Comparative Table of Parliamentary TA Institutions


As in many other countries in Europe, the discussion about the social consequences of new technologies – and hence also about TA – began in Austria around the middle of the 1980’s. It was in 1984 that TA was first perceived, at least conceptually, by Austrian technology policies and that the question of the establishment of an »OTA for Austria« was first raised.


Finally, in 1985, a small working party was founded at the Institute for Socio-Economic Development Research at the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) around Ernst Braun, formerly the head of the Technology Policy Unit (University of Aston), giving rise on 1.1.1988 to the Technology Assessment Unit (FTB), which later, on 1.1.1994, became the Institute of Technology Assessment (Institut für Technikfolgen-Abschätzung, ITA). Ernst Braun left Austria as director in 1991, and was succeeded first by Gunther Tichy and then, in 2006, by Michael Nentwich. The ITA is an associate member of EPTA and a founder member of the NTA (network of the German speaking TA community).


The ITA is a research unit of the ÖAW, which for its part is one of the largest non-university research institutions in Austria with a particular focus on basic research. In accordance with the interdisciplinary approach of TA, the ITA was set up as an institute of the "Academy as a whole", not related to one of its two multidisciplinary chapters. The ITA is advised and supported by an international scientific advisory board (SAB) and is evaluated externally at six yearly intervals. Currently, the ITA has around 20 employees. Its work is financed by the Ministry of Science through the ÖAW and, accounting for roughly one third of the budget, by third-party funds (e.g. the Research Fund, various Austrian ministries, the EU etc.). The overall budget runs to around 1.5 million EUR.


As a scientific research institute, the ITA is relatively free in setting its focal points and determining its topics. The framework is formed by the medium-term research programme, which is updated on an annual basis by means of an internal meeting in which the future topics are presented by the individual researchers and discussed in the group. The decision-making meeting is preceded by a monitoring process which, while being immanent in daily work at the ITA, is intensified during the period preceding the updating of the research programme. The programme determined in this way is submitted to the SAB, which can propose adjustments.


As a scientific TA institute, the ITA is largely committed to classical TA, with its emphasis on expert orientations. Typical methods therefore include interviews with experts, and literature and document searches. The increasing integration of value-laden issues into TA projects is also leading to the increased use of participatory methods in TA. The ITA has taken note of and theoretically analysed this development, and since 2007 has also been using participatory elements and methods in its projects, ranging from focus groups and scenario workshops to citizen conferences.


The current medium-term research programme 2012-2014 defines three major research areas, namely the information society, governance of technology controversies, and technology and sustainability. Besides its thematic research areas, ITA focuses on cross-cutting issues, e.g. monitoring and horizon scanning activities as well as critical reflection on and further development of TA methods.

In the "Information society" area, ITA addresses three topics. E-governance deals with the potential of ICT in the field of the state and its effects. The analyses initially concentrated on the launch of electronic administration (e-government) and currently focus on the potential and obstacles of online political participation, which can be ascribed to the overall concept of "electronic democracy". In the topic "Privacy" the network of relationships between technologies, fundamental rights and social/political consequences is analysed as a basis for deriving options for action. The analysis takes the effects of new and future ICT on the private sphere as its starting point and core. In a broader perspective, however, the ITA also addresses other fields of technology and other basic rights affected. In the third subtopic, "Networked environments", the ITA deals in particular with the social consequences of pervasive computing and ambient intelligence and with the effect of the use of new media on geographical and social structures and modes of work in science, most recently specifically in connection with Web 2.0 (cyber science).

The field of "Governance of technology controversies" studies controversies about new technologies and their significance for the governance process. Technology controversies have left deep traces in modern society. Disputes concern not only specific applications (such as in agro-biotechnology) but also what and how research and development are to be pursued (for instance with respect to stem cell research). Current topics in this field are nanotechnology and synthetic and system biology.

In the field of "Technology and sustainability", against the background of the social discussion concerning concrete problems such as climate change or resources shortages and the problems these give rise to, the ITA examines and evaluates the possible consequences of technology, and investigates the conditions under which technology can make a contribution to sustainable development. Current projects address energy technologies in particular.


