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New Models of Technology Assessment for Development

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Abstract

Technology assessment (TA) is a term for processes that collect, interpret and evaluate information and perspectives about different technological options, in order to inform investments, strategies or policies (see Figure 1). It can play an important part in steering science, technology and innovation towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and addressing the sustainability objectives at the centre of the Rio+20 summit in June 2012. This briefing outlines work conducted at the STEPS Centre that investigates how 'new models' of technology assessment may support these development aims. What are the 'new models' of technology assessment? The new models of technology assessment-combine citizen and decision-maker participation with technical expertise-can be conducted 'virtually' using new information and communication technologies-are networked rather than being based in a single office of technology assessment-are flexible enough to address issues across disciplines and-are increasingly transnational or global in their reach and scope.
Technology assessment (TA) is a term for processes that
collect, interpret and evaluate information and
perspectives about dierent technological options, in order
to inform investments, strategies or policies (see Figure 1).
It can play an important part in steering science, technology
and innovation towards achieving the Millennium
Development Goals and addressing the sustainability
objectives at the centre of the Rio+20 summit in June 2012.
This brieng outlines work conducted at the STEPS Centre
that investigates how ‘new models’ of technology
assessment may support these development aims.
New Models of Technology
Assessment for Development
From STEPS Working Paper 45:
New Models of Technology
Assessment for Development
STEPS brieng 37
What are the ‘new models’ of technology assessment?
The new models of technology assessment
- combine citizen and decision-maker participation with
technical expertise
- can be conducted virtually’ using new information and
communication technologies
- are networked rather than being based in a single oce of
technology assessment
- are exible enough to address issues across disciplines and
- are increasingly transnational or global in their reach
and scope.
Participatory problem identification
Monitoring, evaluation and accountability
mechanisms to ensure continuous improvement
Transparent response from decision-makers
leading to investments/policy implementation
Technology Assessment
Universities NGOs
Firms Users/citizens
Figure 1. Positioning technology assessment within the
policy-making/ technology development process
With support from
The STEPS Centre report associated with this brieng, produced
with nancial support from the Rockefeller Foundation,
examines the utility of these ‘new models’ of technology
assessment in a broad range of geographical contexts, asking to
what extent they can be applied to improving the lives of poor
and vulnerable populations in the developing world.
Assessing the eectiveness of new approaches to technology
assessment requires a long-term view, and would need to
recognise multiple criteria for success. Quantitative assessment
of their ecacy is especially challenging. However, there are
some examples of new TAs which have had tangible impacts:
for example, for the provision of drinking water (see Box 1), for
agriculture (see Box 2), and for energy and emerging
technologies (Worldwide Views on Climate Change; citizens’
juries on genetically modied crops such as Prajateerpu – see
the full report for more details).
Drawing on lessons from the past 40 years of TA -
especially recent experience in developing countries - our
recommendations highlight how new models of technology
assessment can contribute to development goals. They suggest
how particular components of the new methods and processes
might work especially well in developing countries.
How can the ‘new models’ contribute to development?
‘Broadening out’ inputs. These models enable the ‘broadening
out’ of the knowledges and values that are fed as inputs to
technology assessment. They do this by involving diverse
stakeholders and citizens. This makes it more likely that the
assessment includes priorities and questions that matter to
people, and relevant knowledge that would otherwise be
ignored. Involving diverse stakeholders and citizens can also
facilitate continuous learning and discussion throughout society
as a whole (rather than only within a small group of experts). This
in itself can act as a spur to more eective innovation.
‘Opening up’ outputs. Rather than producing a single
recommendation around the ‘best’ technology or policy, the
multiple priorities and preferences of dierent groups within
society are communicated more eectively and transparently
to decision-makers. This helps to foster accountability and
democratic legitimacy in subsequent decision-making. Without
compromising on quality, the relaxing of pressure to deliver a
single ‘denitive’ recommendation means that these new forms
of technology assessment can be less onerous than
conventional approaches. They may also be less costly than
centralised, technical approaches – an important consideration
in many developing countries.
How can technology assessment processes be improved?
There are many processes and methodologies involved in ‘new
models’ of TA. They can be improved by following a number of
simple principles:
Focus on the problem, not the technology. TA processes
should focus on divergent views of pros and cons across
alternative dynamic directions for technological and
associated institutional change – rather than on the attributes
of some particular selected technology treated in an
essentially static fashion. This is often easier if exercises are
focused around well-dened problems / problem elds, rather
than on specic technologies. For example, an assessment
might look at dierent strategies for insect pest control on
cotton and their future potential, or more general agriculture
and livelihood options, rather than conning assessment to,
say, rst-generation transgenic Bt crops.
