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Cross-European technology assessment: current situation

Several research projects and reports have documented the activities and methods of TA in Europe, [1] but few of these have discussed cross-European cooperation and how this can be done in the best possible way. The PACITA project had a goal of making recommendations for the future of cross-European TA, based on lessons learned from past examples of cross-European projects as well as research done in the PACITA project. Although a STOA report (Enzing et al., 2012) from 2012 describes cross-European TA as limited, there have been several European and international TA projects over the years. Experiences and lessons learned from these projects give important input for further development of work modes, methods and funding schemes. The PACITA project has conducted a number of case studies with the aim of identifying the added value of the cross-European approach, as well as identifying some of the barriers and challenges related to these types of projects.

The EPTA (European Parliamentary Technology Assessment) network is an example of an existing network of European PTA units. Together, the partners of EPTA aim at making TA an integral part of policy consulting in parliamentary decision-making processes around Europe. EPTA has initiated and organized several cross-European projects. These projects [2] are always funded on the partners own budget, as the network itself does not have any resources. This funding scheme creates certain limitations in the project design, and the method in EPTA projects has over the last years been limited to distributed desktop research, in which all partners write a state-of-the-art chapter from their country/region on a given topic and present policy options. The contributions are then collected and presented in a common report, opened by a short introduction written by the project coordinator. There is rarely any in-depth cross-European analysis of the national contributions, but taking their minimal resources into account, these projects have a good record of accomplishment. Feedback on the joint EPTA projects shows that parliamentarians appreciate seeing how other countries deal with the same challenges as themselves.

Another type of projects is funded through the European Union's Framework Programs, [3] like the PACITA project. The projects are based on project calls from the European Commission and cover a broad spectrum of topics. These projects have dedicated budgets that make it easier to use more demanding methods than the EPTA projects. This can include methods that involve citizens or stakeholders in addition to more traditional desktop research. A consortium in these projects often involves several types of partner institutions (universities, NGOs, research institutes, TA institutions etc.).

A third type of project [4] is commissioned by STOA (the TA unit of the European Parliament) and carried out by members of European Technology Assessment Group (ETAG) or other consortia. These projects have both a dedicated budget and pre-defined target group in STOA. The projects cover a variety of topics and use mostly desktop research and expert hearings as methods. One challenge with commissioned projects is that it can be difficult to identify the most relevant scope for policy makers when taking on topics where extensive research has already been done. That the project is scientifically 'less free' when the project is commissioned by a 'client' can also be challenging.

  • [1] For example, EUROPTA (2001) and the TAMI project (2004).
  • [2] Examples from the case studies include 'Energy transition in Europe' (2007), 'Genetically modified plants and foods' (2009) and 'ICT and privacy in Europe' (2006).
  • [3] Examples from the case studies include 'Challenges of Biomedicine' (2007), 'CIVISTI' (2011) and 'Meeting of Minds' (2006).
  • [4] Examples from the case studies include 'Study on Human Enhancement' (2009), 'Nanosafety' (2011) and 'Technology Options in Urban transport' (2011).
 
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