Technology assessment

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The research area of technology assessment ( TA for short , also: technology assessment or technology assessment ) is a sub-area of technology philosophy and sociology . It originated in the United States in the 1960s and spread throughout Europe from the 1970s. Technology assessment deals with the observation and analysis of trends in science and technology and the associated social developments, in particular the assessment of opportunities and risks. In addition, the technology assessment should provide political recommendations for action or guidelines for avoiding risks and making better use of opportunities (see also endangerment ). It thus represents a conceptual extension of classical decision theory.

Basic explanations

The main reason is that technology applications never only fulfill their work goal, but also have side effects for the natural and social environment ( see also: residual risk , limit risk ).

A simple example of this is car traffic : the transport creates undesirable combustion products that are released into the atmosphere; it pollutes the living environment through noise; the necessary road construction seals surfaces, accelerates the surface runoff of precipitation and divides the habitats into flora and fauna.

Another example is mobile telephony, which creates stray electromagnetic fields, the harmfulness of which is still discussed today. Often these more far-reaching effects are very complex and not immediately transparent.

Technology assessment includes the separately considered areas of technology impact research and technology impact assessment. The former is about the scientific recording of the consequences and side effects, these are only recorded and presented without any value. The technology impact assessment is about the assessment of the expected consequences. The evaluation follows the preferences given by those affected.

A basic problem in technology assessment that is solved creatively and procedurally in daily practice is the so-called Collingridge dilemma . It is that effects cannot be easily foreseen until the technology is sufficiently developed and widely used. However, designing and changing becomes more difficult the more firmly entrenched the technology.

In the last few years, technology assessment has found it necessary to respond more to the increasing efforts to participate in society and to develop new forms of participation for this purpose. However, through the blanket demand for “more participation”, it occasionally exposes itself to the accusation of obtaining legitimacy or ignorance of minority positions (e.g. represented by scientists).

A historical example

The pastor, natural scientist and inventor Jacob Christian Schäffer , a pioneer of the mechanical washing machine , gave an early example of technology assessment . When he was concerned with their construction in 1766/1768 and had 60 copies made by a Regensburg carpenter, he wrote a detailed description with several addenda. He also went into the use and its consequences. Since most of the “washerwomen” apparently feared for their work, Schäffer calculated that their worries were unfounded. Rather, they would get more work in the future and “win on all sides”. He went on to say: “The washerwomen, washing in the houses like this, can now wash in two households in one day and earn the wages that they otherwise only earn in one household.” Schäffer also emphasizes that the laundresses through their hard work, "hands and feet become lame or otherwise ill".

Schäffer later published numerous testimonials from laundresses and owners of the device, which he was able to sell outside of Germany. At the time, it was unusual for a technical innovation to be aimed primarily at women, and above all to be made known among them.

Forms and concepts of TA

The following types and concepts of TA are the most visible and widely practiced. In addition, there are of course a number of other forms that have only been suggested as concepts in the literature or are used by individual TA institutions.

  • Parliamentary TA (PTA) : TA that addresses the parliament of a country directly. PTA is carried out either directly by Members of Parliament (e.g. France, Finland), on behalf of a Parliament by their own TA bodies in or at Parliament (e.g. United Kingdom, Germany) or outside of Parliament (e.g. Denmark, Netherlands, Switzerland). See also the article on EPTA. A well-read, international report from 2012 systematically compares all major European parliamentary TA institutions.
  • Expert TA (also known as classic or traditional TA ): TA performed by experts from different disciplines. It receives its input from stakeholders and other actors through written statements, reports and interviews, i.e. indirectly, not directly as in participatory TA.
  • Participatory TA (pTA) : TA that systematically and methodologically includes different social groups as reviewers and discussion participants. These can be individual actors such as citizens (laypeople), scientists or engineers. Classic pTA methods include consensus conferences, focus groups, scenario workshops, etc. Occasionally, pTA is further subdivided into two sub-types, depending on whether experts and stakeholders are involved (in English: expert-stakeholder pTA) or lay people (in English, public pTA).
  • Constructive TA (abbreviated CTA after the English term constructive TA): This TA concept, originally developed in the Netherlands and partly also applied in other countries, tries to influence the development of new technology through feedback from the TA. In contrast to the classic, reactive forms of TA, the CTA wants to do more than just assess traditional development practices through an impact assessment. Rather, social or ecological consequences, for example, should already be given more attention in the design process, i.e. actively included in the development.
  • Discursive TA or Argumentative TA : This type of TA tries to deepen the public discussion about science, technology and society. Sociopolitical conflicts about the introduction of new technologies should be presented and dealt with by relevant groups. Different people and organizations representing scientific, social and political positions (critics, supporters, experts, politicians, etc.) are involved in the process. The content of these discourses are not only local and current conflicts, but also general social technology controversies.
  • Medical TA (abbreviated HTA after the English Health Technology Assessment ): A specialized form of TA for the systematic evaluation of medical technologies, procedures and aids, but also organizational structures in which medical services are provided. Criteria such as effectiveness, safety and costs are examined, taking into account social, legal and ethical aspects.

