Participatory Methods

TA originally focused on experts, but since the 1990s has also used participatory methods. Participatory technology assessment (pTA) means that all those who otherwise are not involved in the development and assessment of technologies can be heard.

There are many reasons for the boom in pTA. First of all, there is the hope for increased democracy. This firstly involves making technology policies more democratic. Decisions should be influenced not only by experts and social elites; citizens and civil society groups should also be heard. Secondly, the innovation processes should become more democratic too. If users are involved in the development of technologies, the result should be products that are more socially and environmentally compatible.

Citizen conferences, focus groups, CIVISTI method

The most famous and internationally tested method of involving citizens in the assessment of technology is the citizens’ conference. In this, a group of citizens are expected to comment on a controversial technology in a guided discussion. Focus groups have been useful in the (further) development of technologies. When new technologies such as security technologies are in the process of being created, citizens are included in the development of the technology at an early stage so that they can contribute their knowledge as well as possible criticism from the point of view of the user.

Today, we also use the creativity of citizens with a view to shaping future technology policy. With the participation of the ITA, a method was developed within the framework of the EU CIVISTI project to transform citizens' visions for a desirable future into concrete recommendations to policymakers. 170 citizens from seven countries participated, the results were summed up into 30 recommendations for the focusing of technology policies at EU level.

Citizen participation – a political instrument?

The current trend of getting citizens involved has also reached the political level. The EU encourages activities to make research and technology policies "responsible". Policy-makers are concerned that new technologies, such as agricultural biotechnology, could fail in the face of persistent resistance on the part of the population. This shows that the demand for participation can have different motivations. Whether and how citizens can actually contribute to what science and technology policies will focus on in the future is the subject of experiments currently being conducted in a number of EU projects.

ITA was not only involved in the development of CIVISTI, we have long been looking at participatory approaches. Within the framework of EUROpTA, an international comparative study on participatory methods from the late 1990s, we and our research partners were amongst the trail-blazers in this sector. Since this time, ITA has been involved in many projects for the practical implementation and systematic reflection of pTA.

As part of a TA project, Austrian citizens discuss their visions for the future

Selected projects related to Participatory Methods