Archive for the ‘Portugal’ Category

EFP Brief No. 215: Institutionalisation of Constructive Nanotechnology Assessments: Challenges and Opportunities for Brazil and Portugal

Friday, May 25th, 2012

The main objective of this study is to explore possibilities of institutional capacity building for constructive technology assessment (CTA) of nanoscience and nanotechnology in Portugal and Brazil. In this project, CTA is understood as more than a specific methodology. It represents a family of approaches to broaden interaction among stakeholders and influence or modulate the design process. One of its tenets is to consider and promote reflexivity about ethical, legal and social issues, along with environmental, health and safety concerns early on and throughout the technology research and development process.

Responsible Development of Nanotechnologies

A variety of science and technology studies (STS) and policy statements have highlighted the critical need for more effective mechanisms to assess emerging technologies as part of a ‘responsible development’ of new technologies (e.g. Macnaghten et al. 2005). Nanoscience and nanotechnology (N&N) offers many opportunities to implement such a responsible development paradigm in the context of emerging technologies. The constructive technology assessment (CTA) model is regarded by many as one of the most effective approaches to implementing such a paradigm, as it considers ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI) and environmental, health and safety (EHS) concerns in the early stages of development, thus avoiding risky and undesirable outcomes (for further details, see: Schot & Rip 1997).

The ‘Irresponsible’ Catch-up Process

While many of the leading countries in N&N research have explicit directives and initiatives to consider ELSI and EHS aspects in the early stages of N&N research and development (R&D), most peripheral and semi-peripheral countries have made few efforts to promote more ex ante and democratic technology assessments. This seems to be true in the case of Brazil and Portugal as well where, despite government support of N&N research, there is a complete lack of institutionalised programmes and/or initiatives related to CTAs. Moreover, surveys to assess the public understanding and acceptance of science and technology in Brazil and Portugal have shown a societal demand for more accountability and democratic participation in S&T development.

Objectives and Methodology: Institutions and Institutionalisations

The main objective of this study is to characterise the kinds of policies and institutions that are responsible for implementing and sustaining mechanisms of CTA of N&N in the UK, US and Netherlands as well as the existing N&N policies and institutions in Brazil and Portugal in order to understand how to further promote CTA in Brazil and Portugal. More specifically, this work aims at (1) describing the main policies and institutions that perform CTA (or comparable models) in the UK, US and Netherlands; (2) characterising the main policies and institutions responsible for N&N development in Brazil and Portugal; (3) identifying key institutional factors driving successful initiatives that could be implemented in Portugal and Brazil; and finally, (4) proposing ways or sites where CTA might be better institutionalised in Brazil and Portugal.

The methodology of this study followed a qualitative, inductive approach, based on literature reviews and content analysis of grey literature (governmental and non-governmental reports and publications, news, websites, etc.). The complete PhD research, however, includes laboratory ethnographies and semi-structured interviews. Data from the latter are not presented here.

Technology Assessment Arrangements in International Comparison

The United States: the Pioneer

While the US pioneered the establishment of parliamentary technology assessment agencies, there is a strong methodological tradition restricting technology assessment (TA) to an expert-driven analysis of technologies that are already in the production and dissemination phase. This was the case for the Office of Technology Assessment – OTA (active from 1972 to 1995). It was heavily criticised for its ineffectiveness, which was attributed to its political bias and the time required to deliver the assessment reports, which usually arrived too late for effective regulation. Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO – 2000 to present) carries out almost the same tasks.

In regard to the main federal policies for N&N, there are directives that explicitly require including ELSI and EHS concerns in the early stage of development. The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), implemented since 2001, reserves funds for research concerning the early assessment of N&N risks and impacts, and the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (2003) legally supports the initiative and corroborates its vision.

These policies have resulted in the funding of many research projects aimed at CTA and the creation of institutions designed to research and implement such activities. For example, the National Science Foundation has funded the creation of the Nanotechnology in Society Network, which pursues research and promotes CTA and similar activities, such as Real Time Technology Assessment (Guston and Sarewitz 2001) and Midstream Modulation (Fisher et al. 2006). The institutes funded are on the leading edge of global research concerning EHS and ELSI of N&N, for instance the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University, the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of California and the Nano Center at the University of South Carolina.

