Home Sociology Policy-Oriented Technology Assessment Across Europe: Expanding Capacities
Case 2: Institutional re-adjustment in Austria
The relational modelling of PTA institutions enables us to map dynamic developments of existing organizations as relations change over time. Political dynamics may result in the shifting importance of the four societal spheres, to which the organization relates itself. One current case of such 'drifts in the possibility space' is Austria. Since the ITA is deeply rooted in the academic world and has a high proportion of studies carried out for government, the Austrian situation can be described as 'shared science-government involvement in TA'. Lately, however, we observe a slow move towards 'shared parliament-government-sciencesociety involvement in TA' in that both the national and European parliaments are becoming more important as clients for the ITA just as the citizens become active participants in projects and target groups for increasing public-relations activities.
Strengthening connections with society and parliament
First, Austria's core TA organization, the Institute of Technology Assessment (ITA), has expanded its portfolio considerably towards greater involvement of society. One the one hand, participatory procedures are gaining importance in the ITA's work programme and are at the centre of many ITA projects. While a few years ago the ITA mainly observed the developing participatory TA approaches, contributed to theoretical projects such as EUROpTA, or assessed participatory events carried out by others, the ITA is now involving citizens and stakeholders on a regular basis. On the other hand, its mother institution, the Austrian Academy of Sciences – as well as the Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy – push the ITA towards an intensified relationship with society. As a consequence, a professional public-relations unit has been set up inside the institute, not only feeding the new Internetbased social media but also playing an growing role in the ITA's public events and project dissemination activities.
Second, while there has been only limited contact between the ITA and the Austrian Parliament ('Nationalrat') for almost two decades, the situation has been changing since 2012. The Nationalrat has shown increased interest in TA. In particular, its Research, Technology and Innovation (RTI) Committee has invited the ITA on several occasions to present TA work and to explain what it could contribute to parliamentary work. The acknowledgement of technology assessment as a potentially valuable contribution culminated in 2013 with a full membership of EPTA. Since then, the ITA is in regular exchange with parliamentarians, offering amongst other things a newly devised policy-briefs series explicitly targeted towards MPs. These so-called ITA-Dossiers are two-pagers that present TA topics in plain language and with a focus on possible political action. Most recently, in mid 2014, the Nationalrat decided to solicit a study on how to best implement advice and input with regard to TA and foresight for the Austrian Parliament. This one-year study will produce concrete proposals for the future relationship between the Nationalrat and, in particular, the ITA. A pilot project on 'Industry 4.0' is also under way in 2015, with a view to include these experiences in the recommendations. For these projects, the ITA is partnering with an institute that specializes in foresight and technology policy, so the Austrian Parliament can be said to be knitting closer ties with the TA and foresight communities. Two further developments support this growing importance of the parliamentary level: first, the mother institution of the ITA, namely the Austrian Academy of Sciences, has started offering its competencies to the Nationalrat; presentations and debates of recent societally relevant research done in the Academy are planned as regular events in the premises of the Parliament. Second, the ITA became a member of the European TA Group (ETAG), carrying out projects for the Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) panel of the European Parliament. So far, four such projects were concluded.
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