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.

bundestagspräsident lammert tab 20 jahre DBT/Achim Melde
»The important question of what is allowed in our society is closely related to the question of the opportunities and risks of new technical developments.«President of the Bundestag Dr. Norbert Lammert on the occasion of 20 years of TAB.

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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.

Amt zur Bewertung technologischer Entwicklung beim Deutschen Bundestag antrag
Application from 1973 by several MPs to establish a "Office for the Assessment of Technological Development at the German Bundestag"
Abschlussbericht Enquetekommission TA 1989 jürgen rüttgers vorwort
Foreword to the Final Report of the Enquiry Commission of April 1989 (Drs. 11/4606)

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.

Drs. 11/5489 Beschluss TA-Einrichung Deutscher Bundestag
Decision recommendation on the establishment of a parliamentary TA capacity (Drs. 11/5489)

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.

1. TAB-Bericht 1991 Raumtransportsystem SÄNGER
The preliminary study for a technology assessment of the space transport system Sänger was the first TAB report in 1991.
TAB im Foyer Berichterstattergurppe TAB/steg__mann
Scientific policy advice that reaches the Bundestag. The TA rapporteur group with TAB team members at TAB in the Foyer 2019

Documents and Links (in German)

Further reading on parliamentary TA (selection, mostly in German)


Parlamentarische TA.
Grünwald, R.; Peissl, W.
2021. Technikfolgenabschätzung. Hrsg.: S. Böschen, 133–143, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft 
Technikfolgenabschätzung : Handbuch für Wissenschaft und Praxis.
Böschen, S.; Grunwald, A.; Krings, B.-J.; Rösch, C. (Eds.).
2021. Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft. doi:10.5771/9783748901990
Gesellschaftliche Transformationen : Gegenstand oder Aufgabe der Technikfolgenabschätzung?.
Lindner, R.; Decker, M.; Ehrensperger, E.; Heyen, N.; Lingner, S.; Scherz, C.; Sotoudeh, M. (Eds.).
2021. Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft 
“Grand Challenges” meistern: Der Beitrag der Technikfolgenabschätzung.
Decker, M.; Lindner, R.; Lingner, S.; Scherz, C.; Sotoudeh, M. (Eds.).
2018. Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft 
TA in Europa. TAB-Brief Nr. 19.
TAB.
2000. Büro für Technikfolgen-Abschätzung beim Deutschen Bundestag (TAB) Full textFull text of the publication as PDF document
TA-Konzepte. TAB-Brief Nr. 17.
TAB.
1999. Büro für Technikfolgen-Abschätzung beim Deutschen Bundestag (TAB) Full textFull text of the publication as PDF document