In addition, there are strong non-governmental institutions, like the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Loka Institute, that have lobbied policymakers to implement CTA activities related to N&N development.

The United Kingdom: Policy Learning

The British parliamentary agency for scientific and technological policy advice, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), has been active since 1989.

One of the most important guideposts for global policy-making in N&N has been the British Royal Society (RS) and Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) report ‘Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies: Opportunities and Uncertainties’ of 2004. The British government appears to have considered the arguments presented in this study by one of the most prestigious academies in the world. This has been attributed to a kind of ‘institutional trauma’, or a legitimacy crisis, caused by the government’s previous reactions to the biotechnology controversies and the BSE crisis. One year later, in 2005, the government’s response to the RS and RAE report was published. Among the many recommendations, they agreed on the necessity to promote public engagement in the upstream phase of the technological development. Since then, the government agency Sciencewise-ERC has designed and coordinated activities for an ‘upstream public engagement’ on nano, such as the Nanodialogues, the Nanotechnology Engagement Group and the Nanojury.

Another important endeavour reflecting the will, not only of the public but also of the private sector, to shape R&D activities into more socially robust arrangements is the development of the code of conduct for nanoresearch by the Royal Society along with the Insight Investment and Nanotechnology Industries Association (NIA).

The Netherlands: Birthplace of CTA

The Netherlands is the place of birth of the CTA approach. It was first applied in the late 1980s and 90s at the NOTA – Netherlands Office for Technology Assessment, which is now called the Rathenau Institute. It still promotes TA activities and public engagement in science and technology issues. The Dutch model has been acknowledged as a successful approach to TA, as it recognizes the importance of deepening the understanding of the co-production of science, technology and society for the responsible governance of emerging technologies.

The main national policy, called NanoNed, is organised by a consortium of universities and industries. One of the main activities of the NanoNed programme is technology assessment, which explicitly refers to the CTA paradigm. It is coordinated by one of the developers of this approach, Dr. Arie Rip. NanoNed has provided 2-3% of the total funding for CTA activities. The TA enterprise is mostly conducted by PhD projects oriented exclusively to the analysis of the co-evolution of science, technology and society and concerned with issues such as nanotechnology and sustainability, risk and responsibility, and methods to map the sociotechnical dynamics of N&N. The programme also supports researchers in the field of N&N to include a component of TA in their work. There are also recurrent interactive workshops and other feedback activities.

Portugal: Vitalising Science

Portugal has recently elected a new government, which has not yet published the new policy for the N&N sector. So far, the strategy has not taken the form of a specific program for nanotechnology, but there is an evident orientation to pursue innovation in the N&N sector. There are two national laboratories concerned specifically with nano R&D and many other N&N projects among 26 similar institutes. The main focus of the government’s action plan has been to establish the Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL). It is a partnership with Spain, with the goal of gathering highly qualified international experts to advance research at the frontier of N&N.

There is no governmental office for technology assessment. Although there were some foresight exercises for policy decisions, usually the technical controversies have been addressed by ad hoc commissions. Still, Portuguese and German researchers of future-oriented technological analysis have created a PhD programme in technology assessment in 2009, hosted at the University of Lisbon.

The Ministry of Science and Technology and High Education has one strong programme of science communication, the ‘Ciência Viva’ (Live Science). Although its goal is to develop a national ‘scientific culture’, it mostly promotes traditional activities of scientific education and communication and so far has not stimulated public deliberative activities.

Brazil: Emerging Concerns

Brazil has a specific federal government programme for nanotechnology, the PNN (Programa Nacional de Nanotecnologia), which has created several networks in N&N specific areas. Although the necessity to research the impact of emerging nanotechnologies is mentioned in the programme, it does not consider their assessment in the early stage of development. For example, the government agency for industrial development has promoted a prospective study of nanotechnology suggesting that ELSI and EHS issues should be addressed only in the final stage of technology development. Still, the Ministry of Development, Industry and Trade promotes the Nanotechnology Competitiveness Forum, which organises periodic open meetings dedicated to discussing N&N and orienting policymakers accordingly. Many of the issues raised by the participants deal with risks and regulation of nano research and products.

