Home Sociology Policy-Oriented Technology Assessment Across Europe: Expanding Capacities
Existing structures of TA-related research and policy advice
The scientific landscape in all post-communist countries in our sample is still very much influenced by the prominent role of the national Academies of Sciences. Although none of the academies were active in the field of TA prior to the PACITA interventions, at least in the Czech Republic and in Hungary, there are traditions of problem-oriented and interdisciplinary research, as well as of applying methodologies relevant to TA (foresight, future scenarios, indicators for sustainable development and more) at the national academies and universities. Since 1998, Hungary has had a strong foresight tradition (Mosoni-Fried et al., 2012: 116), and the work of the academy has taken up current societal topics in
figure 2.2 Possible pathways towards TA
the Hungarian context, such as waste management, food safety, climate change and the red sludge catastrophe in 2010. In the Czech Republic, some institutions already have more concrete experience with TA and TA-like activities, such as the participation of the Czech Academy of Sciences in EU-funded projects on TA, the establishment of the Czech Council on Health Technology Assessment at the Ministry of Health, as well as the Czech participation in various European foresight activities.
In Lithuania and Bulgaria, the science academies currently seem to have a less influential role and also less experience with interdisciplinary and problem-oriented research. In Lithuania, the roles of the Academy of Sciences and of the research council seem to be more formal. Policy advice is provided to the parliament as well as to ministries. However, for the academy, it is more important to take up the mission to promote science and scientific literacy in the wider public (Leichteris and Stumbryte, 2012: 195). In Bulgaria, the Academy of Sciences currently faces major internal restructuring combined with severe problems in scientific knowledge production, which led to the low public reputation of scientists and also to an erosion of trust in scientific institutions in recent years (Kozarev, 2012: 43).
In contrast to the Central and Eastern European countries, in Ireland and Wallonia there are quite a few scientists active in TA-like approaches, such as problem-oriented applied research in the fields of science in society, STS studies, or environmental studies – including a set of PhD programmes, as well as a range of research institutes working in this field. Similarly in Portugal, the most active institutions in fields related to TA are academic ones. Portugal thus has an international PhD program in the field of social sciences and technologies that focuses specifically on TA, and there are two TA-related stakeholder networks (GrEAT  and Bioscience) which seem to imply a strong academic focus on TA in Portugal (Almeida, 2012: 235f, Moniz and Grunwald, 2009).
In contrast to Bulgaria and Portugal – where improved organizational procedures are requested – or to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Lithuania – where policy advice mainly aims at strategic planning of science, technology and innovation – policy advice dedicated to the assessment of certain (controversial) technologies is already established in Ireland and Wallonia. In the Walloon region, a wide range of governmental advisory bodies are active with regard to S&T in different fields for 'technology guidance' or in the field of environmental assessment. However, the level of cooperation between the different entities appears to be quite low, and their focus is quite specialized. For Ireland, it is reported that since the mid 2000s, S&T policies have increasingly been questioned, which also implies an increased interest in 'strategic intelligence tools', including TA and foresight (O'Reilly and Adam, 2012: 160). More recently, the wish for public involvement was renewed during public upheavals due to the protests against shale gas exploitation in 2012. In this context, policy makers started initiatives to enforce public involvement to learn about the motivation of local protests and citizens' demands (O'Reilly and Adam, 2012: 160).
The deficit in terms of societal involvement in R&I policy making is aptly reflected in the fact that the role of parliaments in R&I policy making is reported to be quite low in most of the countries that we explored. In most of the countries, the focus of parliamentary committees that are in charge of R&I policy making is mainly on higher education. Parliaments are also reported not to have the resources to support their debates with the necessary knowledge on R&I issues. In most cases, parliamentary committees only occasionally organize hearings to improve the knowledge base for debates. Connected with the weak role of the parliaments is apparently also a lack of permanent structures at the interface between science, society and policy making, as reported for Portugal (Almeida, 2012: 230). It is difficult to draw conclusions from the country studies regarding the reasons for the low involvement of parliaments. Explanations given in interviews, such as MPs' lacking a personal background in S&T, appear to be inadequate. Instead, we might speculate that the low level of public engagement in R&I issues, combined with the general consensus in which R&I is seen as the best guarantee for national economic development, together have the effect of preventing interest in a thorough deliberation on risks and benefits from arising. This lack of interest might then in turn explain the lack of parliamentary debates.
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