Under TAR Technology Assessment & Risk, technology risks are also assessed in addition to technology in terms of opportunity. Genetic engineering should serve as an example: At the time (1990), it was still viewed and advertised as an opportunity with a great future, but the question of personalized (individual) genetic engineering medicine can no longer be advertised, since the application risks from practice discourage.

Methods and implementation

Depending on the type of technique or technology examined, a variety of different methods are usually used. B. Decision theory to apply. With literature research, document analyzes and expert surveys, initial insights can be gained as to which specialty areas need to be included in the investigation. Case studies, computer simulations and the development of scenarios can provide quantitative information on the expected impact. If the focus is on environmentally relevant aspects, such investigations are also referred to as " environmental impact assessments " (EIA). An assessment of the risks can also be carried out using public participation procedures.

The following procedure is conceivable for carrying out a TA study:

  1. Problem definition
  2. Description of the technology
  3. Exploring and describing side effects of the technology
  4. Description of those affected
  5. Prediction of social and other developments
  6. Reviews of the consequences
  7. Analysis of political options for action
  8. Generally understandable communication of the results

In view of the constant changes in the environment, in which consequences can occur, their forecast is subject to great uncertainty.

Topics from TA

The international discussion about TA research and TA counseling topics shows that there is no generally applicable concept for the design and implementation of TA studies. The diversity of technologies and new technological developments and their possible applications are reflected in the thematic breadth of the research and consulting landscape.

The topics are usually worked on in project form. In most cases, social, economic, ecological and ethical aspects are considered under sustainability criteria; based on local (or social) Agenda 21 criteria (Riogipfel 1998, EU).

  • Environment (e.g. resource management, biotechnology, surface sealing , genetic engineering, synthetic biology, bionics)
  • Energy (e.g. nuclear power, biomass / energy crops, security of supply, CCS, photovoltaics, geothermal energy, fuel cells)
  • Sustainability (e.g. land use)
  • Information and communication (e.g. privacy, data protection, internet, mobile communications)
  • Transport (e.g. mobility, electric car, space travel)
  • Health (e.g. diagnosis, therapy, early detection, biotechnology, aging, care robots, genetic engineering, synthetic biology, nanotechnology)
  • Security (e.g. arms research, surveillance, biometric systems, data protection)
  • Work (e.g. aging, automation)

Institutions, networks and associations involved in technology assessment


The Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) was established on July 1, 1995 after a long institutional history and, with more than 100 scientific staff, is the largest and most traditional scientific institution in Germany concerned with technology assessment (TA) and systems analysis in theory and practice .

ITAS advises about the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Parliament (TAB) to the German Bundestag and as a leading member of the European Technology Assessment Group (ETAG) the European Parliament . In the German Bundestag in 1990 the instrument of technology assessment was integrated into the rules of procedure after a long discussion. The responsible committee for education, research and technology assessment decides on the implementation of technology impact analyzes by the TAB and evaluates them for the Bundestag. No parliamentary apparatus was created to carry out these technology impact analyzes, rather the TAB is commissioned in such cases.

In Germany there are numerous facilities for technology assessment, some of them independent institutions such as the European Academy in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler , some chairs such as B. those in Bielefeld, Stuttgart or the research focus BIOGUM at the University of Hamburg. Technology assessment facilities such as the Academy for Technology Assessment Baden-Württemberg were also closed .

The Association of German Engineers (VDI) also issued a guideline in March 1991 that explicitly deals with technology assessment (VDI guideline 3780). This defines terms and principles of technology evaluation in order to anchor them more firmly in the self-image of engineers and their way of working.


In Austria there is the Institute for Technology Assessment at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna as well as a number of other institutions that are dedicated to TA, e.g. B. the inter-university research center for technology, work and culture (IFZ) Austria, Graz.


In Switzerland, technology assessment is carried out in particular by the Foundation for Technology Assessment TA-SWISS in Bern. The BATS - Center for Biosafety and Sustainability - is one of the other academic and non-academic TA institutions in Switzerland.

