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Home arrow Sociology arrow Policy-Oriented Technology Assessment Across Europe: Expanding Capacities

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The summer schools can be considered as a first step in the construction and consolidation of an international TA community extended beyond the TA practitioners themselves. Numerous participants have kept in touch and established collaborations. Furthermore, once participants were introduced to the concept of technology assessment, they also attended other events in the TA community and particularly within the PACITA project, such as the Prague Conference or the practitioners training activities. In addition, the TA simulation exercises facilitated a common understanding and shared interest in TA, thus indirectly strengthening the support base for establishing TA in other European countries. Summer schools also confronted TA practitioners with various ontologies of technology assessment.

Lastly, for participants and TA practitioners alike, summer schools provided a platform for mutual learning, not only about technology and grand challenges but also about the views of various societal actors on TA. This continuous iterative learning approach is especially relevant in the context of expanding the TA landscape, as it helps provide the traditional TA players with a feedback mechanism from the new players who are sensitized to what TA is and what it can deliver.

Future agenda for TA education in the context of 'responsible innovation'

Today, with the discourse of addressing grand challenges (especially in the European Union; cf. Lund Declaration or Horizon 2020), the promises of and strategies for technology are not yet very specific. At the same time, it has become widely acknowledged that governing grand challenges is a complex issue that requires knowledge-based policy-making solutions.

These evolutions call for recognition of the importance of governance, the broadening of government and the inclusion of more actors in collective choices that involve science and technology. Governance is actually distributed between a number of actors, which some definitions acknowledge: governance can be discussed as the coordination and control of autonomous but interdependent actors either by an external authority or by internal mechanisms of self-regulation or self-control (Mayntz and Scharpf, 1995, Benz, 2007), including de facto governance arrangements that emerge and become forceful when institutionalized (Kooiman, 2003). With such a notion of governance, it becomes understandable how the trend of grand challenges impinges on the governance of science, technology and innovation and how anticipating future developments and relating them to policy making has become a crucially important task for technology assessment.

In a first attempt at discussing the anticipatory governance of science and technology, Barben et al. characterized anticipatory governance as evoking a distributed capacity for learning and interaction stimulated into present action by reflection on imagined present and future sociotechnical outcomes (Barben et al., 2008: 993). On these grounds, summer schools can be taken as practical instances of anticipatory governance because they emphasized broadening the community of TA users and enhancing a distributed capacity to frame cutting-edge issues in terms coherent with TA frameworks and tools. An important lesson learned has been that TA knowledge is not produced by one actor in isolation before it is transferred to other actors deemed to use the subsequent insights. Rather, TA knowledge is co-produced by a range of actors who contribute in order to collectively generate knowledge resources, partly already informed by governance issues.

Recently, there has been increasing attention to that idea in connection with policy discourse on the concept of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). One influential definition of this concept combines good intentions with anticipation and mates it with attempts at anticipatory governance (Owen, Bessant and Heintz, 2013). In this definition responsibility has a prospective element (it is more than accountability) and 'responsible development' is a multi-actor distributed process. Therefore this type of governance qualifies as anticipatory governance. There are bottom-up dynamics, but at the moment, the policy discourse is most visible. More should be done in order for the policy discourse to be more firmly and systematically entrenched in bottom-up innovative practices. Training new practitioners and potential users of TA, like it was done in the summer schools, adds a practical dimension to the debate and contributes to the European strive for ensuring societally responsible research and innovation.


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