Parliament meets TA

The role of technology assessment in handling social challenges - a study for the Austrian Parliament

Parliaments are currently facing a multitude of complex and often ethically controversial social challenges. In collaboration with members of parliament, this study explores how technology assessment can support and help guide technology policy decisions in the Austrian Parliament.

Background

The solution of key challenges such as climate change, demographic changes and resource scarcity will require taking into consideration different policy areas in research, technology and innovation policy (RTI policy). In a number of countries in Europe and beyond, parliaments have a central role in dealing with these so-called "Grand Challenges". The necessary scientific expertise is often provided by experts from the areas of foresight and technology assessment (F&TA).

In many European countries, a fruitful collaboration between TA institutions and parliaments exists since the 1980s. Now the Austrian Parliament grows more and more interested in collaborating with experts on technology assessment. This is likely part of a general renewal process within parliament. The recent establishment of commissions of enquiry is another indicator for this development.

Goals

The aim of technology assessment is to encourage a transparent debate on the important technology policy issues of our time. Through its interdisciplinary approach TA can help parliamentarians to consciously set an agenda for the future and to be proactive. The study conducted by the ITA in cooperation with the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) will explore the best ways to support the Austrian Parliament through scientific expertise in foresight and technology assessment.

Another key factor is the involvement of citizens: In an increasingly "Europeanized" world more and more people no longer feel represented by a traditional party systems. TA consulting offers not only scientifically based knowledge, but also results from participatory processes. This strengthens the role of Parliament as the centre of political discourse and representative of people’s concerns.

Workflow

While in Austria this study is a first step, Germany and Switzerland already can look back on many years of close cooperation between TA and Parliament. In a first step we will look at the experience gained and analyse in how far it can support the Austrian process.

The needs and areas of interest of the MPs were determined through interviews and workshops. These results formed the basis for a proposal for the future integration of F&TA knowledge in Parliament. Furthermore, we mapped those FTI issues which will have the highest priority for the parliamentary work in the coming years. The final project phase will produce several proposals for further study. These proposals will touch on issues relevant for different parliamentary committees.

Independent scientific bodies such as the ITA can support parliaments in navigating technological change.