The Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag (TAB) is an independent scientific institution that has been advising Parliament and its committees on issues of scientific and technological change since 1990.
Tasks and goals
Assessing the consequences of technology – for parliament and society
TAB's tasks include the conception and implementation of technology assessment projects (TA projects) and - to prepare and complement them - the observation and analysis of important scientific and technological trends and related social developments (monitoring).
The catalogue of tasks also includes the observation of scientific and technological trends in early stages of development (horizon scanning), the exchange of experience and opinions with societal actors through systematic discourse analyses and dialogue procedures, and the strengthening of international parliamentary TA in Europe and beyond. (Fields of activity)
The aims of parliamentary TA are
- to analyse the potentials and effects of scientific and technological developments comprehensively and forward-looking and to explore the associated social, economic and ecological opportunities and risks,
- to examine the framework conditions for scientific and technological innovations,
- to provide a dialogue forum for society and politics to discuss and assess scientific and technological developments
- and, on this basis, to identify the Parliament's need for and options for action
With its impartial analyses, TAB contributes to improving the information base of the German Bundestag and to providing a scientific foundation for its opinion-forming and decision-making. In addition, TAB's activities support the public dialogue on technological developments and innovations.
TAB has so far carried out more than 200 projects and published the results in over 400 publications.
Client and addressees
The client and first addressee of our work is the German Bundestag.
Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment
The Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment (ABFTA) is responsible for political steering (§56a of the Procedural Rules of the German Bundestag). In each legislative period, this committee forms a permanent TA rapporteur group with one member of each parliamentary party in the Bundestag, which prepares all decisions of the committee, e.g. on the work programme, and the acceptance of work results, in regular exchange with TAB. The Committee's secretariat supports communication between TAB and the bodies and members of the German Bundestag.
Specialised Committees, plenary of the Parliament and the general public
Important for the parliamentary involvement of our work are the specialised committees of the Bundestag. They introduce subject-specific topics of investigation for TAB, discuss the submitted reports in their meetings, and the representatives of the parliamentary groups debate them in the plenary sessions.
All TAB work results are published in a freely accessible form - in the form of a Bundestag printed paper and/or as a TAB publication.
Particularly with our reader-friendly abstracts (especially our policy brief in Englisch TAB-Fokus), we would like to contribute to the social dialogue on scientific and technological innovations- in public authorities and companies, at universities and other research and educational institutions, at the breakfast table and in social networks.
»I expect a qualified contribution from parliamentary technology assessment to a sober as well as future-oriented processing and evaluation of all implications of artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous systems, big data, blockchain etc. The boundless hype surrounding these new technological possibilities must be transformed into a factual debate, also through the scientific methodology of TA.«
E. D. Rossmann, TAB-Brief Nr. 49 (2018): Erwartungen an die TA im 19. Deutschen Bundestag, S. 5
Consensus-oriented topic identification in the Bundestag
Proposals to conduct an investigation can be made by all committees and parliamentary groups of the German Bundestag (also jointly).
For each topic proposal, the TAB submits a statement on the question of its scientific feasibility as well as further considerations on the objectives, contents and methods of a possible project.
Under the guidance of the committee chairperson, the rapporteur group for TA discusses the factual, political and social relevance of the proposed topics with the TAB representatives. On this basis, the topics to be investigated are selected by consensus and submitted to the ABFTA for decision.
Despite the cross-sectional nature of many of the technologies and issues to be analysed, looking back on more than 30 years of parliamentary TA, thematic focal points can be identified: Biotechnologies and Health, Digital Society and Economy, Energy and Environment, Infrastructures and Security, and Agriculture and Food.
Inter- or transdisciplinary and collaborative implementation
Following the decision by the ABFTA, the TAB is responsible for the scientific processing and management of the projects. At the beginning, the respective project team conducts intensive research and expert discussions on relevant research questions and results. These also serve to identify and adress conflicting scientific opinions and controversial positions of various interest groups.
The TAB works scientifically in an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary manner. The project team observes and evaluates current scientific discussions as well as topic-related public and political debates throughout the entire duration of the project. For central questions of a TA or monitoring project, the TAB proposes to the ABFTA the assignment of expert opinions to external experts or scientific institutions. The cooperation with the external experts and the evaluation of the expert opinions form a core part of the project work. Workshops and expert discussions are held in the Bundestag to discuss interim results. Frequently, research organisations, companies, civil society groups, public authorities or citizens are also involved in the investigation process. In this way, communication between science, society and the German Bundestag as well as the transfer of knowledge and opinions can take place even before the projects are completed. The results of all activities are compiled by TAB and the project is concluded with a final report.
