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What Is Technology Assessment

.. ts are not included (Halstead 2000). Barometer of Sustainability A powerful tool for examining and understanding human and ecological well being at the same time. Developed by the World Conservation Union and supported by a grant from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) for a project titled Measuring Progress towards Sustainability. It enables users to organise and combine indicators, and to draw broad conclusions from often confusing and contradictory signals about people, the ecosystem, and the effects of interactions between the two.

It presents those conclusions visually, providing an immediate picture of well-being. The Barometer has six key features: 1) A performance scale, combining indicators to which the user can attach a performance value — desirable, acceptable, or unacceptable, for example — with respect to human or ecosystem well-being 2) The scale has two axes: one for human well-being, the other for ecosystem well-being. This ensures that an improvement in one does not mask a decline in the other. Conclusions about well-being are expressed as points on their appropriate axes. The intersection of these points provides a reading of overall well-being and progress toward sustainability 3) A lower score on one axis overrides a higher score on the other. In other words, overall well-being is based on which subsystem — people or the ecosystem — is in worse condition 4) The Barometer’s 0-100 scale is divided into five sectors of 20 points each, the interval between which may vary.

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Users control the scale by defining one or more sectors. For example, for unemployment amongst engineers, 0-4% may be defined as good, 5-9% as okay, 10-19% as medium, 20-49% as poor, and 50-100% as bad 5) Defining the sectors of the scale obliges users to state explicitly their assumptions about the significance of each indicator for human or ecosystem well-being, and the level of achievement that would be ideal, desirable, acceptable, unacceptable, or disastrous 6) Converting indicator results to the barometer scale involves simple calculations, making it easy to use for a wide range of people and applications Structured Interaction (Delphi) A technology assessment approach developed for forecasting purposes. This process requires that experts consider the issues under investigation and make predictions about future developments. Delphi is a systematic, interactive method of forecasting based on independent inputs regarding future events. The method includes interviewing of, and anonymously exchanging answers between experts.

In this way, an attempt is made to make an estimate of future developments without any interference of the social relations that exist between these experts (Ende et al 1997). However, there is a limitation, in interviewing experts, will generally produce biased results. A flowchart of the Delphi process is shown below. This anonymity also provides the comfort of confidentiality, allowing experts on the panel to freely express their opinions. By doing so, it becomes highly useful in documenting a wide spread of opinion so that uncertainty regarding events or the topic at hand can be reflected.

Thus, different perspectives from a range of disciplines are critical to the outcome. All participants are encouraged to comment on their own forecasts and on the combined panel results. This procedure reduces the effects of personal agendas or biases and assists the panelists in remaining focused on the questions, issues and comments at hand. Technological Forecasting Technology forecasting is a quite common technology assessment technique used in almost any application. However, it is primarily used to develop images of the future development of technology. In particular, the predictions of future technologies and how it will vary as its technological course of action varies is seen as probable futures.

The realisation of these futures is dependent on actions of the different parties involved. There are immense limitations with the application of this technique, in particular where technological forecasts are seen as being highly predictive. One of the fundamental flaws is that of predicting technology itself. How does one predict that a particular technology will, if ever, be actually successful, as one would hope it to be? The answer to this question is of a speculative nature. Another limitation would be the difficulty in forecasting societal developments.

Especially in an uncertain era such as this one, society develops and changes constantly. Adapting to change would be quite difficult and forecasting would probably be needed to be done on a regular basis. Also, the unpredictable types of use of new technologies are another limitation. One cannot be sure whether a certain technology forecasted will solely be used for that purpose(s) only. DISCIPLINARY DIFFERENCES IN TECHNOLOGY ASSESSMENT Overview In today’s society, Technology Assessment plays a significant role in the engineering decision making process. It is seen more and more as a formality to include Technology Assessment studies when dealing with engineering decisions.

Increased pressure from the social, environmental, cultural, political, economical and technical factors have shaped the way engineers think. The idea of interdisciplinary research is not an uncommon one. Until different disciplines are brought into contact with one another, the results obtained within a single discipline are likely to be highly misleading. Interdisciplinary research is evident in almost all projects undertaken by engineers and other professions. Technology Assessment and Engineering Disciplines The primary function of engineers is to use their technical knowledge and training to create products and processes that are of value to the organisation (Harris et al 1995). Engineers being professionals must uphold the standards their profession has decided should guide the use of their technical knowledge.

They have obligations to hold which include meeting the standards usually associated with good design and accepted engineering practice. The criteria embedded in these standards include such considerations as efficiency and economy of design, the degree of invulnerability to improper manufacturing and operation, and the extent to which state-of-the-art technology is used. Technology Assessment is one major tool engineers use in their approach to achieve this. Technology Assessment (TA), I believe should be incorporated right across the engineering range of disciplines. It should be implemented at the beginning and finish of a project or product, to ensure the above-mentioned relevant factors are taken into consideration, and that the engineers’ decision, in the end, is the right one. Different TA tools and methods will be implemented by different engineering disciplines. TA studies should also be done to ensure the project viability and the risks as an outcome from products, structures, substances created by engineers is minimised or avoided.

