Shared knowledge for a strong and innovative TA community
The way of doing TA is strongly related to the specific cultural and political environment of a country – as well as to other institutional aspects, such as whether there is a formal link to the parliament, the available funding, its source and so on. This is reflected in the various approaches and methods used within the TA community. This diversity of practices makes technology assessment an innovative and dynamic community, to which many professionals and scientists contribute. But for TA to be more than an experimenting field and for it to become a community that shares a common vision and relies on specific tools, it is important that TA professionals draw on a shared knowledge of what technology assessment is, how it works and what it can achieve. All these aspects are actually covered by extensive literature on technology assessment (see for example Vig and Paschen, 2000, Decker and Ladikas, 2004, Grunwald, 2009 and Enzing et al., 20112), which provides the core elements for the daily practices of TA professionals. However, TA project managers, researchers or communication officers are often confronted with very concrete issues which are not (or are only partially) covered by the literature. What they need is very practical advice related to TA project management: how they should design and frame a concrete project, which methods they should select and how they should implement them, how they should deal with the political and societal environment and how they should communicate their results. For the TA community to further develop and adapt to the ongoing technological and policy changes, it is essential to develop European-wide training platforms, wherein TA professionals will get the opportunity to learn from each other and to work in a systematized and integrative way. This is necessary to ensure a high and uniform level of quality for TA across Europe.
The PACITA practitioners training seminars
The need for an integrative and systematized training of TA professionals has been recognized some fifteen years ago by the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment (EPTA) network. Since the end of the 1990s, EPTA organizes TA practitioners' meetings once in every two years. Each workshop is hosted and organized by a different EPTA member. Themes address common aspects of TA work, such as determining TA-relevant issues, defining TA projects, communicating TA results, and so on.
The PACITA project continued this tradition by organizing four practitioners' training seminars, which took place between September 2012 and September 2014. Each seminar lasted three days and gathered about 30 TA professionals from all over Europe. The seminars were open to all institutes that perform (or that intend to perform) TA, regardless of whether they are involved in the PACITA project. PACITA covered the costs of the host, as well as travel and accommodation expenses of PACITA partners (others had to pay from their own funds).
The trainings were designed to address the four main stages and the major challenges that project managers face when they run TA projects:
� The first essential challenge that TA practitioners have to deal with is the identification and framing of the issue to be addressed. TA projects have to be based on a prior monitoring process of science and technology innovations and of their societal implications; the social and political context has to be clarified as well. During the first training seminar, participants worked on case studies and shared experiences on how they select and define TA-relevant issues.
� A second challenge lies in the selection of a relevant method or relevant methods for meeting the project's goals. This issue was
addressed during the second training seminar as participants worked through fictive (but reality-inspired) case studies that
featured a contentious TA topic and that demonstrated the complex linkages between societal challenges, technology options and
policy solutions. Specific application strategies, complementarities of different TA methods, methodological planning and project
designs were then explored in greater depth.
� During the course of TA projects, various stakeholders need to be involved, which is a challenging task for TA professionals. The third training seminar focused on questions: Which actors need to be involved in TA? Why and how are these actors important? What is their role? What are the main challenges for engaging them?
� And last but not least, as TA aims at advising policy making on technological and scientific issues, TA practitioners have
to communicate the results of their projects. Communication strategies and tools for communicating the results of a TA project
were the central theme of the fourth practitioners' meeting.
All the trainings involved intensive group work, plenary presentations and plenary discussions. This proved to be a particularly inspiring experience for newcomers in the TA community, as they could gain insights into the practicalities of doing TA and integrating science and technology into social discourses, public policies and decision making. More experienced TA professionals also could gain practical knowledge for their daily work and extend the professional network they can rely on for future activities. When the participants were asked about the benefits of such trainings, two thirds of them indicated that they had gained new knowledge on TA and half of them indicated that they had learned new TA skills. Most of the participants said that they extended their professional network and found inspiration and new ideas for their work. On average, respondents rated the usefulness of such meetings 5 on a scale from 1 to 6.