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Tuesday July 22nd 2014
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Profile of The Danish Board of Technology

Profile of The Danish Board of Technology

The Danish Board of Technology views it as its central mission to promote the technology debate and public enlightenment concerning the potential, and consequences of technology.

The following pages present the Board's approach to performing that task optimally, including the subject areas which the Board takes up, how it does so and with respect to target groups - in other words: the Board of Technology's profile, a profile that portrays the Board of the work relation to the surrounding society.

Underlying that profile is the "Danish Act on the Board of Technology", the explanatory notes to the Act, a report made by the Research Committee of the Danish Parliament, the debate on the setting-up of the Board of Technology and finally the experiences collected and passed on to the Board by the former Board of Technology (1986-1995). This document can be regarded as the Board's interpretation of all these contributions.

Technology in society

Technology means engineering and technics and the conditions surrounding their application. Ideally, then, technology is a solution to a problem. Good technology solves more problems than it creates.

Technology pervades every aspect of our day-to-day lives and is of great importance both at work and in leisure.

Our day-to-day routine would take on quite a different complexion without technology. Our little day-to-day chores, for example, involve the use of a washing machine, a computer, medicine and a telephone. The choice of technology used is often up to ourselves because, throught the market forces, we influence the application of technology in a day-to-day setting.

Technology has a bearing on our living conditions. At the workplace, new technology can be introduced to eliminate heavy and monotonous work, but that may mean the loss of existing jobs as machinery takes over the work. The Danish Parliament very often takes a position on the use of technology. This is done in areas such as traffic, energy, agriculture, education and research, the environment and health. Technological decisions thus affect important matters such as work, the economy and the environment. If we wish to exercise control over that kind of technological impact, we must sway the decision-making process, either directly or through the media, by advancing the right arguments. Different groups can thus gain influence over decision-making in society on whatever terms happen to be available within the democratic structure of society.

Technological decisions are also taken without us as individuals or as a nation being able to have our say. When China generates energy for its industrial growth by building coal-fired power stations, it has a great impact on the global discharge of carbon dioxide and hence on future climatic conditions. We can only influence such decisions by means of international dialogues and agreements. If we wish to have influence and leverage in the EU, for example, it is essential for Denmark to have some clarification of the objectives. This applies in the field of energy as well as many other areas.

A debate on technology is needed - in the home, at work, in schools, at the community centre, on the town council, in parliament and internationally. The people, experts and politicians should conduct a well-informed debate. This will promote the sensible and future-oriented use of technology.

The Board of Technology can fuel this debate by providing a framework for it and by contributing arguments.

The purpose of the Board

Improved technology. That is the goal of the Board of Technology's work. That is to say, technology in harmony with the desire for a democratic, fair and economically, ecologically and socially sustainable society. That may mean our having to exploit a familiar technique even better, having to the misuse of new techniques and new technology, or needing to cultivate future possibilities.
According to its legislative mandate, the Board of Technology's task is to:

  • Organise independent technology assessments.
  • Carry out all-round assessments of the potentials and consequences of technology.
  • Initiate activities relating to public enlightenment education and communication.
  • Advise the Danish Parliament and Government.

The Board of Technology builds on the democratic traditions in Denmark. The Board must therefore:

  • Help inform and generate debate on as broad a basis as possible.
  • Take on board the insight, experience and credibility of lay people in its evaluation of technology.
  • Make use of expert knowledge and contribute to basing the debate on objective arguments.
  • Support democracy by initiating relevant and important technological debates among the public and among policy and decision-makers.
The principles on which the Board operates

The Board is not charged with assessing the functionality of actual technologies. As an example, an assessment of the performance of certain windmills is beyond the scope of the Board. The focus must be on opportunities for and impact on people, the environment and society. The objective is to clarify dilemmas and conflicts. This does not necessarily mean that technology assessment has to conclude in recommendations for a solution; however, technology assessments may identify joint views, conflicts and options as the first step towards finding a solution. The Board must therefore create a basis for clarifying views, visions and a debate on the objectives in the field of technology.

The Board must help ensure that technology is neither over- nor underexploited. Overexploitation may be the application of a technology to which there is great opposition among the population - a possible example being the irradiation of foodstuffs. Underexploitation may involve technologies that can solve problems we all wish to have solved, but which are subject to various constraints - a possible example being cars that do more than 30 km to a litre of petrol.

