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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

TA at the German Bundestag

A brief history of the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag (TAB)

The idea of providing continuous technology assessment in support of the Parliament and its committees dates back to the 1970s. This decade was a time of intense and often contentious debate on the opportunities and risks of scientific and technological developments. Earlier technological optimism had given way to widespread scepticism. Furthermore, numerous problematic consequences for society and the environment raised awareness of the need for early assessment and evaluation of the development and use of technology. One response to this challenge was the development of the concept of technology assessment (TA). Also the German Bundestag intensely debated the opportunities, risks and potential of designing new technologies. The discussion soon focused on the question of whether and how TA might be used in the support of opinion- and decision-making processes. The Office of Technology Assessment, established in the US Congress in 1972, was considered a model in many respects.

The »Institutionalisation Debate«

The institutionalisation debate started in 1973 with a motion by the then opposition, the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) parliamentary group, to establish an »Office for Evaluation of Technological Development at the German Bundestag« (Bundestagsdrucksache 7/468). In the next few years, this was followed by numerous proposals from the other parliamentary groups. An important milestone was the Study Commission on »Assessment and Evaluation of Technological Impacts; Design of the Framework Conditions of Technological Development«, which was set up in the 10th electoral period by joint decision of the parliamentary groups on 14 March 1985 (Bundestagsdrucksache 10/2937). After submitting a proposal on the »Institutionalisation of an advisory body for technology assessment and evaluation at the German Bundestag« in 1986, the Commission completed its work by the end of the electoral period with an interim report containing recommendations for the organisation of TA at the German Bundestag (Bundestagsdrucksache 10/5844).

Despite their differences, all of the parliamentary groups agreed on the need for a permanent TA institution independent of elections and parliamentary cycles and supportive of the Bundestag in its tasks as a legislative body, particularly when it came to shaping the conditions of scientific and technological change.

The 11th German Bundestag again set up a Study Commission on technology assessment. Its task, among others, was to adopt the criticism of the institutionalisation model and to submit a new proposal for the establishment of TA in the German Bundestag. In its final report (Bundestagsdrucksache 11/4606), the Commission of Inquiry presented three different models for discussion and decision.

  • The CDU/CSU and FDP (Free Democratic Party) suggested renaiming the Committee on Research and Technology to »Committee on Research, Technology and Technology Assessment«, which would be responsible for the initiation and political control of TA. An institution outside Parliament would be commissioned to conduct TA studies and carrying out »this task with a high degree of independence and responsibility«.
  • The SPD (Social Democratic Party) proposed to establish a committee for parliamentary technology advice as well as a scientific unit (about 15 members) within the German Bundestag. The committee and the scientific unit should be supported by a Board of Trustees appointed by the German Bundestag.
  • The Green Party voted for the establishment of a TA foundation which would be headed by members of the German Bundestag and non-parliamentary experts to be elected by the General Assembly. Furthermore, an institute would be assigned to the foundation whose task would be to accompany TA studies and prepare them for the Parliament. Additionaly, a permanent scientific unit would be attached to the Presidium of the German Bundestag which would - besides other tasks - award TA studies to the foundation.

On 16 November 1989, the German Bundestag voted by majority of the CDU/CSU and FDP coalition partners to rename the »Committee on Research and Technology« to »Committee on Research, Technology and Technology Assessment« and to authorise a scientific institution to conduct technology assessment for the German Bundestag (Bundestagsdrucksache 11/5489). The path was now clear for the creation of a permanent institution.

Motivations and Objectives

What were the reasons for the long and intense debate on TA and its institutionalisation in the German Bundestag and what where the goals?

  • One important reason was that all parliamentary groups felt a lack of balanced information and advice in the field of science and technology. Therefore, it was considered to establish an advisory body which would work exclusively for the Parliament and form a certain counterweight to the well-established advice system of the executive as well as the information provided by economic and social interest groups.
  • Furthermore, many hoped the establishment of TA would provide problem-related and orientation knowledge in order to regain the confidence of people in matters of science and technology. The aim was, thus, to take a more active role in societal debates on technology and the impacts of technology. A further motive in the debate was to strengthen the Parliament as a »forum for discussion« of key issues of the future.
  • Finally, the German Bundestag expected contributions to overseeing the work of the Government, shaping the conditions of technological change, and coping with the resulting conflicts. This should underline the Parliament's share in the responsibility for social and technological change.

Establishing an Advisory Body for TA

On 29 August 1990, after a tendering procedure and at the proposal of the then Committee on Research and Technology, a contract was signed with the Karlsruhe Nuclear Research for a three-year pilot phase and the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag (TAB) was founded. Since then, it has been operated by the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) Centre - until 1995 Department for Applied Systems Analysis (AFAS) - of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), a merger of the Karlsruhe Research Centre and the University of Karlsruhe.

After the conclusion of the pilot phase, the German Bundestag decided on 4 March 1993 to establish a permanent advisory institution »Technology Assessment (TA) at the German Bundestag« (Bundestagsdrucksache 12/4193). For the two following five-years-periods (until August 2003), the (then) Karlsruhe Research Centre was commissioned to operate TAB on its own, from September 2003 till August 2013 it cooperated in accordance to a decision of the Committee for Research, Technology and Technology Assessment with the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI), Karlsruhe, from September 2013 to August 2018 it worked together with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), the Institute for Future Studies and Technology Assessment (IZT) as well as with the VDI/VDE Innovation + Technik GmbH.

On June 6th 2018 the Committee decided after a call for applications to commission the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology again for another five-years period (running until August 31th 2023) to run TAB whereupon it continues to cooperate in specific areas with the Institute for Future Studies and Technology Assessment (IZT) and with the VDI/VDE Innovation + Technik GmbH.