Although there is no parliamentary technology assessment agency, there is some government-sponsored research on technology assessment. For example, the Ministry of Health has a specific programme for TA. There is also a National Technical Commission, consisting mostly of experts but also of civil society representatives, responsible for assessing and regulating new biotechnologies.

Since 2005, there exists an institutionalised network named RENANOSOMA (Nanotechnology, Society and Environment) that promotes discussion and public communication about N&N. It was initially funded by the government agency for S&T, CNPq (National Counsel of Technological and Scientific Development). Unfortunately the funding was not renewed. Based on the efforts of the individual researchers involved, it has continued its activities with a very restricted budget and limited outreach.

Institutional and Policy Similarities

“Best Practice” Countries

In all countries, it is possible to identify in the policy discourses a commitment to improve and widen direct democratic governance. Moreover, there is know-how and a tradition of parliamentary and other kinds of technology assessment. There is a deep collaboration within private and public R&D institutions. Every country also has a strong STS institution of some kind. The latter, along with influential non- or semi-governmental institutions, such as the think-tank DEMOS, lobby for policy decisions to promote a more responsible innovation process, especially by advocating the role of public engagement in the early process of R&D.

Some analysts identify not only a trauma from recent S&T controversies but also perceive the advance of the knowledge society paradigm and the need to address social concerns as inevitable to assure best economic outcomes (Thorpe 2010).

TA activities are mostly promoted within the academic environment and are funded by national government agencies. The exception is the UK where upstream public engagement activities are directly promoted by governmental agencies.

Although the institutional arrangements may vary, governments have adopted the ‘responsibility paradigm’, either in the form of research institutions concerned with public engagement and the foresight of technology impacts at the early phase of development or by stimulating the integration of a TA component in core areas of N&N research.

Portugal and Brazil Lagging Behind

Both Portugal and Brazil have never had a permanent or general parliamentary technology assessment institution, which may indicate a lack of human resources qualified for the task. Even though both countries have made efforts to foster cooperation between industry and academia to improve innovation capacity, R&D in the field of nanotechnology so far has mostly been done by public institutions.

Although the Brazilian programme for science and technology has specific directives on social inclusion, there is a common orientation in the policy discourse to the linear model of innovation and the deficit model of the public understanding of science, with little concern about public engagement in S&T. This goes along with a centralised top-down approach in S&T policymaking and a weak influence of STS scholars on S&T policy, despite the high quality of research and significant results of particular initiatives.

Both countries have increased the effort to catch up in terms of scientific and technological capacities, especially by stimulating more private R&D and fomenting collaboration among public and private institutions. They have a common history of brain drain and technological dependence along with weak connections between universities and industries. Finally, most of the research on nanotechnology, even in nanoparticles and nanostructured materials, is in its initial stages although they have already developed some patents and products.

Steps toward CTA in Portugal and Brazil

The obvious sites for CTA activities are the public institutions where nano R&D is already going on. Here there is a need for incentives for more collaboration between social and natural scientists in the R&D laboratories and other settings. In this sense, PhD projects focused on assessing emerging nanotechnologies – as the way much of the activities are done in the NanoNed programme – seems to be an adequate and viable path of initiating a culture of CTA. This approach does not require much funding, and it engages transdisciplinary collaboration between social and natural scientists.

In Portugal, for example, there could be an integrated technology assessment department at the INL and other national laboratories, ideally coordinated by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT).

In Brazil, TA could be added as a mandatory element to the statutes of all the National Institutes of Science and Technology (networks of researchers organised around specific scientific topics). The present policy obligates these institutes to promote science communication, but they usually proceed according to the deficit model of the public understanding of science, that is, they engage in a one-way type of communication.

Of course, there should be more (or any) funding for academic projects focused on nano CTA, ideally inside the N&N institutes. This could not only provide qualified human resources and scientific data but it could contribute to fomenting more reflexivity among N&N researchers.

