Home Sociology Policy-Oriented Technology Assessment Across Europe: Expanding Capacities
Overcoming challenges – making cross-European TA conferences
Generally, doing TA in Europe still remains a challenge. The broad variety of the topics and the positive resonance to the conference show that there was a great necessity to revive the tradition of European TA conferences. It is a substantial gain that TA practitioners and policy makers from countries with established TA practices were able to get involved in discussions with colleagues from countries where TA is still in its beginnings, not only to give advice but also to reflect on their own traditions and established TA practices. Besides the national perspectives, cross-European TA must, among other obstacles, face the tension that may arise between the different levels of decision-making structures: European ones versus national and local ones. Which TA topics will be important and popular during the coming years? What can scientists learn from their experiences of working together with stakeholders and politicians?
The two conferences, namely in Prague (2013) and Berlin (2015), clearly showed that there is a strong European TA community interested in joint work and scientific exchange – in spite of sometimes significant differences in the TA approaches that they respectively follow. In Germany, for example, TA institutions work closely with policy makers and politicians. In Denmark, TA institutions strive to fulfil the politicians' needs with a more service-oriented approach. On the other hand, in the Netherlands, there is a certain distance between them. In the so-called TA-emerging countries, technology assessment is yet to be institutionalized. There are many ongoing TA-like activities in countries such as the Czech Republic and Poland – research and development mainly focus on forward-looking studies and methods. But also experiences from beyond Europe are valid contributions. For example, in Japan, as a result of the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, the government is trying to recover the lost public trust, by launching an innovative education and research programme that includes TA, which was introduced for the first time in history. These various situations show the challenges and specific situations that TA faces (Michalek et al., 2014). Moreover, spreading the TA community eastwards brings up yet another challenge of finding a 'common language' (Nierling et al., 2013: 105). Due to the fact that TA as such is not institutionalized in the TA-emerging countries, the practices and relevance of such an approach are still being understood differently: 'The processes of institutionalisation of TA infrastructures are always embedded in the understanding of democracy and the role of (national) parliaments' (Nierling et al., 2013: 102).
The PACITA conferences were especially important for TA researchers, in order to get closer to their clients – be it citizens, policy makers or scientists. As David Cope summarizes, 'like any congregation of specialists, the TA “community” can sometimes seem a little introspective, self-regarding and indeed perhaps almost presumptuous about its existence, activities and importance. A good antidote to any such tendencies is for TA practitioners to ask, among contacts in the world outside TA, what these contacts understand is meant by “Technology Assessment”. It
table 11.1 2nd PACITA Conference programme
invariably becomes clear that we operate in a rather restricted space, whose recognition by wider society is limited. TA is immanently in a supplicatory relationship with wider society. It has legitimacy, indeed an existential claim, only if it is seen as having utility by that wider society.' (Cope, 2014: 376).
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