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

Expanding the TA landscape through training

In many countries where no institutionalized approach to TA exists, we can find organizations implementing TA-like activities such as foresight projects and interor trans-disciplinary researches or participating in European initiatives that involve the use of technology assessment methods. Yet, in order to be able to lay the groundwork for knowledge-based policy making in these countries, it is important for these organizations to increase their understanding of how TA is done in different political settings so that they can support the process of expanding TA in their own countries.

The PACITA practitioners' training seminars proved to be very helpful in this respect. Interacting with professionals from already established TA institutions and listening to their experiences in TA during the training sessions was a great learning opportunity for 'newcomers' in the field. They could get to know the criteria used to select and frame the issue under scrutiny, different approaches for selecting relevant TA methods, the available input and needed outcomes and various other factors. The participants could also learn about when and how to involve stakeholders, civil society and policy makers in the TA processes and how to communicate the achieved results. Some of the major insights in this respect concern the role of actors, which is liable to change over time and over the different project phases; the potential conflict between evidence-based policy making and the political agenda of policy makers; the importance of making the policy cycle transparent to the stakeholders who were involved; and the difficulties in initiating dialogue among the stakeholders and the importance of using appropriate language for communicating with politicians and citizens. In this respect, practitioners' meetings proved to be especially fruitful to those who are looking for national proponents of TA within their own countries and attempting to demonstrate the relevance of TA in their national contexts. Not only could partners from countries with no TA traditions learn first-hand from the experienced partners, but also they could expand their network and thus strengthen the foundation for successfully establishing and implementing TA in their country.

Review and perspectives

When we look back at PACITA TA training seminars (as well at the past EPTA practitioners' meetings), such events bear significance for both established TA institutes and organizations that are developing TA activities in their country or region. However, organizing such trainings implies the availability of funds not only for the organizers but also for the participating organizations. Whereas established institutes may have the resources to organize practitioners' training seminars and finance the participation of their staffers, the situation is more problematic for institutes which have scarce resources. The fact that the European Commission provided funds to the PACITA consortium to organize such a series of events was clearly an advantage, as all member institutes of the consortium could send their staffers regardless of their financial situation. Supporting the organization of training events that help with building specialized and policy-relevant knowledge and skills, such as TA, could be prioritized in the European research and innovation programmes. By this, the European Commission will stimulate continuing collaboration among diverse organizational partners and will also include a larger set of practitioners. Not least, however, such a high-level programming commitment will additionally legitimize the application of TA methods in support of policy design and development regarding science, technology and innovation.

For the future, it might also be worthwhile to look for new tools for knowledge transfer that complement the training seminars. Such tools would be important to make the topics presented and discussed during the training seminars accessible to a wide audience of professionals, and also to deepening their knowledge on certain aspects of TA or specific TA methods. In that respect, a series of manuals or best-practice reports could be initiated. New online tools may also be developed.

The issues to be addressed in training, be they in the form of seminars or of written tools, are manifold. The idea of covering the major steps of a TA project in the four PACITA training seminars has been considered by the participants as a meaningful approach. However, participants suggested additional topics of interest, such as determining which are the most pressing issues to which TA could contribute (technology scanning), presenting current TA projects and different TA organizational settings, discussing the specificities of TA project management, exploring possible ways of collaboration between TA institutions and assessing the role of TA contributions for the governance of science and technology. Some participants also suggested integrating better the needs and expectations of the decision makers, who are the end-users of the TA activities. There is obviously a need for TA professionals not only to learn about and share what technology assessment is and how to do it but also to meet with and learn from their addressees. Similarly, the idea of inviting journalists has been raised; their presence would provide an 'insider' perspective on ways to go public or, in some cases, to enable journalists to understand better the communication aspects of a TA project.

The PACITA practitioners' meetings had the particularity of being practice-oriented: concrete TA projects were presented in terms of good practices, and activities were proposed to participants. When ask about this format, three thirds of the participants of the PACITA training seminars wished that future practitioners' trainings would dedicate more time to theoretical aspects of TA or the topic at hand, and more than three quarters would like to have more time for the discussion of case studies in terms of best practices. This demand for more theoretical and case study presentations actually calls for complementing the practitioners' meetings with written material that presents theoretical aspects of TA-as-a-practice as well as case studies and best practices in a comprehensive and accessible way. Thus, TA-relevant knowledge would persist and could be utilized in subsequent projects.

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