|Reinventing US Technology Assessment For The 21st Century|
|SciMed - Horizons|
|TS-Si News Service|
|Thursday, 29 April 2010 14:00|
Washington, DC, USA. A new report from the Science and Technology Innovation Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars defines the criteria for a new technology assessment function in the United States.
The report, Reinventing Technology Assessment: A 21st Century Model, emphasizes the need to incorporate citizen-participation methods to complement expert analysis. Government policymakers, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and citizens need such analysis to capably navigate the technology-intensive world in which we now live.
The U.S. Congress set a global precedent in 1972 when it created an Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), but then reversed course in 1995 by shutting down the OTA. In the meantime, 18 European Technology Assessment agencies are flourishing.
The European agencies pioneered important new methods, including Participatory Technology Assessment (pTA). By educating and engaging laypeople, pTA is unique in enabling decision-makers to learn their constituents' informed views regarding emerging developments in science and technology.
The pTA methods for social and ethical analysis of technology have been adapted, tested, and proven in the U.S. at least 16 times by university-based groups and independent nonprofit organizations.
"We style ourselves as living in a 'technological society' and an 'information age,'" notes report author Dr. Richard Sclove, "yet we lack adequate information about — of all things! — the broad implications of science and technology."
Sclove is founder and senior fellow of the Loka Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making science and technology responsive to democratically decided priorities.
As the pace of technological change quickens and the Obama Administration moves forward on its Open Government Initiative, the time is ripe to institutionalize a robust national TA capability incorporating both expert and participatory TA methods. The Internet and social networking capacities make it possible to organize such an endeavor on a distributed, agile and open basis, harnessing collaborative efficiencies and supporting broad public engagement.
In the report, Sclove recommends an Expert & Citizen Assessment of Science & Technology (ECAST) network combining the skills of nonpartisan policy research organizations with the research strengths of universities and the public outreach and education capabilities of science museums. Founding ECAST partners include the Wilson Center Science and Technology Innovation Program, the Boston Museum of Science, Arizona State University, ScienceCheerleader, and the Loka Institute.
"In the 15 years since OTA was closed, TA has progressed significantly in Europe. It is time for the U.S. to institutionalize a serious, continuous and nonpartisan capability to assess the broad social, ethical, legal, and economic impacts of emerging science and technology in areas such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, and earth systems engineering," said David Rejeski, who directs the Wilson Center program.
CitationReinventing Technology Assessment: A 21st Century Model. Richard Sclove. Washington, DC: Science and Technology Innovation Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. (April 2010).
Executive Summary (Introduction)
Around the world, the pace, complexity and social significance of technological changes are increasing. Striking developments in such areas as computer and communications technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology are finding applications and producing repercussions in all spheres of business, government, society and the environment.
The far-reaching social ramifications are, however, often not understood until after new technologies become entrenched. Historically this has resulted in important lost opportunities, significant social and environmental costs and channeling societal development down long-term unhealthy paths.
Technology assessment (TA) is a practice intended to enhance societal understanding of the broad implications of science and technology. This creates the possibility of preparing for — or constructively influencing — developments to ensure better outcomes. From 1972 to 1995 the United States led the world in institutionalizing the practice of TA. Then in 1995 the U.S. Congress reversed course, closing its 23-year-old Office of Technology Assessment (OTA).
Meanwhile, there are now a dozen parliamentary TA agencies in Europe. They have developed many promising TA practices, including highly effective methods involving participation by everyday citizens.* Participatory technology assessment (pTA) enables laypeople, who are otherwise minimally represented in the politics of science and technology, to develop and express informed judgments concerning complex topics. In the process, pTA deepens the social and ethical analysis of technology, complementing the expert-analytic and stakeholder-advised approaches to TA used by the former OTA. European pTA methods have been adapted, tested and proven in the U.S. at least 16 times by university-based groups and independent non-profit organizations.
There are compelling reasons to re-establish a national TA capability, incorporating both expert and participatory methods. The Internet and Web 2.0 capabilities can help a new TA institution be more effective and cost-efficient than was previously possible. Creating a modernized TA capability would also align with Obama administration initiatives to make government more transparent, accessible and responsive to popular concerns.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 April 2010 20:16|