Approval and publication of the project results
The TA rapporteur group reviews and comments on the final reports from TA projects and short studies and, by consensus, proposes that the ABFTA approve and publish it as a Bundestag printed matter. Frequently, project results are presented in the ABFTA or form the basis of expert discussions in other committees of the German Bundestag. In principle, all results are made freely available.
Content-related and institutional neutrality and independence
Content-related and institutional neutrality and independence are an essential cornerstone of the consulting services. All investigations are carried out in a comprehensible manner. Assumptions and value judgements are disclosed and justified, work results are presented in a reader-friendly and parliamentary-oriented manner - i.e. oriented towards the information needs and responsibilities of the German Bundestag. In performing their tasks for the Bundestag, the head and staff of TAB are not subject to any instructions from their employer or the Bundestag.
»If the prerequisites, implications, values and interests of scientific expertise are disclosed, better decisions in politics will be made.«
E. D. Rossmann, TATuP 29 (1), 2020
In TA projects, complex topics of scientific and technological development are examind using a broad analytic approach. These topics can also have a pronounced cross-sectional character and are of long-term importance to society. The guiding principle of comprehensive sustainable development forms a central orientation for the analysis and assessment of scientific-technological, economic and social future potentials as well as associated options for research and political action.
If the TA Rapporteurs Group decides that there is a short-term need for information and consultation by Parliament, TAB prepares brief topic profiles and brief studies within three to nine months.
Relevant partial aspects of the change in science, technology and society (e.g. state of research and development, regulation, international comparisons) and their possible effects are examined in monitoring projects with a thematic focus.
Innovation analyses deal with fields with particular dynamics of the innovation process in scientific-technical and social terms, which can be expected to have a large application potential and can therefore have a particularly strong influence on the structural change of the economy, science and society.
Horizon scanning/technology foresight
Horizon scanning/technology foresight is used to observe scientific and technological trends at an early stage of their development and to place them in the context of societal debates in order to identify innovation signals as early as possible and to assess their relevance. The focus is on topics to be determined by the TA rapporteur group in each case, which reflect scientific and technological trends and/or specific areas of societal need. To a certain extent, horizon scanning is also carried out on an open-topic basis. Results from horizon scanning appear as topic profiles.
Discourse analysis and dialogue with societal actors
The promotion of public dialogue and the facilitation of opinion formation in society are an important part of parliamentary TA. A systematic exchange of experiences and opinions with societal actors in the German Bundestag is of particular importance in the identification and structuring of topics and in the public discussion of the results. With the help of participatory discourse analyses, attitudes and debates with regard to future demand and action requirements are investigated in a representative manner in order to be able to systematically consider societal needs and positions in TA studies. Selected empirical surveys are published in the TAB-Sensor series.
Further development of TA concepts and methods
The ongoing national and international discussion on topics, concepts and methods of TA is monitored and evaluated by TAB and made usable for the various TA fields of work.
Cooperation in the »European Parliamentary Technology Assessment Network« (EPTA) forms the basis for strengthening international parliamentary technology assessment throughout Europe and beyond.
The TAB is operated by the Institute of Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) on the basis of a contract with the German Bundestag. The TAB is an independent scientific unit of ITAS. TAB and ITAS cooperate closely both in the implementation of projects and in the methodological and conceptual development of technology assessment.
The head of TAB is appointed by KIT in agreement with the Bundestag's Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment, which is responsible as the steering committee. Professor Dr. Armin Grunwald, head of both TAB in Berlin and the ITAS in Karlsruhe, bears scientific responsibility for the work results of TAB and represents them in relation to the German Bundestag.
Since September 2013, KIT has been cooperating with IZT - Institute for Futures Studies and Technology Assessment gGmbH and VDI/VDE Innovation + Technik GmbH in the operation of TAB.
The TAB and its interdisciplinary team are located in Berlin.
TAB is a member of the European network of parliamentary TA institutions (EPTA Network) as well as of the German-speaking network Netzwerk TA (NTA). In addition, it is networked with thematically relevant scientific institutions and experts at home and abroad through its institutional integration and the many years of scientific and advisory practice of its staff.
History of TA in the German Bundestag
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 »institutionalization 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).
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 parliamentary groups 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 parliamentary group of the SPD 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 parliamentary group of the Green Party voted for the establishment of a TA foundation 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.
The establishment of a parliamentary advisory capacity for TA
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.
