The project has studied how emerging science and technologies (EST) currently are assessed, by screening 1506 assessments and studying 101 in detail. The project analysed four technology domains (nano food, synthetic biology, biofuels and cloud computing), and six assessment domains (risk analysis, economic assessment, ethics assessment, foresight, impact assessment and technology assessment (TA)). The project also studied the importance of policy trends for technology assessment and governance. The project has involved a number of assessment professionals, policy makers, researchers and stakeholders in workshops, interviews and panels about the state-of-the-art of EST assessment and the potential need for more integration in assessment. Some key results from these analyses include the following:
- Assessment practitioners from different assessment domains face similar methodological challenges in assessing emerging science and technology, but seldom discuss these with colleagues in other domains
- Assessments tend to deal with generic and more clean-cut issues of emerging science and technologies rather than dealing with real-life complexities of technology applications
- Being transparent about assumptions – of facts and values - is a continuous challenge for assessment professionals, but essential for gaining legitimacy and impact
- Policy trends are not taken systematically into account in assessments, which might affect their capacity to properly address future technology governance challenges
Based on the project results a new approach for an integrated assessment of emerging technologies has been developed. This framework will be further tested and validated during the remaining project work. The Integrated EST Framework aims to ensure a rigorous explicit and inclusive trans-domain (“domain” refers to institutionalised assessment traditions, like technology assessment (TA), foresight, risk assessment, impact assessment, ethical assessment, economic assessment, and the like) dialogical process of situation analysis and method reflection. It basically includes five steps: 1) convene a trans-domain assessment team; 2) analyse the problem situation in a trans-domain dialogue; 3) reflect in a trans-domain dialogue on method choice on the basis of what could and should be done to appraise the problem; 4) do new assessment activities in the trans-domain team (if necessary); and 5) close down the integrated assessment in a trans-domain dialogue.
The first step in the Integrated EST Framework is convening a trans-domain assessment team representing different assessment domains and stakeholders. Dealing with the complex issues related to emerging science and technologies requires awareness of domain specific blind spots. The second step in the Integrated EST Framework called situation analysis is all about framing the issue and includes determining what problem needs to be addressed, what questions need to be answered, what information needs to be provided and what activities (if any) need to be initiated to answer the questions. The step also entails identifying existing assessments and their information provision, discussing whether these assessments are apt to answer the questions at hand, and flagging assessment needs that are unmet by existing assessments. The third step of explicit method reflection focuses on discussing how the new assessment activities that are needed (if any) should be framed and what method choices would be appropriate for providing the required information. If the necessary resources were available and new assessment activities were seen as needed the Integrated EST Framework process would then continue with the fourth step of initiating and executing these new assessment activities. The process would close down in the fifth and final step by integrating the results from these assessments and the knowledge gained from the situation analysis in a transparent trans-domain dialogue to yield answers to the problem at hand.