Technological innovations involve opportunities and risks that must be identified and taken into account in designing new technologies.
Scientific technology assessment (TA) focuses on the impacts of technological change on society, the economy, the environment, health and law. It identifies and analyses the various expectations made of technology based on interests and values that often lead to conflicts of aims. TA is – in contrast to consulting – independent research that must withstand scientific peer review procedures.
Who does TA address
Technology assessment firstly addresses science, for instance STS (science and technology studies), risk research etc., by contributing to our understanding of the role of technology in society or by analysing the concrete impacts of a technology. Secondly, TA prepares knowledge for decision-makers. In this function at international level TA mainly addresses parliaments, but also the EU Commission, and traditionally in Austria the administration, mainly the federal ministries. Indirectly TA also addresses the public via the media and other multipliers.
What are the effects of TA
Technology assessment contributes to ensuring that society is informed as early and as comprehensively as possible about the direct and indirect impacts of technological innovations. TA is a basis for rational decision-making in the field of technology policy. TA gives an overview when complex problems arise, consolidates knowledge from various sources and makes it transparent. It is involved in putting the development and use of technologies on the public agenda.
In individual cases a TA study may also directly influence an on-going decision-making process. For instance, the criteria elaborated in an ITA project regarding privacy in the design of security technologies became relevant in later EU invitations to tender.
TA often provides input in the drafting of technology research policies, recently for instance regarding the thematic focus of Austrian energy research funding.