Participation helps in dening the problem. Participatory
methods are best focused on deliberation and decision-
making about the nature of the problems, the questions to
be asked, and the criteria by which technologies are to be
assessed. The outputs of these processes can then usefully
inform more traditional analytical expert-based elements of
the new models. For example, the assumptions that the
central problem is simply about the volume of water provision,
can miss important issues around water access, quality and
gender relations in water provision.
Allow plural criteria for assessment. Criteria for
assessment should be selected on the basis of multi-
stakeholder deliberation. They should however aim to take
into account the immediate distribution of costs, benets and
risks from technological change, rather than just the post-hoc
redistribution following inequitable impacts. For instance,
innovative crop strategies that require new forms of land
tenure should be appraised on their direct consequences -
not according to a presumed ‘trickle down’ of the prots
from more productive land to poor people.
Diversity is key. Technology assessments should focus
on maintaining and enhancing the diversity of social and
technological approaches to addressing specied challenges.
Potentially negative impacts of technologies that particularly
threaten diverse solutions should be especially guarded
against. For example, a disproportionate focus on proprietary
pharmaceuticals to treat diseases may draw resources and
attention away from existing public health measures and
lifestyle choices, so ‘crowding out’ a variety of eective
approaches that contribute to disease prevention.
Box 1: Stakeholder dialogues around the role for new
technologies in potable water provision
The NGO Practical Action has conducted a number of
stakeholder workshops to investigate the question “Can
Nanotechnologies help achieve the millennium development
target of halving the number of people without access to clean
water by 2015?” Engaging experts, government decision-
makers and, importantly, community members in Zimbabwe,
they focused on identifying and understanding the various
sources of the problem of water provision, and discussing
possible technological and non-technological solutions. By
broadening out the inputs to discussion and opening up the
options under consideration, the exercise helped the
participants understand more about the social concerns at the
heart of the issue. It pointed to a range of potential solutions,
including some that involved nanotechnologies.
Similar processes in Peru and Nepal have led to useful
information previously unavailable to nanotechnology experts
and to the formation of regional networks between researchers
and users. Unfortunately, the international networking of these
isolated events and their impact on research, design and
development has so far been hampered by the absence
of long-term funding for co-ordination and follow-up
about the outcomes.
Considerations for developing countries
Technology assessment methods should be carefully designed
and implemented, based on the options under discussion, the
resources available and the socio-political context in which they
are undertaken. Many lessons for technology assessment
gleaned in OECD countries, are less practically applicable in
many developing country contexts. For example:
• Though internet infrastructures are improving in many
of these contexts, a reliance on Web 2.0 or other ‘virtual’
models is not realistic where the necessary infrastructures
do not exist.
• Capacity in the methodologies of new models of technology
assessment is often lacking in many developing countries. In
these cases, pooling resources between countries may help.
• Data and statistics that can inform technology assessments
in OECD contexts, as well as levels of understanding and
language required for meaningful citizen engagement in
debates about some technologies, are less often present in
developing countries.
• Resources and capacity may not be available to act on
TA outputs and subsequent political decisions. Still, in these
circumstances, new models of technology assessment can
help generate tacit learning within the innovation system,
even if their outputs do not go on to guide
concrete investments.
The eectiveness of technology assessment rests not only on
the process and outcomes, and the availability of resources to
act on the outputs of a TA. It also relies on responsiveness and
openness on the part of government and others who hold and
allocate resources. Governments, funders and other audiences
for TA exercises should commit in advance to responding in
detail to the outputs of technology assessment. This does not
mean that they always have to act in accordance with these
outputs, but simply justify their response in a transparent and
reasoned way. New models of technology assessment can thus
place the responsibility for decision-making more rmly on
democratically accountable leaders, and enhance political
debate around scientic and technological investments
and policies.
Box 2: Assessing technological options for food and
livelihood security
Agricultural technologies and alternative options for food and
livelihood security have been assessed at local, national and
global levels. Broadening out to include dierent perspectives
highlighted the multiple functions that agriculture plays and
pointed to the importance of a combination of technological
and other (non-technological) options.
