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Expanding the TA Landscape – Lessons from Seven European Countries

Leonhard Hennen, Linda Nierling and Judit Mosoni-Fried

Abstract: This chapter explores socio-political opportunities for and barriers to introducing TA as a support for science and technology (S&T) policy making in seven of the new European member states. Based on interviews with national S&T actors and document studies, the study shows that any attempt to promote and establish TA has to take account

of the situations in the countries explored, which differ in many respects from the situation during the 1980–90s when a first wave of TA institutionalization took place at national parliaments in Europe. Elements of 'civic epistemologies' such as a lively public debate on S&T policies are missing in some of the countries explored, and S&T policy making is busy modernizing the R&D system in order to keep up with global competition.

Klьver, Lars, Rasmus Шjvind Nielsen, and Marie Louise Jшrgensen, eds. Policy-Oriented Technology Assessment Across Europe: Expanding Capacities. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. doi: 10.1057/9781137561725.0011.

Technology assessment as a means of policy advice is widely established in many Western European countries, whereas in Southern Europe and especially in the new European member states in Central and Eastern Europe, TA structures are often inexistent altogether. The PACITA project, by organizing explorations of existing barriers and opportunities for setting up TA in seven European countries, succeeded in starting up debates about TA among relevant actors and revealed a set of boundary conditions for introducing TA in the national R&I policy-making systems.

The societal situation in the countries explored is different in crucial respects from that of Western Europe during the 1970–80s where (parliamentary) TA institutions were first set up. Thus, not only are elements like a lively public debate on S&T policies missing in some of the countries but also S&T policy makers are busy modernizing the R&I system in order to keep up with global competition.

Our explorations were organized in an 'action research'-like manner – that is, at the same time gathering knowledge about national preconditions for TA while actively intervening by facilitating high-level TA debates or triggering initiatives among relevant national actors. The exploration activities revealed that despite existing barriers, there is a role to play for TA by adapting to and offering support with regard to the existing deficiencies and problems of S&T policy making. Concerns about problems of S&T policy making often result in an explicit demand for 'knowledge-based policy making' in the context of which the concept of TA is welcome as a means to underpin decisions with best available knowledge in an unbiased manner. TA can significantly contribute to ongoing activities of modernizing the R&I system by strategically planning the R&I landscape, evaluating R&I capacities, or supporting the identification of socially sound and robust country-specific innovation pathways. Exactly due to often poorly developed democratic and transparent decision-making structures, TA could find a role as an independent and unbiased player able to induce communication among relevant actors on 'democratic' structures in S&T policy.

To further promote TA, one viable pathway would be continued collaboration – for example, through starting TA projects together with experienced TA countries but also through a continuation of national activities started by the PACITA intervention, such as training practitioners, doing pilot project(s), identifying the specific goals of doing national TA and finding reliable partners in politics but also in other societal spheres (science, industry and civil society).

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