Inadequate capacity for technology assessment

Inadequate assessment of new technologies
Technology assessment gap
The concerns which led to the growth of technology assessment have generally dealt with the potential deleterious effects of technology and the need to control and monitor it from a societal point of view. The development of capabilities in the assessment of technology and related fields essentially consists of understanding what institutional structures are required, what skills are needed and have to be developed and what type of conceptual and methodological approach is best suited for the country or region in question. Assessment criteria include: employment generation, capital savings, energy conservation and efficiency, environmental soundness, and socio-cultural and economic appropriateness in terms of design and consistency with other socio-economic activities. Additionally, in the developing countries there is the overriding concern with harnessing the potential of technology to accelerate development and to deal with some of their characteristic problems of food shortage, illiteracy, unemployment, socio-economic inequity, poverty and dependence. These imply assessment criteria related to self-reliance and basic needs, reduced dependency and national autonomy, and "soft" factors such as cultural values, history and tradition. Integrated technology assessment therefore implies involvement by not only government decision makers and key economic agents but also the consideration of a broader group of users and technical experts from disciplines such as engineering, system analysis, sociology, political science and anthropology, for example. Decision makers are action-oriented rather than analytic personalities, and it is unrealistic to assume that they have the knowledge, time and patience needed to dig deeply into scientific complexities. Because of their underdevelopment, many countries do not have a sufficient pool of advising scientists and development experts, who are also as neutral as possible, to assess the appropriateness of the introduction of new development technologies and methods. Moreover, the amount of work needed to create completely new development paths, assessment methodologies and technologies is too complex costly and time-consuming to be feasible.
Technology assessment and the related field of risk analysis have emerged into prominence relatively recently. The term "technology assessment" was coined in 1967 and is generally attributed to the USA Congressman Emilio Q. Daddario, who first called for a new form of policy research to help policy makers deal with the various pervasive effects of technology on society.

Technology assessment and evaluation require information in various forms and from a wide variety of sources. This includes information about possible developments, trends and areas of research which can be obtained through analysis of the patterns of patent application of certain companies or groups or of specific products or processes. Also important are newspaper announcements, analysis of grants awarded for research, ongoing research projects, trade journal announcement and other similar sources. Another areas of interest is the feasibility analysis of new technologies. Market studies, production and consumption statistics, prices, general economic conditions, financial requirements, competition, characteristic of companies involved, raw materials and potential uses are other types of information which are needed. To assess the implications of a technology for a specific country requires knowledge of a local nature covering many aspects such as market potential, labour costs, land, transportation, availability of suppliers, legal aspects, acceptability by the community, site selection, adverse effects and cultural patterns.

[Developing countries] Developing countries by and large lack the capabilities for technology assessment, since the capacity to undertake technology assessment is itself linked with the level of technological development. Specifically, information systems and the data that are available are often of poor quality or out of date. Because of the small number of analysts and the general shortage of skills relevant to the assessment process, the needed level of assessment cannot be undertaken and analysts who are not necessarily competent carry out the work.

Additionally, technology assessment in the context of developing countries needs to encompass a broader range of concerns than are generally associated with this discipline.

Technology assessment in industrialized countries is a technical venture based on technocratic assumptions about society. It is based on what might be called the "ideology of industrialization", which views social progress as a technical problem that can be accomplished through increased industrialization and rationalization of society. It reflects the interests of certain classes of society and favours certain types os social structures in both capitalist and socialist societies. It supports and serves to legitimize the concept of consensus politics wherein political issues and conflicts between different interest groups are resolved by "objective" analyses based on scientific precepts. In doing so it conceals "non-technical" factors (such as "soft", non-quantifiable data) and ignores many social actors.
If technology assessment, on the one hand, is seen as a reflective and diagnostic exercise with respect to the relationship between technological and social change, it presumes a certain minimum level of technological capacity if it is to be meaningful. On the other hand, it could be argued that those countries that lack the basic technological infrastructure are in fact in most need of a "social intelligence" capacity with respect to technology. Furthermore, many of the poorer countries depend on one or a few raw materials and commodities for their economic well-being, and many of the newly emerging technologies have serious implications for some of these commodities, for example, the potential displacement of copper as a result of developments in fibre optics. The experiences of the developed countries and the more industrialized developing countries may offer some insights, but essentially this exercise would require some fresh new conceptual thinking and perhaps a reappraisal of the technology assessment exercise as a whole.
(D) Detailed problems