At a local level, the STEPS Centre conducted a multicriteria
mapping (MCM) exercise with various stakeholders and poor,
semi-literate farmers in Kenya in 2009 to explore innovation
pathways in and out of maize. The exercise (sometimes
challenging to administer) allowed interviewees to assess the
pros and cons of 9 pathways against their own chosen criteria,
rather than those of the researchers. The MCM exercise
recorded not only their quantitative scores for each pathway
but also the reasons behind each interviewee’s assessment.
(For briengs, working papers and videos, see http://www.
steps-centre.org/ourresearch/crops,%20kenya.html)
At the international level, a networked approach to TA was
attempted by the International Assessment of Agricultural
Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)
– a $15M initiative supported by several international agencies
that ran from 2005-2007. Like the MCM exercise above, the
IAASTD broadened out participation by involving a wide range
of stakeholders (although not, in this case, farmers) - one
consequence of which was that it did not consider agriculture in
isolation, but looked at its contribution to broader livelihood and
environmental goals. The process did not deliver a global
‘roadmap’ for agriculture (and has been criticised for failing to
prioritise specic options), but it built understanding across
varied constituencies and opened up previously neglected
perspectives for discussion – all of which contributed to a
more informed and plural debate in the future.
Box 3: Important criteria for new models of
technology assessment
The ndings of the report point to fteen criteria under which
technology assessments may be appraised, grouped into
thematic sub-headings:
Broadening out inputs to technology assessment – participation
and expertise
1. Is the method equally conducive, without inherent bias, to
eliciting all relevant perspectives?
2. Are dierent perspectives aorded a role in design as well as
implementation of appraisal?
3. Is there due attention, not just to technological, but also social
and institutional aspects?
4. Are all relevant technology and policy options compared in
inclusive and symmetrical ways?
5. Are there any inherent or circumstantial limits on the kinds
of issue admissible in appraisal?
6. Does the method allow balanced attention to positive as well
as negative consequences?
7. Is there exibility for dierent actors themselves to dene
their own key options and issues?
8. Are certain kinds of issue unduly privileged over others
(eg. quantitative over qualitative)?
Dynamic social-technological-environmental pathways
9. Are dierent options addressed in a dynamic way, eg.
attending to contrasting scenarios?
10. Are issues around diversity and interactions between options
also fully considered?
11. Is there consideration of issues of exibility and reversibility,
to allow learning from surprise?
Opening up outputs to technology assessment – promoting
accountable decisions
12. Are conditions made clear under which contrasting
assumptions yield dierent conclusions?
13. Is full attention given to uncertainty ranges, without articial
reduction to probabilistic risk
14. Is it explained how this individual exercise relates to others
and to wider political debate?
15. Have sponsors committed to respond in detail to ndings,
even if these are not agreed?
IDS_Master Logo
References and further reading
Grimshaw, D., Stilgoe, J. & Gudza, L. (2007) The Role of New
Technologies in Potable Water Provision: A Stakeholder
Workshop Approach, Practical Action, Rugby
Kuruganti, K., Pimbert, M. & Wakeford, T. (2008) The people’s
vision - UK and Indian reections on Prajateerpu. Participatory
Learning and Action, Vol. 58 12-17
Sclove, R. (2010) Reinventing technology assessment:
a 21st Century model. Woodrow Wilson International Centre
for Scholars, Washington DC.
Scoones, I. (2009) The politics of global assessments: the case
of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge,
Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), Journal
of Peasant Studies, Vol. 36 (3) 547-571
Van Zwanenberg, P., Ely, A. & Stirling, A. (2009) Emerging
Technologies and Opportunities for International Science and
Technology Foresight, STEPS Working Paper 30, The STEPS
Centre, Brighton
About this brieng
This brieng summarises the ndings of a report ‘New Models
of Technology Assessment for Development’, produced by the
STEPS Centre with the nancial support of the Rockefeller
Foundation. The report builds on work previously conducted
as part of the STEPS Centre’s project ‘Innovation, Sustainability,
Development: A New Manifesto’ and research carried out during
the rst phase of the Centre, which is funded by the UK
Economic and Social Research Council.
About the STEPS Centre
The STEPS Centre (Social, Technological and Environmental
Pathways to Sustainability) is an interdisciplinary global research
and policy engagement hub uniting development studies with
science and technology studies. We aim to develop a new
approach to understanding, action and communication on
sustainability and development in an era of unprecedented
dynamic change. The STEPS Centre is based at the Institute of
Development Studies and SPRU Science and Technology Policy
Research at the University of Sussex with a network of partners
in Asia, Africa and Latin America and is funded by the Economic
and Social Research Council.
