The way ahead
There is no doubt that broadening the knowledge-base of political decision making is urgent due to the complexity of the grand challenges that our societies face. As argued in the introduction to this volume, TA in its various forms, from providing well-balanced expertise to involving stakeholders and citizens, contributes in effective and well-established ways to future-oriented policy activities. Given the intrinsic cross-border nature of technology development, the need for a strong cross-European foundation of TA is evident. To induce dynamic cooperation, open debate, and knowledge sharing on these highly salient issues the TA community and its addressees will greatly benefit from a state-of-the-art e-infrastructure.
Our brief description of the current digital infrastructure available for technology assessment shows that with the PACITA TA Portal (along with the openTA platform) the TA community is about to reach a next level. The current platform has the potential to become a one-stop service for TA, especially if it is developed further both in terms of the types and quality of services offered and the scope of resources included. The PACITA TA Portal in particular could serve as the background infrastructure for the EPTA website.
An Internet portal can be regarded as an infrastructure in two ways. First, it is an internal service that is intended to help TA practitioners to do what they have to do: to stay up to date about the TA literature; to know whom to approach for specific expertise; to build on projects done by others; to stay informed about the current activities of fellow TA units; to be aware of TA events; to stay tuned with current trends; and so on. Furthermore, such an infrastructure may potentially offer a communicative space for exchange, be it written (blogs and discussion fora), spoken (videoconferencing), and possibly even social network functions. So far, the current infrastructure focuses on mainly the internal aspect, while there is still a long way to offer an ideal environment for online collaboration.
The second way to look at such a portal is with the eyes of the customers of TA – that is, actors in both the political and the public spheres who are interested in technology policy and assessment. To turn the existent portal into an information platform that presents TA-related information in a format that is attractive to laypersons in general and to decision makers in particular is, however, a much greater challenge. This would mean adding a public relations side to the sober database; it would mean having an editorial team that selects and presenting the latest TA results in a catchy way; and it would mean making the platform interactive and communicative, which possibly includes having a presence on the popular social network sites. All this needs to be thought and structured as a long-term, sustainable enterprise.
Both aims, the internal and the external one, are worthwhile to invest in, be it in terms of ideas, time or, ultimately, financial resources. The latter will have come to an end with the conclusion of the PACITA project in spring 2015, so the future of the TA Portal and hence the backbone of the current international e-infrastructure for TA is in limbo. Keeping the platform alive will be possible for some time on the basis of contributions made in kind by the leading TA organizations. Expanding it, improving it, and turning it into the envisaged one-stop service and communicative platform for TA, however, can be done only with an additional financial effort and a certain element of (cyber-) entrepreneurship. The TA community is called to make its own modern infrastructure a prime concern. And it needs continuous societal support.