Putting TA to the political reality test

The PACITA Parliamentary TA Debates were designed to build a common understanding of the role of TA in policy making on science, technology and innovation. The aim was to integrate the views and needs of parliaments in the discussion on knowledge-based policy making in Europe and to reflect on the best approaches to achieve it.

Parliamentarians and policy makers who participated in the PACITA Parliamentary TA Debates have recognized the value of TA to their political work, considering it a democratic tool that besides providing structured knowledge also brings new issues and perspectives into the political agenda and debates. For instance, Maria de Belém Roseira, member of the Portuguese Parliament, told the assembly that 'we [members of parliaments] have to fight blindness when we legislate, we have to have strategic thinking and we need to be aware through information. So technology assessment is a very important tool'. Her Austrian colleague Ruperta Lichtenecker shared a similar view and called for 'an open and transparent approach to decision-making in order to improve the quality of decisions reached, to stimulate public debate and to build general awareness on topics that are essential for our future'.

However, the TA approach may compete with other forces that are characteristic of current political decision-making processes. TA operates in a landscape of existent opinions, interests and priorities, and the inputs that it provides for policy making may be drowned out by political bargaining processes and the interplay of various interests, values and strategies. Furthermore, policy makers may select information from TA that supports their opinions and positions rather than using the results of TA to evaluate the available options.

From the perspective of the parliamentarians, another issue to consider when using TA in their work lies in the different time perspectives of cycles in politics and science. Science in general (and TA in particular) is rather well equipped to provide policy advice to decision makers on long-term issues such as innovation strategies or regulation. But matters often arrive without warning on the political agenda for which parliamentarians are expected to react immediately. However, participants of the Parliamentary TA Debates were convinced that the long-term perspective of TA is an essential and unique feature that should be maintained. Several speakers recalled that democracy needs long-term political thinking and that TA is an essential tool to integrate long-term and strategic thinking into politics. According to Joëlle Kapompolé, a former member of the Wallonia Parliament in Belgium, who has been involved in creating a TA office in her region, 'Technology Assessment is the best way to make better decisions for the next generations'.

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