Big programmes of public engagement in nanotechnologies, such as those promoted in the UK, do not seem feasible in a short time horizon. The limited budget and the historical apathy of Brazilian and Portuguese citizens in terms of engaging in S&T controversies are evidence to a lack of institutional support.

Final Remarks

The information presented here reflects the early results of an in-depth study. The recommendations and suggestions above are not based on primary data or extensive sociotechnical analysis. Nonetheless, the study has already made clear the relevance of answering the following questions: How is the concept of responsible innovation of nanotechnology understood among policymakers, developers and interested civil society members? What are the perceptions and understandings of different stakeholder groups in Portugal and Brazil about CTA approaches? What are the particular methodological needs of CTA in the realities of these two countries? In what specific N&N sub-sectors is CTA more urgently needed? Finally, how feasible is the implementation of CTA in Brazil and Portugal in the short-term?

Authors: Paulo Fonseca                         ;
Sponsors: Scholarship from Monesia – Mobility Network Europe South America: An Institutional Approach – EC/EACEA; advisor: Dr. Tiago Santos Pereira
Type: Comparative and Analytical Study
Organizer: Center for Social Studies, Faculty of Economics – University of Coimbra
Duration: 2010-2013 Budget: N/A Time Horizon: ~2015 Date of Brief: Feb 2012  


Download EFP Brief No. 215_Institutionalisation of CTA-Portugal and Brazil

Sources and References

British Royal Society (RS) and Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) (2005). Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies: Opportunities and Uncertainties. London: RS&RAE

Guston, D. H., & Sarewitz, D. (2001). Real Time Technolgy Assessment. Technology in Society, 23(4), 1-17.

Fisher, E., Mahajan, R. L., & Mitcham, C. (2006). Midstream Modulation of Technology: Governance From Within. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 26(6), 485-496.

Macnaghten, P., Kearnes, M., & Wynne, B. (2005). Nanotechnology, Governance, and Public Deliberation: What Role for the Social Sciences? Science Communication, 27(2), 1-24.

Schot, J., & Rip, A. (1997). The past and future of constructive technology assessment. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 54(2-3), 251-268;

Thorpe, C. (2010). Participation as Post-Fordist Politics: Demos, New Labour, and Science Policy. Minerva, 48(4), 389-411.

EFP Brief No. 167: The World in 2025

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

DG Research’s Directorate for Science, Economy and Society in collaboration with the Bureau of European Policy Advisers launched a foresight exercise on “The World in 2025”, which resulted in a report published in January 2009.

The World to Come – Global Trends & Disruptions

The report “The World in 2025” highlights the main trends up to 2025 (demography, urbanisation, macro-economic projections, education, science and culture) and underlines the pressures on natural resources and the new production-consumption patterns while attempting to identify the so-called “wild cards”. The role for European foresight and forward-looking activities are presented focussing on a multi-polar world and beyond technological innovation. The report has benefited from the discussions of the group of experts set up by the European Commission in 2008 (see box below).

It has taken stock of the most recent publications in the field of foresight and forward-looking activities and includes most of the reflections of different Commission Directorates-General.

Group of Experts & Scenario Process

DG Research’s Directorate for Science, Economy and Society in collaboration with the Bureau of European Policy Advisers (BEPA) launched a foresight expert group on “The World in 2025”, which met on five occasions in 2008 and 2009.

The objectives of this group were, first, to assess and measure global trends over recent decades to serve as a basis for forward projections while distinguishing the different major economies and regions, including the European Union, and identifying the main economic, geopolitical, environmental and societal relationships and interconnections.

Secondly, the group was asked to generate and analyse alternative (even disruptive) scenarios of world trends up to 2025 based on specified assumptions about economic, political, social, environmental and technological developments in order to assess their consequences for the EU and to examine which policy responses could be appropriate.

“The World in 2025” group was composed of experts with a profound understanding of global challenges and developments as well as a solid knowledge of foresight in specific countries or regions. Group members included representatives from think tanks, universities, industry, the European Commission and governmental bodies. Meeting five times in 2008 and 2009, the group produced two publications: one collects the experts’ individual contributions and the other called ‘The World in 2025 – Rising Asia and Socio-ecological Transition’ highlights the conclusions.

