Technology assessment (TA, German: Technikfolgenabschätzung, French: évaluation des choix scientifiques et technologiques) is a scientific, interactive, and communicative process that aims to contribute to the formation of public and political opinion on societal aspects of science and technology.[1] This is a means of assessing and rating the new technology from the time when it was first developed to the time when it is potentially accepted by the public and authorities for further use. In essence, TA could be defined as "a form of policy research that examines short- and long term consequences (for example, societal, economic, ethical, legal) of the application of technology."[2]

General description

Example of Assessment of ICT for Educational Assessment
Example of Assessment of ICT for Educational Assessment

TA is the study and evaluation of new technologies. It is a way of trying to forecast and prepare for the upcoming technological advancements and their repercussions to the society, and then make decisions based on the judgments. It is based on the conviction that new developments within, and discoveries by, the scientific community are relevant for the world at large rather than just for the scientific experts themselves, and that technological progress can never be free of ethical implications. Technology assessment was initially practiced in the 1960s in the United States where it would focus on analyzing the significance of "supersonic transportation, pollution of the environment and ethics of genetic screening."[3]

Also, technology assessment recognizes the fact that scientists normally are not trained ethicists themselves and accordingly ought to be very careful when passing ethical judgement on their own, or their colleagues, new findings, projects, or work in progress. TA is a very broad phenomenon which also includes aspects such as "diffusion of technology (and technology transfer), factors leading to rapid acceptance of new technology, and the role of technology and society."[3]

Technology assessment assumes a global perspective and is future-oriented, not anti-technological. TA considers its task as an interdisciplinary approach to solving already existing problems and preventing potential damage caused by the uncritical application and the commercialization of new technologies.

Therefore, any results of technology assessment studies must be published, and particular consideration must be given to communication with political decision-makers.

An important problem concerning technology assessment is the so-called Collingridge dilemma: on the one hand, impacts of new technologies cannot be easily predicted until the technology is extensively developed and widely used; on the other hand, control or change of a technology is difficult as soon as it is widely used. It emphasizes on the fact that technologies, in their early stage, are unpredictable with regards to their implications and rather tough to regulate or control once it has been widely accepted by the society. Shaping or directing this technology is the desired direction becomes difficult for the authorities at this period of time. There have been several approaches put in place in order to tackle this dilemma, one of the common ones being "anticipation." In this approach, authorities and assessors "anticipate ethical impacts of a technology ("technomoral scenarios"), being too speculative to be reliable, or on ethically regulating technological developments ("sociotechnical experiments"), discarding anticipation of the future implications."[4]

Comparing costs and benefit of each decision
Comparing costs and benefit of each decision
Seal of the United States Office of Technology Assessment
Seal of the United States Office of Technology Assessment

Technology assessments, which are a form of cost–benefit analysis, are a medium for decision makers to evaluate and analyze solutions with regards to the particular technology assessment, and choose a best possible option which is cost effective and obeys the authoritative and budgetary requirements. However, they are difficult if not impossible to carry out in an objective manner since subjective decisions and value judgments have to be made regarding a number of complex issues such as (a) the boundaries of the analysis (i.e., what costs are internalized and externalized), (b) the selection of appropriate indicators of potential positive and negative consequences of the new technology, (c) the monetization of non-market values, and (d) a wide range of ethical perspectives.[5] Consequently, most technology assessments are neither objective nor value-neutral exercises but instead are greatly influenced and biased by the values of the most powerful stakeholders, which are in many cases the developers and proponents (i.e., corporations and governments) of new technologies under consideration. In the most extreme view, as expressed by Ian Barbour in '’Technology, Environment, and Human Values'’, technology assessment is "a one-sided apology for contemporary technology by people with a stake in its continuation."[6]

Overall, technology assessment is a very broad field which reaches beyond just technology and industrial phenomenons. It handles the assessment of effects, consequences, and risks of a technology, but also is a forecasting function looking into the projection of opportunities and skill development as an input into strategic planning."[7] Some of the major fields of TA are: information technology, hydrogen technologies, nuclear technology, molecular nanotechnology, pharmacology, organ transplants, gene technology, artificial intelligence, the Internet and many more. Health technology assessment is related, but profoundly different, despite the similarity in the name.

Forms and concepts of technology assessment

The following types of concepts of TA are those that are most visible and practiced. There are, however, a number of further TA forms that are only proposed as concepts in the literature or are the label used by a particular TA institution.[8]

Logo of the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment

Technology assessment institutions around the world

Many TA institutions are members of the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment (EPTA) network, some are working for the STOA panel of the European Parliament and formed the European Technology Assessment Group (ETAG).

See also


  1. ^ Cf. the commonly used definition given in the report of the EU-funded project TAMI (Technology Assessment – Methods and Impacts) in 2004:
  2. ^ Banta, David (July 25, 2009). "What is technology assessment?". International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care. 25 Suppl 1: 7–9. doi:10.1017/S0266462309090333. PMID 19519979.
  3. ^ a b Banta, David (Summer 2019). "What is technology assessment?". International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care.
  4. ^ Kudina and Verbeek, Olya and Peter-Paul (2019). "Ethics from Within: Google Glass, the Collingridge Dilemma and the Mediated Value of Privacy". Science, Technology, & Human Values. 44 (2): 291–314. doi:10.1177/0162243918793711.
  5. ^ Huesemann, Michael H., and Joyce A. Huesemann (2011). Technofix: Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment, Chapter 8, "The Positive Biases of Technology Assessments and Cost Benefit Analyses", New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada, ISBN 0865717044, 464 pp.
  6. ^ Barbour, I.A. (1980). Technology, environment, and human values, Praeger, p. 202.
  7. ^ UN Branch for Science and Technology for Development. United Nations Workshop on Technology Assessment for Developing Countries. Hosted by the Office of Technology Assessment. Washington, DC: 1991
  8. ^ Among those concepts one finds, for instance, Interactive TA, Rational TA Archived September 18, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, Real-time TA (cp. Guston/Sarewitz (2002) Real-time technology assessment, in: Technology in Society 24, 93–109), Innovation-oriented TA Innovationsanalysen.
  9. ^ Those TA institutions that perform PTA are organised in the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment (EPTA) network; see
  10. ^ Cp. the 2000 EUROpTA (European Participatory Technology Assessment – Participatory Methods in Technology Assessment and Technology Decision-Making) project report
  11. ^ Van Eijndhoven (1997) Technology assessment: Product or process? in: Technological Forecasting and Social Change 54 (1997) 269–286.
  12. ^ Baumann, Manuel Johann (2017). Battery storage systems as balancing option in intermittent renewable energy systems - A transdisciplinary approach under the frame of Constructive Technology Assessment. PhD Thesis. Lisbon: Universidade Nova de Lisboa. p. 187.
  13. ^ Schot/Rip (1997), The Past and Future of Constructive Technology Assessment in: Technological Forecasting & Social Change 54, 251–268.
  14. ^ Konrad, Rip, Greiving, Kornelia, Arie, Verena Schulze (November 2017). "Constructive Technology Assessment - STS for and with Technology Actors". EASST Review. 36 (3).((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ M. Veen, B. Gremmen, H. te Molder, C. van Woerkum (April 13, 2010). "Emergent technologies against the background of everyday life: Discursive psychology as a technology assessment tool". Public Understanding of Science. 20 issue:6 (6): 810–825. doi:10.1177/0963662510364202. PMID 22397087. S2CID 12306256.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ van Est/Brom (2010) Technology assessment as an analytic and democratic practice, in: Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics.