Quick Study

By Brian Robinson

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Public participation in technology assessment

I miss the days of the old Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which regularly put out reports about science and technology issues that were well researched, informative and managed at the same time to irk many people on Capitol Hill and elsewhere whose political and ideological tilts they upset. Fun times!

So, of course, Congress had to get rid of it. Certainly the usual suspects, such as cost, redundancy and so on, were rounded up to defend the decision. But there was no doubt that the OTA-as-irritant was the biggest factor.

Given the generally lousy track record that Congress has had since those days in debating and deciding on science and technology issues, I think the case has been made many times over for the return of the OTA, or something similar. And indeed, many have tried to argue for that, so far without success.

Here's one more, which tries to take into account the Obama Administration's push for open government. The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is suggesting in a new report that the U.S. takes up the European experience with Participatory Technology Assessment (pTA).

The new-agey moniker notwithstanding, the center says that there are now 18 European technology agencies that are flourishing using pTA, which takes account of the views of lay people as well as those of experts. Also, it points out, the use of pTA has already been proven in the U.S. by various university groups and other non-profit organizations.

This kind of thing was impossible during the age of the OTA because the means just didn't exist to collect these lay views, at least not easily. With social media and the Internet, those barriers have disappeared.

The report's author, Dr. Richard Sclove, is pushing for the creation of a nationwide network that will incorporate pTA. Count me in.

Posted on Apr 30, 2010 at 12:19 PM


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