Technology has often been beset by myths and prejudices. Such unrealistic notions as to what technology can do, and does, must be viewed as barriers to appropriate technology. The Board must therefore combat both groundless technophobia and indiscriminate fascination with technology.
The Board of Technology aims to conduct technology assessments with a view to generating debate among the target groups that are supposed to be undertaking new activities. This also includes groups in society that see no need to debate technology.

The Board's activities should not be interpreted as research, although the Board must employ research results and disseminate them.

The Board always draws on the best available expertise - in the widest sense - often across professions and sectors. This ensures that the assessments incorporate a range of elements and different values.

For the purpose of specific tasks, the Board of Technology can embark on collaboration with other organisations to provide a solution - not only to ensure a high quality of work but also to avoid the duplication of labour. To a limited extent, the Board can have projects funded externally, provided the Board's independence is safeguarded.

Correct timing is of the essence if the Board's work is to be relevant. The Board should be sensitive to the topical and urgent nature of a problem, as perceived by others. The Board can set the agenda for the public debate itself in some cases, and contribute to a debate already in progress in other cases.

The Board of Technology should strive to create improvement through change. Thus, its assessment results cannot help but be controversial in the sense that they inevitably make demands of society and generate debate.

The influential and indispensable nature of the Board must reside in the fact that it highlights problems, possibilities and decision-making requirements, rather than having to design ready-made solutions and oversee their realisation.

For a topic to be well suited for consideration by the Board of Technology, the following criteria must be met in part or in full:

  • The topic must have a technological content. That means that the choice of technology or the conditions surrounding the application of the technology must be an essential component. The technology may be the problem or the solution.
  • There must be a problem, a conflict or a need to take decisions. Ideally, the idea can be formulated as a problem or a task to be solved.
  • It must be essential - democratically, economically, environmentally - for many people, or must be crucial to a segment of the population.
  • The subject must be topical, concern citizens and politicians, or there must be a need to make it topical. The timing must be right.
  • There must be a target group, a set of well-defined recipients who - consciously or unconsciously, willingly or unwillingly - need to have the topic dealt with.
  • The Board must have a role to play: because no-one else is tackling the topic; because it is best elucidated by cutting across professional and academic demarcations or sectors; or because the Board has a special contribution to make by virtue of its independent status or approach - e.g. by having lay people undertake the assessment.
The Board's methods

The choice of topics to be dealt with by the Board of Technology is made by the Board of Governors on the basis of an open compilation of ideas. Ideas may be suggested by the Board of Governors, the Board of Representatives, the secretariat, members of the Danish Parliament, the Government, authorities, researchers, organisations and private citizens.

Projects are initiated by the Board of Governors on the basis of a project description embodying the adoption of the project background, concept, purpose, the method used, target groups and facilitation and dissemination, anticipated impact, project organisation, timetable and budget.

The Board applies different methods of assessing technology:

  • Experts may conduct analyses offering an overview of the issue. If experts are requested to make assessments, the Board normally makes certain that it consults several experts with varying approaches, possibly setting up an interdisciplinary working group.
  • Citizens may formulate objectives, visions, requirements and needs. This can be achieved by having participants criticise existing conditions and formulate visions and actions that might help solve problems. Using another method, a panel of citizens might question a panel of experts at a conference and prepare a final document outlining requirements and formulating objectives for the applications of a technology. Scenario workshops and consensus conferences are examples of such methods.
  • Technology assessment may also centre on presenting information to the participants to give them an opportunity to debate the issues. This method provides them with the background for making their own assessments. Thus, education of the general public could be considered a method for promoting the opportunities available to the general population for assessing technology.

The Board of Technology considers it an essential task to contribute to the development of methods for assessing technology, especially in connection with methods involving the population at large - citizens, users and employees - affected by the technology in question.

An important part of the Board's work is to provide advice to the Danish Parliament and Government. This consultancy can be provided in several different ways. The Board can, of its own accord, draw politicians' attention to problems which they need to address, or it can take on assignments which the politicians wish to have solved. The Board thus answers concrete questions and organises hearings at the request of politicians.