As a political and advisory instrument, the aim of TA is not only a reflective analysis of social changes that result from technological innovations but above all the provision of information and advice to decision-makers. The possible technology-policy actors in the public sector include Parliament, the administration, federations and other public institutions, and the ITA has conducted work for all of these.

As occurred in a number of other European countries, the ITA also worked directly for Parliament in the early days of its existence. The reasons why this institutionalisation of TA at Parliament was not continued are to be found both on the level of actors and financing. Furthermore, there is also the legitimate question of whether Parliament is the "right place" for technology policy discussions and decisions within Austria´s realpolitik structures. There are, however, links to Parliament at personal level, since ITA staff is regularly invited as experts to Parliamentary hearings. Since 2007, these relationships have again been cultivated more intensively. Thus in 2008, an information discussion was held in the National Council concerning the possible parliamentary institutionalisation of TA. In 2009, the ITA had the opportunity to present itself in detail to the Committee for Research, Innovation and Technology. Representatives of all parties welcomed a closer cooperation between Parliament and the ITA. Since 2011 the self-description of the Parliamentary committee of Research, Technology and Innovation includes a direct reference to TA; negotiations regarding a closer relationship between Parliament and ITA are under way.

Otherwise, in accordance with technology policy reality in Austria, the ITA focuses its main attention on those elements of the administration that are in close proximity to the political actors through the provision of advice to various federal ministries and the Council for Research and Technology. Furthermore, ITA addresses at the international level the EU, and in particular the European Commission and, most recently, the EU Parliament within the framework of the European Technology Assessment Group (ETAG).


All ITA research reports are available free of charge via the Internet. In addition, the Institute has published a quarterly newsletter for over 10 years, which is received by several hundred subscribers in Austria and abroad. With active PR work it is attained that the Institute and its topics and projects are continuously present in Austria quality media (press and radio). In addition, the ITA organises regular conferences and lecture events, and is active on the Internet. The latter includes not only the Institute´s homepage with extensive information and download material but also the use of new communication forms such as microblogging (Twitter), a presence on Web 2.0 platforms (Facebook, and in encyclopaedias developed by the online community (Wikipedia).


As an academic TA institution, the success of ITA can be measured in the number and quality of publications in academic journals and books (preferred peer-reviewed, English-speaking), of oral presentations at conferences (preferred invited keynotes at international events) and of third-party funds raised (preferred competitive grant research). These performance figures are core criteria in the annual reporting, the assessment by the Scientific Advisory Board and the regular evaluation teams. In addition, the number of popular science talks and publications as well as the media resonance is being reported.

Measuring the political impact of ITA´s studies is more difficult, as many studies (e.g. EUROpTA, TAMI) showed: sometimes a direct relationship between a project or its conclusions and a political decision can be established, but usually this is not the case. Nevertheless, ITA strives for such impact and tries to follow-up on results, though not always as systematically and actively as possible (there is certainly room for improvement). An indicator for success of ITA projects has been the capability to integrate TA results into the decision-making process at an early phase of the development of national and EU research programmes (AAL-benefit, EU Environmental Technologies Action Plan, EU Security Research Programme etc.).


Since it was founded more than 20 years ago the Institute has established itself as an important network node of the European TA scene. One of the daily challenges is to walk the difficult line between TA´s aim to make a contribution to compatible forms of technology in the sense of providing political and social consulting on the one hand, and the institutional status within a research body that is committed to (application-open) basic research and demands scientific excellence on the other hand. Budgetary problems in the basic funding, which have led to an increased pressure for third-party funds, have so far been overcome thanks to the high level of international networking and the large demand for TA expertise within the ministries. A major chance for the future is to develop the hitherto weak relationship with the Austrian Parliament.


Institut für Technikfolgen-Abschätzung
Strohgasse 45, 5
1030 Wien

Director: PD Dr. Michael Nentwich

Fon  +43 1 51581 6582

© EPTA, provided by ITA; version 19 Oct 2012