Technology Assessment (TA) is an analytic and democratic practice which aims at broadening the knowledge base of policy decisions by comprehensively analysing the socio-economic preconditions as well as the possible social, economic and environmental impacts in the implementation of new technologies. It is thus engaged at the interface of science, society and policy making and particularly the national parliaments have been regarded the main addressee and client of TA. Since the parliament is seen as the main representation of the public in policy-making, it has to be transparent and inclusive of societal values in debates on new technologies and their impact on society.
In this respect, the expectation that rational political planning should be possible with better scientific analysis is at the core of TA. However, beyond any technocratic notion of finding the one best solution for societal problems by proper scientific analysis, TA has to be regarded as a reaction to apparent shortcomings of this kind of technocratic planning optimism. Social conflicts and controversies reflect risks and uncertainties which cannot be dissolved by relying on scientific data and concepts alone. There is no way of escaping the complexity of decision making processes that include different contradicting values and objectives as well as different social interests and demands. Science cannot support policy making by trying to reduce uncertainty of decisions through a reduction of the complexity. On the contrary S&T might increase uncertainty in decision making by revealing the full complexity of the issues at hand while not being able to provide definitive answers to questions, which are central in policy making. Thus the starting point for any concept and institutional format of TA is to establish a process of steady interaction between science, civil society and policy making.
“TA embraces the idea of a complex, comprehensive, open and transparent assessment of possible (positive as well as negative) effects of new technological developments in the light of a broad range of scientific branches and perspectives as well as a broad range of values and interests held by different groups in society. In doing so TA does not pretend to anticipate future developments and reduce uncertainties of decision making but to support society, politics and science in dealing with uncertainty in a pragmatic, rational and democratic manner.”