Comparative Table of Parliamentary TA Institutions
GERMANY - OFFICE OF TECHNOLOGY ASSESSMENT AT THE GERMAN
The Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag (TAB) has
been advising Parliament on important questions of technological and
social change since 1990. The primary aim is to supply Parliament with
information providing a scientific basis for its debates and decision
Technology assessment (TA), as TAB sees it, has the following tasks:
All this is the basis for developing alternative options for the
- to analyse the potentials of new scientific and
technological developments and explore the associated opportunities,
- to examine the framework conditions for implementing
scientific and technological developments,
- to analyse their potential impacts in a comprehensive
pinpoint the opportunities offered by using a technology and indicate
the possibilities for avoiding or reducing its risks.
As in other industrialized
debates on technology assessment (TA) started in Germany in 1972–1973,
by the creation of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) of the
and the prior intensive debate on TA and its institutionalisation. This
only bore fruit in 1989 with a parliamentary resolution to create the
Technikfolgen-Abschätzung beim Deutschen Bundestag«. The organisational
adopted has two key features.
Governing Political Body
The Research and Technology
was given the responsibility for initiating TA investigations and
them politically, was renamed »Committee for Research, Technology and
Technology Assessment«. The Committee’s secretariat was expanded in
these new responsibilities.
Operational TA Unit
Under the terms of the
Bundestag resolution, an
appropriate scientific institution outside Parliament must be selected
tender and commissioned to establish and operate the TA unit. The legal
for this is a supplement to section 56 of the Bundestag’s Rules of
The TA unit to be established will work exclusively for the Bundestag.
to ensure parliament-specific presentation and communication of the
On 29 August 1990, after a
and at the proposal of the then Committee on Research and Technology, a
contract was signed with the Karlsruhe Nuclear Research Centre for a
pilot phase and the Office of Technology Assessment at the German
(TAB) was founded. Since then, it has been operated by the Institute
Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) Centre (before 1995
named AFAS, Department for Applied Systems Analysis) of the Karlsruhe
of Technology (KIT), a merger of the Karlsruhe Research Centre and the
University of Karlsruhe.
After the conclusion of the
pilot phase, the
German Bundestag decided on 4 March 1993 to establish a permanent
institution »Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag«, as a
result of the
positive findings of the responsible Committee for Research, Technology
Technology Assessment. Since that time, the TA unit is run on the basis
series of contracts with a duration of five years each. The last major
was in 2002 the decision that ITAS would cooperate in specific areas
Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research, Karlsruhe.
current contract runs till September 2013.
ORGANISATION AND RESPONSIBILITIES
TAB is operated by the
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) under a contract with the
German Bundestag. TAB is an independent scientific unit of the
Institute for Technology Assessment and System Analysis (ITAS). TAB and
ITAS cooperate in conducting research as well as in developing concepts
and methods of technology assessment.
The Director of TAB is appointed by KIT in consultation with
the responsible Committee on Education, Research and Technology
Assessment. Professor Armin Grunwald, who also heads the Institute for
Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) at the Karlsruhe
Institute of Technology, is responsible for the scientific results of
TAB´s work and represents them vis à vis the German Bundestag.
The director of TAB and his or her staff are, in matters of
content, not bound by instructions of the KIT with respect to any tasks
assigned to them by the Bundestag, and that the director of TAB has
responsibility for the scientific accuracy of the results produced by
TAB and also has sole responsibility for selection TAB staff. TAB is
located in Berlin. Currently, eight scientists from various disciplines
are employed there.
As TAB´s governing body, the Committee on Education, Research
and Technology Assessment is chiefly responsible for deciding on the
work programme, approving final reports, and communicating with the
Members of Parliament and its committees. It has a standing »TA
with one member from each parliamentary political
party. This group prepares all the decisions on TAB to be taken by the
Committee, from the decision to carry out a TA project through to
approval of the final report. The Committee secretariat assists the
rapporteurs in their work.
Proposals for TA-studies can come from one or
many of the parliamentary groups in the Committee for Education,
Research and Technology Assessment as well as any of the other
committees in the German Bundestag. Under the guidance of the committee
chairwoman, the TA-rapporteurs along with the director of TAB discuss
the political and factual relevance of requested topics. TAB submits a
statement for every proposal on its scientific workability as well as
considerations of the objectives, substance, and methods. Topics are
then selected and unanimously presented to the committee for debate and
decision. A proposal is accepted when a third of the committee members
do not oppose it.
WORK PROCEDURES AND METHODS
After decision by the Committee,
TAB is responsible for scientific and organisational implementation of
the TA studies. The project team begins with intensive research and
consultations with experts on relevant research issues and findings.
These also help in exploring opposing scientific opinions and
controversial positions by various interest groups. For central issues
defined for a study, TAB makes recommendations to the Committee on
expertise to be commissioned from external experts or scientific
institutions. Cooperation with such external experts and their reports
is a central element of project work.
Over the entire term of the project, the team monitors and
analyses the ongoing scientific debates and related public and
political discussions. Particularly when interim findings are at hand,
workshops and expert meetings are organised to bring together
scientific experts and Members of Parliament. Representatives of
societal groups are frequently included. This also aims to promote
communication between science, society and German Bundestag and the
transfer of knowledge and opinions, even before completion of a
project. The results of all activities are summarised by TAB, and the
project is concluded with a final report.
TA PROJECTS AND MONITORING ACTIVITIES
TA projects and
monitoring activities are central working areas for TAB. These areas
have proved ideal, particularly as a means of channelling the numerous
requests for topics received from the expert committees and
parliamentary political parties into analytical processes suitable for
the purposes of German Bundestag.
