The "Reinventing Technology Assessment: A 21st Century Model" report, from the Science and Technology Innovation Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., says citizens need a way to help industry experts decide whether it makes sense to develop future innovative technologies in the U.S.
According to the report, in 1972, the U.S. Congress set a global precedent when it created the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), but then shut it down in 1995. In the meantime, 18 European Technology Assessment agencies are flourishing and have pioneered important new methods, including Participatory Technology Assessment (pTA). It educates and engages laypeople so they can help decision-makers learn their views regarding emerging developments in science and technology. European pTA methods have been adapted, tested, and proven in the U.S. at least 16 times by university-based groups and independent nonprofit organizations.
Therefore, says the report, the time is ripe to set-up a national TA capability that takes advantage of having both experts and educated citizens participate. The Internet and social-networking capacities make it possible to organize such an endeavor on a distributed, agile, and open basis.
"We need to institutionalize a serious, continuous, and nonpartisan capability to assess the broad social, ethical, legal, and economic impacts of emerging science and technology in areas such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, and earth-systems engineering," says David Rejeski, director of the Wilson Center program.