What Is Technology Assessment? EXECUTIVE SUMMARY This report aims to familiarize and to provide an understanding of Technology Assessment both in its past and present form. Its different viewpoints, approaches, tools and methods, which are all relevant to the engineering decision-maker and analyst alike, are discussed. The four different Technology Assessment paradigms as described by Eijnhoven (1997) along with the views of lecturers in this subject on the question What is Technology Assessment? , is also discussed and analysed. By understanding the roots of technological assessment and its impacts on everyday life, one can recognize and appreciate the importance of its presence in an ever-changing environment. The first part of this report aims to achieve this. The second part of this report describes the increased need for engineers to incorporate Technology Assessment into engineering decision making and its practice.
Different engineering disciplines will see Technology Assessment in different perspectives. How they will approach a particular problem through the different environmental, social, technical, economic and political factors is part of the decision making process (Taylor, 2000). THE NEED FOR TECHNOLOGY ASSESSMENT Brief History In the post-war era, the necessity of taking into account social costs and benefits as well as private costs and benefits became apparent. At the time, problems relating to forecasting the future consequences of complex technologies became more and more obvious (Freeman 1995). Such an example if the issue of nuclear power.
The limitations of a purely economics-based assessment of social and environmental problems had become clear. It was in these circumstances that techniques of ‘Technology Assessment’ began to be used in an attempt to overcome the short-comings and limitations of cost-benefit analysis. Thus, Technology Assessment was adopted by U.S Congress and governments from around the world and was widely recognised through the need to make publicly available assessment of the potential risks, hazards, costs and benefits of developing new technologies. It also sparked the importance of parliamentary control of assessment procedures and the involvement of diverse disciplines. Reflections An example of developing new technologies would be the resource presentation by Wahidul Biswas on Socio-Technical Design in Mechanical Engineering.
In his presentation, Wahidul talks about the consequences of new technologies, that is, social and environmental aspects. New technologies (NT’s) centers less on the numbers employed (a social aspect) and leads to incomplete combustion and biomass consumption in developing countries (an environmental aspect). Technology Assessment as described in Eijnhoven readings by the lecture from Bronwyn Holland as a metaphor that ‘Technology Assessment illuminates the darkness/opacity of the technology society interface’ (Eijnhoven 1997). This is quite true. In a society where nothing is very open, Technology Assessment is necessary to bring technology and society to ‘light’, so to speak, in order to gain a better understanding. One important purpose of technology assessment, in general, will be continual improvement.
By using evaluation results, one will better understand how a technological product or process is working and where it is headed. With this greater understanding, better decisions can be made that will improve/refine the life of the product or process in the long run. Examples would include: radiation nuclear energy fuel emissions Negative effects of the above, in general, are becoming positive effects through the continual implementation of technology assessment. Another good example would be in the area of Health Technologies. The resource presentation by Hung Nguyen on Design issues in Electrical Engineering talks about the need to design a non-invasive hypoglycaemia monitor capable of monitoring hypoglycaemia conditions, without extracting blood or body fluid.
Technology assessment is necessary in designing such a device for diabetic patients. Using new and improving technology, more advanced monitoring systems can be designed and implemented to better fulfil society. Engineers are currently working on such a device. As stated in his lecture, there is no hypoglycaemia monitor in the market at present. There are many different reasons to evaluate a particular technology. Many people think of an assessment as a nerve-wracking process meant to determine continued funding or recognition.
Although making decisions on continued funding or recognition could be a purpose of technology assessment, there are many other reasons why one should assess technology. Some of these reasons are: To provide information to engineers and others on aspects of the technology that work well and the potential problems that arises. To catch potential problems early in the technology product so they can be corrected before more serious problems occur further down the track. To guide further assessment efforts. For instance, an assessment may bring to light; issues that need to be examined in greater detail or an initial evaluation of a technology product implementation may be used, in part, to guide a later assessment of long-term impact. To provide information on what technical assistance may be needed.
To determine what impact the technology product is having on users in our society. So, to answer the question Why do we need technology assessment? in my view, has two major parts: 1. To find out if the technological product is beginning to produce desired results that one aims for. For example: Has the product improved over existing model/product? Is it comparatively cost effective? Does it have a place in society? If so, how useful is it? Are all major factors considered? That is, environmental, social, technical, economical, cultural and political factors? 2. To obtain information on implementing the product.
UNDERSTANDING TECHNOLOGY ASSESSMENT What is Technology Assessment? There is no one straight answer or definition to this question. Technology assessment has taken on many forms and approaches and is viewed differently by each individual. It is however, can be agreed that technology assessment has established itself as a new form of interdisciplinary technology research where engineers from all disciplines and other parties come together to assess a particular technology. Two definitions, which I believe, are good approaches to understanding Technology Assessment are: Technology assessment is a class of policy studies which systematically examine the effects on society that may occur when a technology is introduced, extended or modified. It emphasizes those consequences that are unintended, indirect or delayed (Coates 1980) Technology assessment is an attempt to establish an early warning system to detect, control, and direct technological changes and developments so as to maximise the public good while minimising the public risks (Cetron 1972) There are four main types of TA approaches, which can be distinguished (Ende et al 1997): 1. Awareness TA: forecasting technological developments and their impacts to warn for unintended or undesirable consequences. 2.
