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Overview of the two summer schools

The two summer schools' topics were centred on two 'grand challenges for Europe', particularly suitable to technology assessment approaches and methods. In Liège 2012, the topic was renewable energy systems, while in Cork 2012, the summer school there focused on ageing societies and new technologies. The complexity of these grand challenges and the great transitions that they necessitate appeared to be adequate backgrounds to call for new modes of interaction and exchange with and among 'new players' in technology assessment.

The first summer school [1] was organized at the University of Liège, Belgium (25–28 June 2012). As a transnational concern and growing grand challenge for policy, economy and society worldwide, the topic of 'renewable energy systems' was chosen as an entry point for learning about TA. This challenge refers to the interplay of actors, technologies, policies, worldviews and institutions engaged in the field of energy debates, policies and production. Technologies play an important role in coping with such issues. At the same time, technologies can also be part of the problem. Participants at the summer schools were taught balanced, encompassing approaches and relevant TA methods to address the most pressing energy issues.

The second summer school was organized at the University College Cork, Ireland (17–20 June 2014). The topic chosen was 'challenges and opportunities of the ageing society: exploring the role of technology'. The event consisted of training sessions, practical exercises, mutual reflection, and networking. Figuring out how to cope with ageing societies is one of the grand challenges pointed out in the Lund Declaration, and health-care technologies can be increasingly important for society to offer health and care services at a quantity and quality that mirrors the expectations of the European population. The summer school participants debated how best we can use new technology in care services and what type of policy options policy makers are faced with.

Summer school format

Summer schools were a combination of lectures and interactive workshops. Lectures combined elements of the different phases of a TA project (problem definition and research design, methodology, communication and impact) with concrete examples or applications to the issue at stake. After each lecture, during the workshops the participants would have the chance to relate what they had learned in hands-on, problem-driven simulation and role-play exercises. The workshops' objective was to produce a coherent draft for a TA project. A facilitator helped participants with a 'script' that included minimal contextual information (such as the context in which a TA project was needed or the explicit demand from a politician's commissioning a study) and suggestions for sub-tasks (identifying the needed knowledge base, mapping relevant stakeholders, listing technological options, scrutinizing social issues as well as more practical tasks such as project management and communication).

Participants were split into two groups, and they were assigned different roles within the workshops, as happens in real TA institutions (e.g. researchers, project managers and communication officers). Before they started working, each group was given different variables such as the addresses of the project, the framing of the issue, the available budget, the timeframe for decisions to be made, the technologies involved, the existing expertise, the mapping of stakeholders or the socio-political context. Both groups were also given different assignments. This could for instance be a study that originated from a member of European Parliament's demand or from setting up a new project on a city level to then present it to TA's addressees. This resulted in the two groups presenting contrasting approaches, project management's choices and expected results. To finalize the training, the groups presented their work to each other in order to exemplify the diversity of possible TA approaches on a complex issue.

  • [1] See also the article by Pascale Messer in the VolTA magazine: volta.
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