Technology assessment in a globalized world

Globalization has broadened the range of issues which spill over the borders of nation states and require international norm setting and regulation. This concerns a wide array of contemporary issues, such as poverty, environmental pollution, financial crisis, organized crime, terrorism and privacy protection. Similarly, scientific and technological developments are increasingly transnational in nature and cannot be addressed at the national level only. The governance of nanotechnologies, for instance, is strongly influenced by supranational institutions – such as the OECD, the European Commission or the European Parliament. In other domains, such as climate change, international organizations such as the United Nations have a strong coordination role in terms of goal settings and action. But this globalization of politics does not mean that nation states are disappearing. Many global issues still need local action and decisions, and they are viewed differently from country to country because of the culturally embedded character of both knowledge and policy (Jasanoff, 2005). For example, several European member states are developing their own policies and regulations relative to nanotechnologies, and recently the European Parliament decided to leave it to each country to decide if they want to authorize the culture of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In the domain of climate change, it is also up to each country to fix its own objectives and set of actions. Other topics such as ageing society, which many countries have to deal with, also need country-specific solutions, related to the national legal system and cultural characteristics.

Technology assessment has long recognized the importance of addressing the global and cross-border dimensions of science, technology and innovation so as to provide adequate and meaningful advice on the contemporary challenges of our societies. In 1987 the Science and Technology Options Assessment Panel (STOA) was created to carry out expert-based, independent assessments of the impact of new technologies and to identify long-term, strategic policy options useful to the European Parliament. The European Parliamentary Technology Assessment network (EPTA) was established in 1990 by TA institutes willing to exchange their practices and to bridge the global dimension of science and technology with the specific context of national policy making. Since its establishment, the network regularly invites parliamentarians from European countries to discuss key scientific and technological trends, and it elaborates reports that synthesize the work of its members on specific science and technology issues. [1] Cross-European projects that are implemented within the PACITA project represent a more structured and institutionalized way of providing cross-border and supranational policy advice to both national parliaments and the European institutions (see Chapter 5 and Part II). In such cross-European projects, a common issue is addressed in several countries through the same questions and with the same methodology, allowing for both a global and local examination. Such collaborative and cross-national approach helps policy makers to look at issues beyond national borders and integrate global challenges into national policy agendas. Findings within the PACITA project also suggest that cross-European projects constitute an opportunity for institutes which are not, stricto sensu, TA institutes to join the TA community and develop new skills and new advisory services which are currently not considered in their country.

  • [1] See, for instance, the EPTA Briefing note on Synthetic Biology (
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