Strategic TA: supporting specific actors or groups of actors in formulating their policy or strategy with respect to a specific technological development. 3. Constructive TA: broadening the decision process about technological development, to shape the course of technological development in socially desirable directions. 4. Backcasting: developing scenarios of desirable futures and starting innovation processes based on these scenarios.
Technology assessment analyses are studies which: comprehensively and systematically analyse and evaluate the prerequisites for and the positive and negative impact of introducing and (widely) applying technologies; identify areas of social conflict created by technology applications and Point out and review optimal courses of action (options) for improving the technologies considered and their terms of application. The Starting points for technology assessment are either from a concrete project, a specific technology or a perceived problem. There are three Technology Assessment studies usually undertaken: 1. Project-induced TA-studies: Investigation of technology applications that are prototypical. 2. Technology-induced TA-studies: Address the issue of using a technology and its consequences for industry, the environment and society within the framework of a broad range of known or potential applications.
3. Problem-induced TA-studies: These studies attempt to point out possible alternative (technical) solutions for foreseeable problems, such as in the areas of transport, energy supply, environmental issues etc.) and to analyse their impacts. The four paradigms as defined by Eijnhoven J.C.M Van Eijnhoven, a professor of technology assessment had devised through extensive research, the four paradigms of technology assessment: the classical paradigm; the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) paradigm; public technology assessment paradigm; and constructive technology (CTA) paradigm. Classical Paradigm The classical paradigm emphasized early warning and the neutral character of the information to be provided. OTA Paradigm OTA assessments were not so directed at early warning, but at the development of policy makers.
The careful balancing of participation of the U.S Congress, stakeholders and academics provided a mechanism leading to authoritative reports. Public TA Paradigm Concentrates on actively seeking participation of a wider public. The emphasis here is much less on the production of authoritative reports than on social processes that may help shape technology in society. In countries other than the United States, much more emphasis is placed upon a lack of interaction among experts, representatives and the public with respect to science and technology issues (Eijnhoven 1997). Public TA paradigm aims to bridge the gap between the public and private sectors while at the same time, expanding the relationship between people and technology. Active involvement of the public in making them understand the scope and implications of a particular technology is what governments, the parliament and private sectors hope to achieve.
An example of this would be to hold conferences where a panel of people is educated about a certain technological development and whereby they can consult with experts and the audience about particular issues and concerns. Their conclusions are then written into a document, which is then delivered to parliament as a basis for further policy development (Eijnhoven 1997). CTA Paradigm The Dutch Science Dynamics program was the start of a development that ultimately led to constructive technology assessment. The Science Dynamics program was created by the Minister of Science Policy (minister 1973-1981) of the Netherlands to initiate a research program directed at finding ways in which research can be oriented toward societal goals. Compared to the early warning approach of the classical paradigm, constructive technology assessment was idealised as an active, positive form of shaping technological development. The body of literature about constructive technology assessment leads one to think how technological development can most effectively be influenced.
This is done primarily in industry. For this reason, constructive technology assessment can sometimes be viewed as a form of enlightened management, of broadening the factors taken into account in the usual design processes in industry. Technology Assessment Tools and Methods There are numerous technology assessment tools and methods used by the relevant party(ies), professions and governments of today, both modern and traditional. New assessment tools and methods are being discovered or developed at a rapid pace to adapt to the needs of an ever-changing environment. The application of different TA tools and methods needs to be evaluated more systematically to determine in which situations the application of the tools and methods has been successful and in which not. Moreover, a combination of different TA tools and methods may be required for, say, a particular project/product.
Examples of the tools and methods used to identify or characterise Technology Assessment can be summarised in the table 1: Tools and Methods Layout of Studies Layout of interventions Tools for Analysis Intervention Tools Technological Forecasting Intervention in Innovation Networks Trend Extrapolation Consumer Conference Impact Assessment Connecting Separated Networks Structured Interaction Structured Interaction (Delphi) Scenario Analysis Demand Articulation Checklists Market Research Consumer TA Socio-technical Maps Panel Consensus Participatory TA Visionary Forecasts Citizens’ Initiatives Risk Assessment Strategic Niche Management Table 1: Tools and Methods Four tools and methods, which will be discussed in this report, are Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Barometer of Sustainability, Structured Interaction (Delphi) and Technological Forecasting. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Environmental impact assessment aims to record and evaluate the impact of physical projects (e.g. building roads, power stations, industrial plants etc). An environmental impact assessment is not just a study of the environmental impact of a project but is a legally regulated process, which must be carried out in accordance with certain rules and regulations before approval is granted. Environmental impact assessments must also be carried out for environmentally relevant plans and programs (town planning, land-use programs, transport planning, research and technology programs etc.). From the methodological aspect, EIA has a great deal in common with TA; in many countries, economic and social effects are also considered within the framework of environmental impact assessments, i.e. the impacts they record are similarly comprehensive to those of TA-studies.
An overlap between technology assessment and environmental impact assessment is particularly evident in the case of research and technology programs, or projects concerned with building technological innovation (e.g. coal liquefaction plants). Such environmental impact assessments are usually accepted into the TA-field, while environmental impact assessments of projects with an already established technology (e.g. construction of a coal power station) or other conventional projec …