Home Sociology Policy-Oriented Technology Assessment Across Europe: Expanding Capacities
Since the 1970s, 'technology assessment (TA)' has been introduced in many Western industrialized countries. Its scientific origins lie in systems analysis and forecasting, but its scope has developed much further – conceptually as well as methodologically (Grunwald, 2009). In those Western European countries that have institutional platforms for TA, the practice of TA is clearly oriented towards policy making, and parliaments are seen as the main client of TA. Motivated by a lack of reliable knowledge and scientific expertise, in many Western countries parliaments have built up dedicated expert units in order to have the capacity to control governments' decisions in S&T policy making. The main impulse for TA in Europe came from the establishment in 1973 of the OTA at the US congress, which mainly carried out expert analysis. After a period of searching for viable European pathways, a range of organizations was founded within European member states from the 1980s and onwards. In contrast to the OTA, some of these organizations focused in part on the involvement of stakeholders and the wider public. (See also the introduction to this volume). Although TA by now is established in many European countries, in other parts of Europe, especially in Southern, Central and Eastern Europe, there are no institutional settings of TA, and also the concept of TA is not used or is even unknown.
One aim of the PACITA project was to explore opportunity structures as well as barriers for TA in countries of Europe without TA infrastructures. To this end, an exploration was carried out in seven European countries (Belgium/Wallonia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania and Portugal) to ascertain current needs as well as institutional preconditions for introducing TA in national processes of S&T policy making.  The countries explored have very different histories, and in each country debates on TA have very different starting points. In Central and Eastern Europe, TA is established neither in academia nor in policy making. Looking back on the history of Central and Eastern European countries, the differences in Western Europe are obvious. In the planned economy system, the ruling socialist (communist) parties had by far the most significant influence on policy making and in the R&D sector. At best, the Academies of Sciences have been involved in the decision-making process to a modest extent. This involvement was a common feature, although we cannot say that there was a uniform S&T system across these countries. Rather, there were divergent institutional systems, especially from the 1980s when cooperation with Western countries became more regular than before enabling relatively open Central and Eastern European countries to introduce new measures – for example, a grant system in research, a dialogue within the scientific community on S&T policy questions and so on. After the transition, the R&D sector and also the Academies of Sciences started to decline due to downsizing of R&D funding and employment. That was followed by a phase of stabilization since the mid 1990s and then by recovery of the R&D sector by the end of the 1990s and early 2000s. As concerns structural changes in the R&D system, a gradual increase in the shares of universities and the business sector can be regarded as the most positive tendency in many Central and Eastern European countries. These stronger R&D actors seem to have a growing role in S&T policy making. However, civil society is only very slightly represented in S&T policy making. On the one hand, this lacking involvement is due to the traditionally peripheral role of the civil society in Eastern Europe, and on the other hand, it is due to the fact that in this region most citizens are more familiar with non-democratic (or 'less democratic') governance systems than with democratic ones.
In the Western European countries of the sample, there are already experiences with 'TA-like activities': In Portugal there has already been some debate on TA in the national parliament as well as in the academic community. While Ireland has a well-developed system of S&T policy advice and consultation, infrastructures explicitly dedicated to TA do not exist. In the Belgian region of Wallonia, there have been debates on parliamentary TA that have been ongoing for many years; however, no institutional setting of TA has resulted so far.
The national studies were conducted from February 2012 to March 2013, and they focused on national political and institutional contexts, existing capacities (actors, organizations and networks), demands and interests in TA-related activities and barriers and opportunities in national/regional contexts. Research methods comprised document analysis, interviews and discussion rounds with relevant actors and stakeholders. The explorations were done jointly by a twin team of researchers from respective national PACITA partners and from an experienced TA partner organization.
It is important to note that the explorations in the countries were conducted from the perspective of different organizations, ranging from Academies of Sciences (Czech Republic and Hungary) to research centres at universities (Ireland, Portugal and Wallonia) and to non-governmental
figure 2.1 Overview over core economic and R&D data
organizations (Bulgaria and Lithuania). The processes thus had different preconditions in all seven countries. However, the practical aspirations of the project – to spark national discussions on the potential benefits of TA – were successful in all countries insofar as relevant actors were included in the learning process and debates and came to reflect on possible roles for TA in the national policy-making landscape.
The rest of this chapter presents the results of these national exploration processes in a cross-national perspective. The presentation is based on national country reports (for more details, see Hennen and Nierling, 2012).
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