The experts identified principal trends, tensions and transitions while highlighting strategies that may help policy stakeholders make informed decisions. They also say that competition for natural resources and shifts in wealth, industrial production and populations may lead to tensions over natural resources (food, energy, water and minerals), migration and urbanisation.

Each expert produced an individual contribution to the discussions and, collectively, they generated a set of indicative scenarios for the world in 2025. The experts covered a wide range of issues, including demography, migration, urbanisation, cohesion, macro-economics and trade, employment, services, environment and climate change, energy, access to resources, education, research, technology, innovation, economic governance, defence, security and intercultural dialogue.

The key messages concern the main challenges to be faced in the next fifteen years, the main drivers that could impact on the future, the main strengths and weaknesses of Europe by 2025 and finally the wild cards that may radically change the different situations that are foreseen.

Europe to Face Marginalization

The report “The World in 2025” underlines the major future trends: geopolitical transformations in terms of population, economic development, international trade and poverty. It elucidates the tensions – natural resources (food, energy, water and minerals), migration and urbanisation – and draws transitional pathways towards a new production and consumption model, new rural-urban dynamics and a new gender and intergenerational balance.

Shift towards Asia

By the year 2025, the centres of gravity, wealth and industrial production may shift towards Asia, and the United States and Europe could likewise lose their scientific and technological edge over Asia. India and China could account for approximately 20% of the world’s research and development (R&D), that is more than double their current share.

Within 16 years, the world population will reach eight billion, the experts in the report say. Some 97% of world population growth will occur in developing countries. The analysis of demographic growth for 2025 indicates that the European population will only constitute 6.5% of the world population.

Scarcity of Natural Resources

Increased population, according to the expert group, may lead to greater scarcity of natural resources and impact the environment. This can result in tension and shifts in production and consumption patterns and the availability of natural resources.

From these demographic and resource challenges, the report sees a new ‘socio-ecological’ production and consumption model arising. New technologies (renewable energy sources, capture and storage of CO2, nuclear power, hydrogen and fuel cells) as well as changes in social behaviour, supported by economic incentives, will contribute to a reduction in energy consumption (better house insulation, replacement of environmentally damaging cars with greener options, and increased use of public transport).

The report says that while numerous scientific and technological advances will give rise to controversies in society, Europe, with its wealth of various debate and participative governance experiences, is well equipped to manage them and involve civil society in research. Global access to knowledge, though, together with the development of joint global standards and the rapid worldwide diffusion of new technologies will have a great impact on Europe’s future welfare.

It is assumed that by 2025 Europe will be specialized in exporting high-tech products. Although the specific products are currently still unknown, they can be expected to benefit from the rapid growth in Asia whose growth will probably be accompanied by an increasing inequality in the purchasing power of the population. “The increase of the population is already a good indication of the future opportunities of the market, of the consumer aspirations that have not been covered, better than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).”

Potential Conflicts, Threats and Wild Cards

The report also points to the possibility of future social conflicts emerging in Europe around scientific and technological advancements in areas like cognitive sciences, nanotechnology, security technologies, genetic manipulation, synthetic biology and others.

Among the unforeseeable turbulences that could shape the next two decades, the report identifies seven “wild cards”:

  1. Persistence of the financial and economic crisis beyond 2010.
  2. A major war (for the years 2010-2020 of strong turbulence).
  3. A technological disaster that could influence the choices of priorities of governments (e.g. a nuclear accident like Chernobyl blocking the nuclear option for many years).
  4. Pandemics with devastating effects.
  5. The collapse of a major urban area in a developing country.
  6. The blocking of the European Union as a result of the difficulties of establishing new economic governance and political decision mechanisms;
  7. A breakthrough in the field of renewable energy production;
  8. A new wave of technological innovations and a new rapid growth cycle driven by emerging countries;
  9. Sudden or even brutal acceleration of the (nonlinear) impacts of climate change;
  10. Progress in the adoption of a world governance system due to the extent of the problems to be dealt with and to the pressure of public opinion.

