Comparative Table of Parliamentary TA Institutions
STOA has been set up with a task to provide MEPs with scientific
evidence for their decisions on issues with techno-scientific
relevance. Assessing the impact of STOA and similar bodies and
institutions is not straightforward because the legislation seldom
quotes studies and reports. Also, policy-makers consult many different
sources of information on a particular topic. Therefore, finding ways
to directly assess the impact on decision-making in an objective way
remains STOA's goal for the future.
Nevertheless, some information exists that indirectly illustrates the impact of STOA.
A recent increase in STOA Panel membership (from 15 to 24 MEPs)
reflects a high interest among MEPs and committees and justifies the
need for having STOA as a permanent structure of the EP. At the
beginning of 2014 STOA carried out a survey among the 15 MEPs that
formed the STOA Panel at the time, and a sample of the EP staff. The
results showed that MEPs strongly agreed on their need for impartial
science-based information, recognised STOA as a credible information
source, but also considered that there was room for improving the
quality of information, the format of products and the promotion of
STOA, especially among MEPs who do not sit on the STOA Panel.
A very popular study on 'Mass surveillance of IT users' was published
in the beginning of 2015. Around the same time, the Scientific
Foresight Unit (STOA) produced a very successful report on 'Ten
technologies which could change our lives', which is meant to feed into
the priorities of the STOA Panel and parliamentary committees, in view
of possible anticipatory, precautionary or regulatory action at
Currently, more than 300 STOA newsletter subscribers are proactively informed about our studies and events.
The most important impact is "having and using
visionary power". The committee for the Future is in the corn of
political power. From the beginning the need for long-term examination
of the future also at the core of democracy, i.e. in the parliamentary
institution, has been recognised in the Finnish Parliament as being so
important that there was a willingness to create a totally new
institution specifically within the national legislature. Precisely for
this reason, the Parliament has received a lot of international
plaudits for its own innovation.
When it has worked well, the CommitteeÂ´s operational model has
been almost an ideal way of creatively and critically combining
scientific and technological information with a search for innovative
new political solutions. The Committee has enjoyed fairly good success,
because sufficiently different politicians with broad minds and an
interest in the new have sought membership of it. What is very
important is that the Committee contains, on the one hand, very
experienced, inquisitive and bold politicians and, on the other, also
ambitious "rising stars" with a thirst for knowledge. It is likewise
important that they represent the Finns in all their diversity of
education, from farmer to professor.
The second foundation stone for lasting success that can be pointed to
is that the aim in the CommitteeÂ´s reports is to be thorough and
scientifically critical rather than trying to please the public or
voters with showily produced and light pamphlet-style publications.
Lighter versions of reports have been needed for information purposes,
but the serious and thorough way that science deals with phenomena has
not been overlooked.
Office has progressively become an acknowledged instrument of
parliamentary action. Several laws make provision either for it to be
informed of, or to participate in the appointment of representatives of
Parliament to various bodies, or for its representation, by its
President or one of its members, on the board of directors of various
organisations. It has also become a special interlocutor for the
scientific community as a whole and maintains close links with it. The
events bringing together the OPECST and high level scientific
organisations, AcadÃ©mies, CEA, CitÃ© des Sciences et de l?Industrie,
CNRS, etc.? are the true illustration of this.
Every year, several conferences and seminars are organised by the
OPECST, either in relation to one of its reports or on a scientific or
technological subject. Finally, the OPECST also contributes to the
development of international parliamentary relations and takes part in
various congresses and events, in particular at a European level. Thus,
over the last few years, we have seen the setting?up of an information
and exchange network, the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment
(EPTA), bringing together the European organisations responsible for
conducting scientific and technological assessments for national
Parliaments and the European Parliament.
In the near future, the OPECST would like to continue to
strengthen its various missions and, in particular, to play a role in
furthering the exchange between the political and scientific worlds.
It is far from easy to assess the direct impact that TA
and related forms of scientific policy advice have on decision making.