Engineering necessarily involves risks. Even if engineers did not innovate but rather designed things in the same way year after year, the chance of producing harm would exist. New hazards could be found in products, processes and chemicals once thought to be safe (Harris et al 1995). The element of risk is greatly increased because engineers are constantly involved in innovation. Examples: Civil engineers and Builders constructing a bridge or building with new materials or with a new design Mechanical engineers designing new machines Chemical engineers synthesizing new chemical compounds This is usually always done without the full knowledge of their long-term effects on humans or the environment. Thus, TA becomes crucial in reducing these effects.

By implementing TA-studies, knowledge of the dangers associated with new technology can be avoided or minimised. Incorporating factors into the engineering decision making process As mentioned in the overview, engineering disciplines have different social, technical, economic and political forces that shape their decision making process. This is quite true. Different engineering disciplines will have different views on a particular subject or project. Each engineer would have been taught to think differently and act/respond accordingly and so the engineering phrase there is more than one way to design something is quite true. Examples Typical examples of the different disciplines that incorporate the various factors into their decision making process is in the medical technologies and IT industry.

While most assessments of medical technologies focus narrowly on their cost effectiveness, a more important question for technology assessment involves the decision making process that accompanies it. In addition one knows little information about the different roles played by different actors in the development and implementation of medical technology such as hospitals, as well as financial institutions (example, health care insurers). (Weijers 1995). Decision making on such medical technologies such as insulin fusion pumps used for the treatment of diabetics was quite interesting as it was a new technology whose optimal use pattern was (and remains) unknown. Here, different factors such as social, economical, technical, health factors and approaches are incorporated into the decision making process. Decision-making is often limited to the efficiency of the technology as such amongst other factors, and is based on the technology’s state of the art at that moment.

Rarely do decision-makers take into account the possibility that a technology might change, through research and development, or that new organisations or involved parties might change its application. Another example of decision making processes incorporating the various factors is in the Information Technology industry. Social, economical, technical and political factors are the important ones to consider when assessing, producing and implementing new technologies. Whereas IT has been a steadily growing element of society for the last 50 years, one is now faced with a situation where IT in many respects is setting the standard for communication between organisations. Traditional means are no longer a cost-effective alternative and will therefore be replaced. With individuals, IT is starting to become a part of everyday life.

Examples include: Electronic transfer of money instead of cash payments Mobile phones Video conferencing The Internet All these are popular examples, which indicate changes in everyday life. Another example is in communication with authorities, where personal data is sometimes only available on computer. A growing concern whilst dealing with IT is IT-security. The three main areas are: Continuity – the availability of information to the organisation or individual Integrity – level of trust one can put on the information processed, transmitted or stored. Privacy – who is allowed to see what information Each engineering discipline will incorporate different factors in regards to their decision making process.

For example, a Civil Engineer on a specific project, say, building a road, would need to consider all, if not most of the factors listed previously. Whilst an Environmental Engineer would probably concentrate on the environmental, cultural, and social factors associated with building a road. But both would collaborate with one another to achieve an optimal goal or end product. This leads to the issue of interdisciplinary research. Interdisciplinary Research As mentioned earlier, Technology Assessment has established itself as a new form of interdisciplinary technology research where engineers from all disciplines and other parties’ come together to assess a particular technology. Technology and society is quite clearly approached from different directions by different disciplines not just engineers. These include economists, technologists, scientists’ etc. Different engineering disciplines with their different assumptions and methods are brought into contact with one another as evident with any project undertaken or development of new technology.

Decisions are made, during the research stage of new technologies and of new equipment, which will later force all efforts to design the jobs in connection with them. This research phase should therefore attract other disciplines other than engineering such as social scientists. Indeed, there are similarities and differences existent in the way socio-technical information is sought in the various disciplines. The basic model drawn on the previous page is typical of the engineering decision making process that engineers use to plan, implement and design a particular project. This model can also be used in other disciplines. Conclusion From this report one can conclude by saying that Technology Assessment is vital in all aspects of society and not just in engineering alone.

Through the different approaches, viewpoints, tools and methods of technology assessment we can gain a better understanding of the processes involved and to produce, refine and implement new and existing technologies to better fulfil our daily lives. Through the understanding of paradigms classical, OTA, public and Constructive (as described by Eijnhoven), we can try and relate it to real-life situations and engineering applications. The need for Technology Assessment to be incorporated at the design phase of a project is crucial and fundamental in the way Engineering design is undertaken by the various Engineering disciplines. The issue of Interdisciplinary research and collaboration is achieved through the use of Technology Assessment tools and techniques. Also, the different social, technical, economic and political factors are all factors which influence the way decision making processes are made through different engineering disciplines. Technology Assessment has taken on many forms during this era and is varied through each individual and/or organisation. It has an enormous impact on my future as a practising engineer.

REFERENCES Taylor, Elizabeth. 2000 48270 Technology Assessment Study Guide Notes s2000 1, Freeman, Christopher, 1995. Preface to Managing Technology in Society. Managing Technology and Society, 1995, p. ix.

Pinter Publishers Eijnhoven, Josee Van 1997 Technology Assessment : Product or Process? Technological Forecasting and Social Change, vol 54 Biswas, Wahidul 2000 Socio-Technical Design in Mechanical Engineering Resource Presentation 2000 Holland, Bro Technology Essays.

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