On the justification for the establishment of a permanent scientific advisory capacity for the German Bundestag:
»The dynamics of technical progress is one of the basic prerequisites for the economic and social performance of our country, for securing our natural livelihoods and for solving global human problems.
However, new technologies can also have unintended and undesirable consequences for people and nature. The German Bundestag must help to exploit the opportunities of new technologies and reduce the risks. This includes both shaping the framework conditions of technical progress and participating in the social dialogue. The political debate on science and technology should reduce irrational attitudes and strengthen orientation and trust. To fulfil its tasks in this area, the German Bundestag makes use of various instruments, such as commissions of enquiry, hearings, the Scientific Service, which have basically proved their worth. However, in view of the new dimensions of what is technically feasible and the increasing pace of technological change, Parliament's need for information has increased. Therefore, a supplement to the existing instruments by a continuously usable advisory capacity is necessary.«
Source: Decision recommendation and report of the Committee on Research and Technology, Drs. 11/5489 vom 26. Oktober 1989, S.6
Institutional development of TAB since 1990
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.
Documents and Links (in German)
- Drs. 7/468 - Antrag: Amt zur Bewertung technologischer Entwicklung beim Deutschen Bundestag - 16.04.1973
- Drs. 10/2937 - Beschlussempfehlung und Bericht: zu dem Antrag der Fraktionen der CDU/CSU, FDP und der Fraktion DIE GRÜNEN - Drucksache 10/2383 - Technikfolgenabschätzung und -bewertung zu dem Antrag der Abgeordneten Roth, Vosen, Lutz, Catenhusen, Fischer (Homburg), Grunenberg, Hansen (Hamburg), Dr. Kübler, Nagel, Stahl (Kempen), Stockleben, Vahlberg, Buschfort, Dreßler, Egert, Glombig, Heyenn, Kirschner, Peter (Kassel), Reimann, Schreiner, Frau Steinhauer, Urbaniak, Weinhofer, von der Wiesche, Dr. Vogel und der Fraktion der SPD - Drucksache 10/2517 - Gestaltung der technischen Entwicklung; Technikfolgenabschätzung und -bewertung - 27.02.1985
- Drs. 10/5844 - Unterrichtung: Bericht der Enquete-Kommission "Einschätzung und Bewertung von Technikfolgen; Gestaltung von Rahmenbedingungen der technischen Entwicklung" gemäß Beschluß des Deutschen Bundestages vom 14. März 1985 - Drucksachen 10/2937, 10/3022 - Zur Institutionalisierung einer Beratungskapazität für Technikfolgen-Abschätzung und -Bewertung beim Deutschen Bundestag - 14.07.1986
- Drs. 11/4606 - Bericht und Empfehlung: Zur Notwendigkeit und Ausgestaltung einer ständigen Beratungskapazität für Technikfolgen-Abschätzung und -Bewertung beim Deutschen Bundestag - 30.05.1989
- Drs. 12/4193 - Beschlussempfehlung und Bericht: zu dem Antrag der Fraktionen der CDU/CSU, SPD und F.D.P. - Drucksache 12/3499 - Beratungskapazität "Technikfolgenabschätzung" beim Deutschen Bundestag - 22.01.1993
- Drs. 17/3010 - Bericht: Technikfolgenabschätzung (TA) Technikfolgenabschätzung beim Deutschen Bundestag - Eine Bilanz - 22.09.2010
- Wissenschaftliche Beratung über Chancen und Risiken. Bildergalerie und Artikel zur Festveranstaltung anlässlich des 20-jährigen Jubiläums im Webarchiv des Deutschen Bundestages
- Parlamentarische Technikfolgenabschätzung in Europa.
Grunwald, A.; Hennen, L.; Sauter, A. im Schwerpunktheft »Technik, Folgen, Abschätzung« der Zeitschrift »Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte« (Beilage der Wochenzeitung »Das Parlament«) vom 3. Februar 2014 .
- Technikfolgenanalysen und Technikfolgenabschätzung beim Deutschen Bundestag. »Aktueller Begriff« der Wissenschaftliche Dienste des Deutschen Bundestages vom 18. Februar 2014.
- Festschrift "25 Jahre wissenschaftliche Politikberatung - Technikfolgenabschätzung beim Deutschen Bundestag"
- lookKIT 03/2019, Für eine sachliche Debatte (Artikel über das Büro für Technikfolgen-Abschätzung beim Deutschen Bundestag)
- Wissenschaft und politische Beratung, Interview mit E. D. Rossmann, TATuP - Zeitschrift für Technikfolgenabschätzung in Theorie und Praxis, v. 29, n. 1, p. 52-55, 1 Apr. 2020.
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