasingly expected to foster growth and employment, policy making has to foster innovation and mitigate risks. And last but not least, the financial crisis is challenging parliamentary democracy with top-down fiscal crisis policies. This is where the advanced dialogical and transdisciplinary practices of TA may add value that other advisory practices cannot.

Klьver, Lars, Rasmus Шjvind Nielsen, and Marie Louise Jшrgensen, eds. Policy-Oriented Technology Assessment Across Europe: Expanding Capacities. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. doi: 10.1057/9781137561725.0013.

Science, technology and innovation play an increasingly important role in national and European political agendas. In times of economic and financial crisis, policies in support of research and innovation are being considered as key elements for economic growth and competitiveness, supporting the prominence of innovation in the policy agenda of many countries and of the European Union. At the same time, science and technology developments are challenging existing public policies and legislation due to the impact that they may have in terms of environmental sustainability or social equality. For instance, advances in biomedicine and information technology are leading to ambitious and powerful innovations which will affect health-care systems in Europe. Surveillance technologies used to increase national security may pose problems in terms of data protection and privacy.

The expanding role of science and technology in policy making challenges the role of parliaments in democracy. It becomes increasingly difficult for parliaments to assume responsibility in any meaningful way for the regulation of new technological developments supported by governmental policies. Scientific and technological developments are often of very complex and technical in nature and take place as part of globalized processes where changes occur on a scale that reaches far beyond day-to-day politics. Recent debates and controversies on stem cells, human cloning, genetic testing or nanotechnologies are only a few examples of the difficulties that parliaments face when addressing science and technology developments and related issues.

In this chapter, we discuss how technology assessment (TA) and closely related ('TA-like') approaches can support parliaments in science and technology governance. Alongside Grunwald (2011), we shall argue that TA can contribute to policy making on science and technology 'by integrating any available knowledge on possible side effects, by supporting the evaluation of technologies according to societal values and ethical principles, by elaborating strategies to deal with inevitable uncertainties, and by contributing to constructive solutions of societal conflicts around science and technology'. We shall state that TA is a particularly effective approach to addressing the range of global issues which spill over the borders of nation states, and the chapter calls for parliaments and other policy actors to foster the deployment of TA activities across Europe.

We base our discussion on exchanges made in two parliamentary TA debates that involve parliamentarians and policy makers from across Europe, facilitated by the PACITA project. [1] The aim of these debates was to build a common understanding of the role of TA for parliaments in Europe and to discuss further developments of TA activities. Parliamentarians and policy makers who attended the debates stressed the importance of having structured knowledge regarding new technologies that takes into account the scientific aspects as well as the interests and values present in society so as to support processes of policy making. They also defended the pooling of TA efforts across Europe – for instance, through an association that involves a large set of institutions or research groups performing TA (or TA-like) activities. Such an association could carry out concrete activities such as conferences, cross-European projects or exchange programmes for TA staffers, which would constitute an essential step towards the deployment and strengthening of TA policy advice in Europe.

  • [1] A first debate was held at the Danish Parliament in June 2012 (Bütschi, 2012), and a second debate took place at the Portuguese Parliament in April 2014 (Bütschi, 2014).
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