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Parliamentary TA in a context of limited resources

In the current context of financial constraints, most countries are facing economic difficulties and budget cuts, making the public resources required to establish TA practices limited. Therefore, parliaments have to find a reasonable balance between the need for independent policy advice and what a TA unit or 'TA-like' institution could contribute to the policy-making process. For instance, parliaments which are currently considering the establishment of a TA unit, but which face budgetary constraints, could consider creating a very small structure (based inside or outside parliament), supported by universities, science academies, research agencies or science foundations. These could support projects that focus on issues of interest for the national political decision-making process, as well as issues of global convergence. The main objective of these projects would be to support members of parliament on policy making and to foster their involvement in TA activities. This work could be supported by fellowships, as in the case of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) in the UK, in which research fellows support the work of the permanent staff.

Another option for countries in which TA is not (yet) well established and is facing budgetary constraints would be to have access to the work done by established TA institutions in other countries. Since many technological issues of interest to policy makers are debated in several countries, some TA groups or 'TA-like' units may 'import' relevant findings made by other TA organizations and analyse them by considering their national context and reflect on the best approaches to start a national debate on the topic in question and involve the relevant stakeholders. According to the resources and TA specific skills available, this option may be achieved by translating TA reports that present, for instance, the state of the art of a scientific field or a meta-analysis of the chances and risks of a given technology, by producing policy briefs on the basis of existing work done by TA institutes abroad and the analysis of the national context and strategic needs of the country, or by initiating a larger process in which local policy makers and relevant national stakeholders would be involved.

Beyond the question of the most appropriate TA institutional model for a specific country, it is important for policy makers to take into account that, while technological innovation is considered a key factor that allows the long-term economic development of a country, TA is uniquely placed to identify strategic options for innovation policies. Moreover, at a time when science and technology are at the centre of growth policies, decision makers need more than ever to rely on tools and approaches that contribute to knowledge-based decision making. This led David Cope, former Director of POST, to state somewhat flippantly: 'If TA is what it claims to be, it is at a time of financial constraints that you need TA more than ever, because TA provides pointers towards how to move out of the period of financial constraints.' Following Cope's statement, although the financial context will impose clear limitations to the establishment of new policy-advice entities, TA should be considered a crucial and strategic asset precisely because it analyses the relevant knowledge and information and then integrates it not only in terms of financial investments and economic growth but also from the perspective of desirable or undesirable societal outcomes.

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