Find out more: www.steps-centre.org
Contact us
STEPS Centre,
Institute of Development Studies,
University of Sussex,
Brighton BN1 9RE, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1273 606261,
ask for Harriet Le Bris
Email: steps-centre@ids.ac.uk
Web: www.steps-centre.org
The future of new models of technology assessment
for development
Rather than being isolated experiments, new models of
technology assessment should be further networked and
co-ordinated in order to provide more robust inputs to policy
at national, regional and international levels. This requires
technology assessment tools and methodologies which can
be scaled up in diverse, developing country contexts. It also
requires investment in 1) capacity building amongst the
organisations responsible for co-ordinating them, 2) facilitated
network-building and 3) commitment to supporting research
that responds to the outcomes of the technology assessments.
Increasing interest in these kinds of processes, and the
politicisation of debates over science, technology and
innovation in recent years, are themselves a sign that more
inclusive decision-making around technology is now expected
by a range of constituencies. The adoption of new models of TA
addresses this cultural and political change. Along with other
approaches, they can contribute to more democratic
governance – not only of science, technology and innovation,
but also more widely. It is in this way that new models of TA
oer a crucial means towards meeting the challenges of
international development.
... As such, iHTA can be considered to be firmly rooted in pragmatism [37]. iHTA has been used to evaluate a wide range of technologies, both within [30,38] and outside the healthcare domain [39]. ...
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The IAASTD – the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development – which ran between 2003 and 2008, involving over 400 scientists worldwide, was an ambitious attempt to encourage local and global debate on the future of agricultural science and technology. Responding to critiques of top-down, northern-dominated expert assessments of the past, the IAASTD aimed to be more inclusive and participatory in both design and process. But to what extent did it meet these objectives? Did it genuinely allow alternative voices to be heard? Did it create a new mode of engagement in global arenas? And what were the power relations involved, creating what processes of inclusion and exclusion? These questions are probed in an examination of the IAASTD process over five years, involving a combination of interviews with key participants and review of available documents. The paper focuses in particular on two areas of controversy – the use of quantitative scenario modelling and the role of genetically-modified crops in developing country agriculture. These highlight some of the knowledge contests involved in the assessment and, in turn, illuminate four questions at the heart of contemporary democratic theory and practice: how do processes of knowledge framing occur; how do different practices and methodologies get deployed in cross-cultural, global processes; how is ‘representation’ constructed and legitimised; and how, as a result, do collective understandings of global issues emerge? The paper concludes that, in assessments of this sort, the politics of knowledge needs to be made more explicit, and negotiations around politics and values, framings and perspectives, need to be put centre-stage in assessment design.
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In 2001 a group of smallholder farmers met in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh to take part in a modified citizens' jury. Known as Prajateerpu (Telegu meaning 'people's verdict'), the participation process explored three broad scenarios for the future of farming in the region. It included an assessment of the potential of genetically modified (GM) crops. A four-day hearing process allowed a jury of 19 - mostly Dalit or indigenous farmers - to cross-question 13 witnesses, which included representatives of biotechnology companies, state government officials and development experts.The jurors concluded that genetically modified crops would have little foreseeable impact on reducing malnutrition. They expressed concerns about the impact on smallholders of a reliance on artificial fertilisers and pesticides. They called instead for local self-sufficiency and endogenous development in farming and food.The recommendations of the Prajateerpu jury have generated widespread interest in India and beyond, most recently from the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development. Meanwhile, Britain's Department for International Development made official complaints to the UK research institutes where two of the facilitators of Prajateerpu were based, and attempts were made to suppress the results, censure the researchers, and discredit the process's methodology. We conclude with some lessons learnt about participatory processes being undertaken on controversial topics of concern to groups who have not traditionally had a voice in decisions.
The Role of New Technologies in Potable Water Provision: A Stakeholder Workshop Approach, Practical Action
  • Further
  • D Grimshaw
  • J Stilgoe
  • L Gudza
and further reading Grimshaw, D., Stilgoe, J. & Gudza, L. (2007) The Role of New Technologies in Potable Water Provision: A Stakeholder Workshop Approach, Practical Action, Rugby
  • D Grimshaw
  • J Stilgoe
  • L Gudza
Grimshaw, D., Stilgoe, J. & Gudza, L. (2007) The Role of New Technologies in Potable Water Provision: A Stakeholder Workshop Approach, Practical Action, Rugby