In addition, the Board of Governors of the Board of Technology - when advising the Danish Parliament or Government, for instance - can produce a statement based on its own views or the results of a project.

The Board of Governors itself, however, does not undertake the assessments involved in the projects. These usually hinge on expert assessments as well as lay persons' assessments and views. The Board of Governors is responsible for ensuring that the project process is properly coordinated, set in motion and implemented. The Board of Governors does not pre-approve the assessments carried out under the Board of Technology, either, therefore. The results disseminated by the Board of Technology are the results from projects and as such do not reflect the outlook of the Board of Governors as a whole.

Ultimately, of course, the Board of Governors is accountable for any errors and defects arising from a poorly structured assessment process.

Dissemination by the Board of Technology

The Board can use all means of communication, depending on the effect it is wished to achieve. Often, the Board is dependent on others - like the press - to disseminate the results, and there is thus a risk of the message occasionally getting distorted, but that is a sine qua non if the Board is to generate a topical debate.

A dialogue can be established between experts, decision-makers and representatives of the population in the Board's projects. A project's target groups can thus be directly involved in the project in order to give them first-hand experience of the project and its results. This might entail having an important representative of the target group take part in planning the project or holding a midway seminar at which some intermediate results are discussed with the target groups. Dissemination is most effectively achieved when integrated in the project cycle.

The Board publishes communication products which are sent out to the target groups or can be ordered from the Board. This may be, for instance, the Danish-language magazine Teknologidebat ["Technology Debate"], the newsletter Fra Rådet til Tinget ["From the Board to the Parliament"] or reports and pamphlets.

The press is an important channel for conveying the Board's results. The target group will often consist of people who are busy and already hard pressed to study all the literature they receive, but who follow developments in the newspapers and in radio and TV newscasts. Many people's perception of whether there is an ongoing debate in a particular area is closely linked to the treatment of that topic by the press. The press is therefore an important tool in setting the agenda for public debate.

Support to popular education at local level can promote the technology debate. It may take the form of financial support for holding events, or it may be a matter of providing debate material, a list of speakers and lecturers, literature, films etc. In this way, the Board of Technology can get its projects across.The Board cannot be present and implement debate activities to any perceptible extent locally. However, the Board can provide a foundation for popular education activities so that others can take over the reins and carry through such activities.

The Board must thus provide a firm basis for the democratic debate within its field, but its point of departure must be that the responsibility is shared equally, by the established public education and public enlightenment infrastructure amongst others.

The Board strives for close interaction with the Danish Parliament and Government concerning the use of its results. The Board is therefore in direct contact with Parliament in order to arrange information meetings for its parliamentary committees.

Those groups who are able to make decisions and take action in the short or long term are important target groups for the Board of Technology. The Danish Parliament, the Government, the experts and the companies that develop the technologies should therefore be aware of the Board's assessments. Organisations and movements are pivotal if there is to be any change. And as citizens and consumers, the population can influence developments and thus act as an important target group. If a field of technology is international by nature, foreign communities can also be a target group for the Board's activities.

The Board of Technology must generate a relevant technology debate. But the relevance of a topic is perceived differently, depending on people's proximity to that topic and the scope available for acting. The target groups for the Board's activities are therefore prioritised from time to time, depending on the nature of the topic and the individual groups' potential for creating change.
Taking the recipients into consideration is central to the Board of Technology's dissemination efforts. Often, therefore, assessments must be conveyed in a form and language accessible to the target group, yet in such a way that their popularisation can be justified. The Board can also invite representatives of the target groups to take part in organising the dissemination.

The Board of Technology internationally

The Board of Technology views it as its task to work for active and fruitful international collaboration on technology assessment.

The international environment can sound early warnings - i.e. warnings about what will become relevant technological topics in the future - and can therefore strengthen the Board of Technology's function as an observation post.

Methodological development and dissemination should have an international dimension. The Board will be able to learn from other cultures' technology assessment. And the Board will have - and indeed has had - considerable influence on technology assessment internationally by passing on methods involving citizens.

Finally, there is the possibility of avoiding the duplication of labour, particularly when it comes to providing general overviews, by having the technology assessment disseminated internationally.


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