On the one hand the general rule applies, that proposed pieces of
legislation never quote the sources of information by which they may be
inspired. On the other hand, TA is only one of a multitude of voices
that influence the decision making process. Because of the lack of
direct evidence one has to rely on more indirect means to assess
utilization and usefulness of TA "products" to the "customer", the
The first and maybe the most important criterion is the
satisfaction of the Members of Parliament, which may be expressed
openly in parliamentary debates or in more informal ways including face
to face conversations. In fact TAB has fared quite well in this respect
and there are numerous examples of MPÂ´s highlighting their praise of
A second one is the frequency of the occasions where Parliament
in plenary debates and in Committee meetings deals with TAB-reports.
The number of Committees that put TAB-reports on their agenda has
indeed increased constantly in recent years. To a somewhat lesser
extent the same holds true also for plenary debates, which documents
the continuous practice of Parliament to consult technology assessment
in complex scientific and technological issues.
Another indicator of how well received TABÂ´s advice is, is the
demand for new TAB-studies, which continuously exceeds the capacity by
a wide margin. For example, during a recent procedure of finding new
topics, Parliament came up with close to 70 suggestions for new topics
of which only 12 could be taken up because of capacity limitations.
And last but not least also the resonance in the media and the
general public as well as the demand for electronic and printed
versions of TAB products is an indication that TABÂ´s work is very well
known and well received by many societal groups, may it be trade
associations, NGOs, scientific and educational institutions, federal
and regional ministries or others.
All in all, the interest in TABÂ´s activities both by expert
audiences and the general public has stabilised on a high level. Even
though TAB does not engage in intensive press and public relation
activities, the resonance in the press and electronic media is very
favourable and the TAB-staff is frequently asked for interviews or
special standing committees or subcommittees may decide or suggest an
opinion when this is decided by the Conference of Presidents according
to the Constitution the ParliamentÂ´s Standing Orders and the law or
regulation of the relevant jurisdiction.
Any special Standing Committee may, during the preparation or
proposal of a law and before the second reading of the articles, to
give an opinion on a matter of great importance of that proposal, which
falls within its competence.
The Rathenau Instituut’s studies and policy
briefs often set the agenda for politicians, policymakers and the media, or
give a particular twist to debates that seem mired in traditional black and
white points of view.
Most of its projects are quoted in
parliamentary documents, in the national media and on stakeholder websites. Our
experts regularly appear in national newspapers, news sites and on TV. They are
frequently asked to appear in – or help organise – debates, parliamentary
committees and hearings or expert meetings.
There is a loyal and continually growing
following for newsletters and social media projects, and the website pulls in
ten thousand visitors a month. A recent survey showed that the readers of Flux Magazine highly appreciate the
quality, depth and design of the magazine.
Several projects have led to obvious political
and societal impact. Recent examples include the projects Emerging Markets of Body Materials and Effects of Research Priorities.
Emerging Markets of
Body Materials was
covered by the national media and became a recurring item in popular late night
talk shows. It started a debate both on the opinion pages of national
newspapers and in scientific magazines. Due to its impact, a Parliamentary
Roundtable Committee was organised. The documentary "Baby for Sale" – a
subtheme to the project – led to the formation of an official Cabinet
Standpoint. Government bodies are currently working on the legislative issues
pointed out in the study and the Rathenau Instituut’s researchers are providing
assistance as experts.
Effects of Research
Focus and Mass in Dutch policy lingo) studied
the effects of investments in priority research fields such as nanotechnology,
genomics, water, and high tech systems. The conclusion was that investments had
not improved the international position of the Netherlands in these fields, nor
had there been growth in these fields nationally. It led to a strong political
debate within the research community.
There is ample evidence that reports of the NBT
are used in policy, e.g. in issues related to eHealth and telecare,
nanotechnology, and privacy. Several of our projects have set the agenda for
politicians and media. Most of our projects make it to national newspapers,
news sites, and TV.
One example is our project on eHealth, which in
spring 2011 was the main story of the front page of Norway’s biggest newspaper
Aftenposten, with several follow-ups in the days after the launch. The Board’s
Director also kicked off a debate for politicians and stakeholders on national
Our project "You decide!" (teaching material on
privacy and use of Internet), has been used by almost 1 million pupils all over
the world. It started in Norway in 2007, and has since then been adapted to 16 countries.