What Experts Recommend to EU Policy Makers

Key RTD Areas

The EU should struggle for maintaining its leadership in key RTD areas, such as technologies of energy saving, research into sustainable development and climate change, health and the containment of diseases, food safety and security in general.

Europe Must Not Fall Behind in R&D

Experts suggest that Europe become a model based on emphasizing quality of life, which might involve maintaining global access to knowledge and guaranteeing or contributing to establishing international standards in science and technology. “To ensure access to knowledge through the global networks also means to be attractive for the researchers and the investment that comes from the outside”, the report points out.

From ‘Brain-drain’ to ‘Brain-circulation’

There will be a switch from ‘brain drain’ to ‘brain circulation’, and young researchers will be moving to various regions of the world, which will become educational and scientific centres. It is estimated that in 2025 there will be 645,000 Chinese students and 300,000 Indian students outside their countries. In turn, the number of European students that transfer to these two countries can also be expected to grow.

Effective Governance

Europe needs good policy in order to retain its traditionally strong position in developing cutting-edge innovation that goes beyond incremental improvements of existing technology. It will be essential that some key governance issues are solved. For instance:

  1. Set a new 3% target. One in which the EU member states commit themselves to spending 1% of GDP from public funds for research and 2% for higher education by 2020. Its implementation will be under the full control of the national governments.
  2. Consider the “Grand Challenges” – a term denoting major social problems that cannot be solved in a reasonable time, under acceptable social conditions, without a strong coordinated input requiring both technological and non-technological innovation and, at times, advances in scientific understanding. In a way, the central issue is the other side of the coin of the previous one. Can resources, not just in terms of research but also procurement and other investments, be shifted across European stakeholders to more productive “societal uses” to influence not only the pace but also the direction of technical change and innovation?
  3. Create a strong coordination between research and innovation policies in order to orient innovative activities towards the needs of society. A stage gate approach is suggested, including adequate provision for innovative procurement and pre-commercial procurement practices.
  4. Discuss European versus national research policy approaches. The global financial crisis represents a window of opportunity for more radical reflections on the relationship between Community and national research policies. As fiscal pressures mount in each member state, the question of increasing the efficiency of national research funding agencies and of higher education and public research funding is likely to be raised in coming months and years in many countries.

The opportunities for further deployment of new Community instruments will only be realized if they can demonstrate their particular value for Europe in terms of administrative flexibility and best practice governance. Only then will they play a central role in structuring a new, post-crisis augmented European Research Area (ERA).

Will the Looming Crisis Be Averted in Time?

If issues of effective governance at EU level are not addressed as ones of absolute priority, the crisis shock might actually go the other way: increasingly questioning the value of Community research and leading to a future ERA that is much more based on the member states’ national efforts at attracting research talent within their own borders.

Outlook: Socio-economics & Humanities Re-considered

The stimulating contributions and discussions of this expert group have paved the way for a broad debate at European and world level. This prospective analysis contributes to understanding, anticipating and better shaping future policy and strategy developments in the European Union.

Forward-looking approaches help in building shared visions of the future European challenges and evaluating the impacts of alternative policies. A qualitative and participatory method (‘foresight’) combined with quantitative and operational methods (‘forecast’) allows better long-term policies to develop, like the post-2010 European strategy and the European research and innovation policies. Through its Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) with its ‘socio-economic sciences and humanities’ theme, the European Union is funding forward-looking activities with around EUR 30 million.

Authors: Anette Braun       

Axel Zweck         

            Sponsors: European Commission – DG Research – Directorate L – Science, Economy and Society Unit L2 – Research in the Economic, Social Sciences and Humanities – Prospective
Type: European/international – covering issues from a European or even global perspective
Organizer: European Commission – DG Research – Directorate L  – Science, Economy and Society Unit L2 – Research in the Economic, Social Sciences and Humanities – Prospective
Duration: 2008 Budget: N/A Time Horizon: 2025 Date of Brief: Dec. 2009


Download EFP Brief No. 167_The World in 2025

Sources and References

Based on the report ‘The World in 2025 – Rising Asia and socio-ecological transition’ (Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2009) and information from the European Commission.

‘The World in 2025 – Rising Asia and socio-ecological transition’ report is available at and