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Case 1: pathfinding in Bulgaria

The relational model of TA can also be used to make emerging developments explicit, pointing to still-fragile structures, providing a snapshot of where a country is on a potential evolutionary pathway for TA. We use the case of Bulgaria to illustrate this. [1]

The TA-landscape

Bulgaria is in a highly explorative phase when it comes to dealing with the societal issues of S&T. The PACITA-partner, ARC-FUND, is a central player in this field. Its task is to 'shape policies and developments towards information society and knowledge economy in a national, regional, European and global context'. The national Academy of Sciences is another important actor. In Bulgaria, expert advice (like TA) to policy makers is a delicate matter. Besides a high level of public distrust in the political system, recent years also show an erosion of trust in scientific institutions. This creates a vicious circle in which policymakers rarely ask for expert advice and policy making is perceived as lacking a sufficient knowledge base.

In 2012 a temporary parliamentary committee on shale gas was set up to carry out activities, which – from a TA point of view – resemble a PTA project. The committee had some months to study and discuss good practices and legislative options for the environmentally safe exploration and mining of shale gas. Three hearings with external experts were held. MPs in the committee mainly listened; some complained; and others seemed to feel offended by the views of the experts. Both actors from the realm of S&T and representatives of NGOs were invited. These activities could have been a good starting point for setting up more of these PTA-like activities since a good example tends to be followed. The committee, however, has been subject to strong criticism: its objectivity and impartiality were doubted. It seems that objective, multidisciplinary analysis, interpretation, integration, and review of the knowledge gathered in the hearings were lacking. Developing TA-like skills and capacity might help make such TA-like activities trustworthy from both a political and a societal point of view.

A government – society – S&T network forum

The PACITA project enabled ARC-FUND to search for organizational and institutional TA-capacity. For several reasons, ARC-FUND considers the governmental branch a more favourable client and sponsor of TA than it considers parliament: to a large extent, the government branch governs the political decision-making process; preoccupied by the next election, politicians have little interest in 'long-term', complex S&T issues; the government has adopted a new national innovation strategy, to which the early 'horizon scanning' of societal issues, related to S&T developments, can contribute.

ARC-FUND's institutional strategy is to act as a network secretariat ('staff ' in our modelling) for TA-like activities in Bulgaria. The formation of a cross-disciplinary TA network is aimed for, in which representatives of expert-based organizations, think tanks, and policy institutions are represented (board, committee, panel, or platform in our TA model). ARC-FUND aims to increase both awareness about TA as well as the level of societal debate (relevant for the 'client' category in our modelling). A TA network forum is foreseen, gathering annually for a public debate on the most pressing S&T related issues (cf. 'working program' in our model). There is no guarantee that this will lead to a formal institutionalization of TA. But various actors have addressed the need for a pilot project in order to 'prove' the relevance of TA for Bulgaria – preferably within the relevant organizational and institutional structures.

  • [1] See also PACITA Deliverable 4.3 'Expanding the TA-landscape' and Chapter 2 of this book.
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