Associations and networks

In the German-speaking area there is no professional organization and no scientific society for those working in this area. In November 2004, however, people and institutions of the German-speaking TA community came together to form the TA network . This sees itself as an association of scientists, experts and practitioners in the broadly understood field of TA (Technology Assessment) .

The parliamentary TA institutions in Europe are united in the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment (EPTA) network.

Some European TA institutions have joined forces to form the European Technology Assessment Group (ETAG). ETAG has been working on TA projects since 2005, renewed since 2009, on behalf of the European Parliament for the STOA (Science and Technology Options Assessment) committee.


  • VDI : Technology Assessment: Terms and Basics (Guideline 3780). Düsseldorf 1991.
  • Günter Ropohl : Ethics and Technology Assessment. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1996, ISBN 3-518-28841-5 ( Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft 1241).
  • Raban von Westphalen (ed.): Technology assessment as a political task. 3rd completely revised, reworked and expanded edition. Oldenbourg, Munich et al. 1997, ISBN 3-486-23715-2 .
  • Stephan Bröchler u. a. (Ed.): Handbook Technology Assessment. 3 volumes. Edition Sigma, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-89404-457-8 .
  • Bernhard Irrgang : Nature as a resource, consumer society and long-term responsibility. On the philosophy of sustainable development. Thelem, Dresden 2002, ISBN 3-935712-35-9 ( technical hermeneutics 2).
  • Armin Grunwald : Technology assessment. An introduction. 2nd fundamentally revised and significantly expanded edition. Edition Sigma, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-89404-950-8 ( Society, Technology, Environment. NF 1).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Fritz Gloede: Technology policy, technology impact assessment and participation. In: G. Bechmann, Th. Petermann (ed.): Interdisciplinary technology research. Frankfurt am Main, pp. 147–182, describes a procedure he developed for the participation of stakeholders in a project to assess the effects of genetically modified crops
  2. See the review of Gloede's work by Thomas Saretzky: Technology policy, technology assessment and participation. Fritz Gloede (1994) revisited. In: Technology Assessment, Volume 22, May 1, 2013, pp. 75 ff. [1]
  3. Schäffer, Jacob Christian: The convenient and most advantageous washing machine. How such has been found to be tried and tested in the experiments made with it and how it can be used all the more safely and usefully from time to time, modified and improved. Regensburg: Zunkel 1766. Eckart Roloff : Jacob Christian Schäffer: The Regensburg Humboldt becomes a pioneer for washing machines, mushrooms and paper. In: Eckart Roloff: Divine flashes of inspiration. Pastors and priests as inventors and discoverers. Wiley-VCH, Weinheim 2010, pp. 159-182. ISBN 978-3-527-32578-8 . 2nd updated edition 2012 (paperback). ISBN 978-3-527-32864-2
  4. Among these concepts one can find, for example, Interactive TA [2] , Rational TA Archived Copy ( Memento of the original from September 18, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , Real-time TA (cf. Guston / Sarewitz (2002): Real-time technology assessment. In: Technology in Society 24, 93-109), Innovation-oriented TA [3] . @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. ^ Those TA institutions that practice PTA are organized in the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment ; see [4] .
  6. Ganzvles, Jurgen; van Est, Rinie (eds.); together with: Adam, Frédéric; Attila, Zsigmond; Almeida, Mara, et al. [..] (2012) PACITA Deliverable 2.2: TA Practices in Europe. Edited by PACITA (Parliaments and Civil Society in Technology Assessment) consortium: Den Haag et al .; on behalf of: European Commission (FP7) ( PDF )
  7. See also the EUROpTA (European Participatory Technology Assessment - Participatory Methods in Technology Assessment and Technology Decision-Making) project report from 2000 ( PDF ).
  8. Van Eijndhoven (1997) Technology assessment: Product or process? in: Technological Forecasting and Social Change 54 (1997) 269-286.
  9. Schot / Rip (1997), The Past and Future of Constructive Technology Assessment in: Technological Forecasting & Social Change 54, 251-268.
  10. van Est / Brom (2010) Technology assessment as an analytic and democratic practice, in: Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics.
  11. See also the list of institutional members in the network of the German-speaking TA community
  12. See Research Focus Biotechnology, Society and Environment (FSP BIOGUM)
  13. Nentwich / Peissl (PDF; 279 kB)
  14. IFZ ( Memento of the original from October 27, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  15. ^ BATS
  16. European Parliamentary TA Network (EPTA) ( Memento of the original from January 4, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  17. ETAG
  18. Current ETAG-STOA projects