Home Sociology Policy-Oriented Technology Assessment Across Europe: Expanding Capacities
Societal premises for the setup of TA institutions
Comparing situations across time and space can help to bring attention to those features of the current situation which serve to enable or hinder institutional entrepreneurship. The following comparison between the situation in which Western European countries originally set up TA institutions with the situation today in other European states aims to serve precisely that purpose.
While our comparison of different national settings partly draws on previous analysis of national TA practices (e.g. Delvenne, 2011, Enzing et al., 2012, Ganzevles and van Est, 2012, Vig and Paschen, 2000), the national explorations in the PACITA project had a very practical intent: initiating a debate on TA or even potentially implementing TA in new national contexts. For this purpose, the most important background information is the societal situation in the 1970s and 1980s which led to the establishment of a number TA institutions in the US and in Europe. This is the historical situation to which we compare the current situation in the countries that we studied.
We consider the following societal features of Western Europe in the 1970–80s to be relevant reference points for current discussions on institutionalizing TA capacities:
1 Highly developed and differentiated R&I systems existed, which had strong backing from governments aiming to strengthen the international competitiveness of their national economies.
2 This was reflected in the setup of research ministries, the growing public funding for R&I and the increasing importance of R&I in parliamentary standing committees.
3 A strong and critical interest of the public towards S&T issues was prevalent.
4 Not only was this critique articulated on the general level, but also citizens' initiatives on different political levels (local-national) fought for participation in planning decisions as well as S&T politics because they were considered to interfere with citizen's rights.
5 Interdisciplinary, problem-oriented science gained influence in several academic fields.
6 The term 'sustainable development' served as a key term for this kind of 'new' research.
7 This development in academia also led to academic support for 'TA-like “hybrid science” and policy-oriented research' (Hennen and Nierling, 2014b).
Within this societal situation arose a strong demand by policy makers for reliable knowledge on scientific and technological developments, as well as for methods to cope with public concerns.
In some countries, these demands led to the establishment of institutions which supported national parliaments with non-partisan scientific advice. In other countries, they led to institutions organizing and raising public debate. Thus, TA bodies where institutionalized in different ways each relating to national parliaments and governments (again, see also Chapter 1).
Against this background, the results of the comparative study will be presented below with the aim of showing differences and similarities among the countries with regard to the reference points identified above. First, the current R&I landscape and national R&I performance including ongoing strategies of modernizing and restructuring the R&I systems as well as problems and deficits of the current systems will be described. Second, the levels and central features of political and public debate on S&T will be highlighted. Finally, already existing structures of TA-like research and/or policy advice will be presented.
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