- TA projects deal with complex issues of science and
technology. Such projects apply a comprehensive, interdisciplinary
approach and a long-term perspective (e.g. nanotechnology, synthetic
biology, and modern power grids).
- Monitoring activities consider selected aspects of
science, technology and society (e.g. regulation, innovation,
experience made in other countries). Their thematic focus makes them
particularly suitable for current issues. They are also helpful in
identifying and determining the exact content of future and more
comprehensive assessments. Finally, they contribute to strengthening
the core competences of TAB in important areas (e.g. themes such as
sustainable energy supply, acceptance of new technologies, eLearning,
genetic diagnostics and gene therapy).
FUTURE REPORTS, POLICY BENCHMARKING AND INNOVATION REPORTS
These analytical approaches - for which the cooperation partner
Fraunhofer-Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI) holds
lead responsibility - are used to open up specific additional
- Future reports are intended to identify technological
with relatively medium and long-term relevance which are expected to
require parliamentary action. Among other things, this enhances the
Committee´s opportunities to put issues on the political agenda at an
- Policy benchmarking uses international comparative studies
policy approaches in other countries and political options for action
being debated there, to contribute to the Committee´s ability to assess
solutions in various countries and areas of technology.
- Innovation reports are intended to review current
areas characterised by particularly rapid development, a high degree of
sensitivity and a low level of empirical information.
The topics on which TAB conducts assessments comprise a broad range of
actual scientific and technological issues with high relevance for
politics. One focal point lies on the field of environment and health,
examples are reports on »Medicines for Africa«, and »Geoengineering«.
Another focus is on the dynamic and controversial issue of bio- and
gene technology. To this, TAB submitted reports such as »Gene Doping«,
»Transgenic Seeds in Developing Countries«. Examples for projects in
the field of resources and energy are »Renewable Energy Sources to
Secure the Base Load in Electricity Supply«, »Energy Storage
Technologies«, »Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage «.
Under the umbrella of technology, society and innovation, TAB
studies are focused on identifying potential areas of innovation as
well as the strengths and weaknesses of Germany´s innovation system.
Furthermore, another focus of these studies are the challenges of
research, education, and innovation policies.
SELECTED RECENT AND ONGOING PROJECTS
- Application potential of remote sensing for developing
- Organic farming and biomass production
- Electric mobility concepts and their significance for
economy, society, environment
- Electronic petitioning and modernisation of petitioning
systems in Europe
- Future of the automobile industry
- Medicines for Africa
- Modern power grids as a key element in a sustainable supply
- Organic farming and biomass production
- Postal services and modern information and communication
- Regulations for access to the information society
- Renewable energy sources to secure the base load in
- Supply of raw materials for high-tech German industries
- Sustainability and Parliaments: Survey and Perspectives RIO
- Synthetic Biology
- Technological advances in healthcare: A Source of rising
costs or an opportunity for cost savings?
- The future of the automotive industry
- Valorisation of Biodiversity
- White Biotechnology -- present status and future
In accordance with its mandate, the work of TAB
is focused on the German Bundestag. An important role in parliamentary
proceedings is played by the committees to which TAB reports are
routinely forwarded for deliberation. These committees are crucial
actors in using and disseminating the findings of TAB. Over time, the
range of committees initiating TA studies (and discussing TAB reports)
has grown considerably.
Besides this primary audience, all other Members of Parliament,
parliamentary committees, staff of the parliamentary political parties
and of Members of Parliament as well as the Scientific Service of
German Bundestag comprise the audience for and potential users of the
results of TA processes. In addition there are study commissions, to
which there are often close informal contacts. The Federal and State
ministries also follow the work of TAB with close interest. Finally,
companies, government agencies, research institutions and educational
institutions and - not least - interested members of the public also
call upon TAB findings.
Parliamentary TA is also designed as a forum for public
discussion. Intensive communication of project results, e.g. by
presentations at public sessions of the Committee, workshops with
experts and representatives of societal organisations (interest groups,
NGOs), and press conferences and discussions enhance the visibility of
parliamentary TA. In this way it becomes clear to a broad public that
German Bundestag is also looking beyond daily business, to take a
scientifically well-based approach to long-term prospects in
technological and social development.
COMMUNICATION AND PUBLICATIONS
The results of the TA projects
and other TAB work are documented and made available as TAB working
reports and background and discussion papers. Selected reports are
issued as printed papers of German Bundestagt (Bundestagsdrucksache).
Since 1996, selected final reports on TA projects have appeared in the
series »Studies by the Office of Technology Assessment at German
Bundestag«, published by edition sigma, Berlin.
TAB and its current information are also accessible on the Internet (www.tab-beim-bundestag.de)
and on the German Bundestag intranet. The TAB letter appears twice a
year, and contains primarily information on the TAB working programme
and reports on the findings of TAB projects and monitoring activities.
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 MP´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 TAB´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 TAB´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 TAB´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
THE WAY AHEAD
In view of the highest accolade that
Parliamentarians voice with respect to their satisfaction with TAB´s
work, there is no need for radical changes but rather a continuous
evolutionary adaptation to ever changing circumstances and framework
One important issue in this context is the notion to devise
parliamentary TA gradually more as a forum for public deliberation and
discussion. An intensified public-oriented communication of the results
of parliamentary TA and the design and testing of alternative formats
for presentation could be means to improve the active role of
Parliament in the handling of cross-sectional and future related topics
of high societal relevancy.
beim Deutschen Bundestag (TAB)
KIT – Karlsruher Institut für Technologie
Neue Schönhauser Straße 10
Director: Prof. Dr. Armin Grunwald
30 28 49 10
Fax +49 30 28 49 11
© EPTA, provided by ITA; version 19 Oct 2012