- reports are often cited in committee reports and in chamber debates
but can also be used in other forums such as the government, local
authorities etc. Most of the committee seminars are webcast and
broadcast on television.
decision-makers rely on assessments which demonstrate the consequences
and social impact of technologies. The work of TA-SWISS is widely
recognized for its quality and the impartiality of its assessments. It
is vital for TA-SWISS to continually strive for these qualities in
order to maintain support from all political sides.
Impact is difficult to assess due to the
logistical and administrative obstacles encountered when attempting to survey
or interview Parliamentarians, together with the fact that POST is one of many organisations
delivering commentary on scientific issues. Nevertheless, some POST qualitative
and quantitative data on POST’s impact is available and indicates that POST is
a valued organisation. POST is currently developing more systematic ways of
gathering and analyzing such data.
Around 220 MPs, 170 Peers, 10 MEPs,
44 MP researchers and 160 other parliamentary staff have "opted in" to
receive copies of all POSTnotes. Those who are not on this mailing list still
routinely pick up POSTnotes from the parliamentary libraries. Anecdotal reports
indicate that Members are often seen holding and using POSTnotes in the
POSTnotes are particularly valued for their
impartiality. In a survey conducted in 2009 one MP commented "There is so much
depending on scientific judgements and scientific information and often it
appears in the media as a particular slant, the key thing is that POST is
independent and I have to say that I read their publications and I think they
are excellent, just the right length and they are impartial and they are clear
and I think it is excellent to have that". The same survey indicated that over
80 % of parliamentarians (out of a sample of 50) had used POSTnotes more
than once in the past year.
In many cases POSTnotes are used to inform the
work of Parliamentary Select Committees – for example POSTnote 368 on Rare
Earth Metals was used to inform an inquiry into Critical Mineral Resources by
the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. POSTnotes are
also often incorporated into "debate packs" which are information packs
provided to Members prior to a debate.
POSTnotes are known to have considerable impact
outside Parliament. This is indicated by download statistics, which show that
POSTnotes usually account for around a third of all downloads from the
Parliamentary website. Each month at least one POSTnote features among the top
5 most downloaded documents. POST also over 1,200 followers on twitter, a
number which is rapidly growing, although only a small proportion of these are
Members of Parliament. It also has a newsletter which has over 3,500
As an academic TA institution, the success of ITA can
be measured in the number and quality of publications in academic
journals and books (preferred peer-reviewed, English-speaking), of oral
presentations at conferences (preferred invited keynotes at
international events) and of third-party funds raised (preferred
competitive grant research). These performance figures are core
criteria in the annual reporting, the assessment by the Scientific
Advisory Board and the regular evaluation teams. In addition, the
number of popular science talks and publications as well as the media
resonance is being reported.
Measuring the political impact of ITAÂ´s studies is more
difficult, as many studies (e.g. EUROpTA, TAMI) showed: sometimes a
direct relationship between a project or its conclusions and a
political decision can be established, but usually this is not the
case. Nevertheless, ITA strives for such impact and tries to follow-up
on results, though not always as systematically and actively as
possible (there is certainly room for improvement). An indicator for
success of ITA projects has been the capability to integrate TA results
into the decision-making process at an early phase of the development
of national and EU research programmes (AAL-benefit, EU Environmental
Technologies Action Plan, EU Security Research Programme etc.).
the commissioned work as well as BAS publications aim at supporting the
legislative process with information and expert analysis. There is
evidence they often serve the purpose. Some of the publications with
strong TA component (e.g. on energy policy, innovation strategies) have
influenced parliamentary debate and attracted media attention.
Parliamentary TA and EPTA activities have recently been put on the
agenda of the Committee for Innovations and New Technologies.
technology assessment products are designed to provide balanced,
objective, fact-based assessments of technologies in the context of
federal programmes and/or public policy issues. Furthermore, in addition
to GAOÂ´s broad investigative and audit authorities, technology
assessments conducted by GAO can further support the oversight,
insight, and foresight functions of the U.S. Congress. For example,
technology assessments can provide valuable information to support
Congress as it develops policy and allocates funding, particularly in
the context of strategic foresight.
(c) EPTA, provided by ITA; version 01/2017