Comparative Table of Parliamentary TA Institutions


As a parliamentary technology assessment organisation, the Instituut Samenleving en Technologie (IST) supports the decision-making process of the Flemish representatives, with regard to science and technology policy. IST supplies knowledge about the underlying scientific foundations and it studies the social acceptance of new technologies. It makes recommendations on what can be done, rather than on what should be done. The Institute also communicates to a wider forum of stakeholders and citizens.


The IST was founded by decree by the Flemish Parliament on 17 July 2000, as an independent, autonomously functioning organisation for technology assessment. At that time it was called viWTA (Flemish Institute for Science and Technology Assessment). After an evaluation in 2008, it has been renamed Institute Society and Technology.

As an autonomous institution associated with the Flemish Parliament, the Institute has its own executive board, which consists of 16 members. Eight of them are members of the Flemish Parliament, belonging to the various parties in the parliament. One of them will be appointed to the Presidency of the board. The other half is composed of experts from the Flemish scientific, technological, environmental and socio-economic communities.

The daily responsibility of the Institute is being held by the scientific secretariat. Besides a director and an administrative secretariat, the staff is composed of a small but thoroughgoing group of 4 up to 6 researchers and a communication manager.


The IST gears its activities to the needs of the Flemish Parliament and follows thematically the current scientific and technological trends, which are relevant for Flanders.

The Institute carries out regularly »trend watches«, to make an inventory of the current trends in the development of science and technology. Especially themes with a clear societal impact on Flemish areas of responsibility are taken into consideration. The trend watch inventory is subsequently fine-tuned in consultation with the other European TA institutions (the EPTA network), with the Flemish scientific and technological players, and with the responsible commissions within the Flemish Parliament. On this basis, the Institute defines its yearly working programme. Since its foundation, the Institute has dealt with quite a variety of issues, from »biotechnology«, through »mobility and use of energy« to »cyber bullying« and »nanotechnology«. Accordingly a broad range of methods and approaches is used. For certain issues, only a short, explorative analysis is adequate and sufficient. Others require in-depth research, including extensive participation of stakeholders and public.


IST has conducted research in a broad area of topics and issues related to a variety of technologies, from biotechnologies, through mobility technologies, energy technologies, information and communication technologies as well as nanotechnologies, and fertility technologies. The institute has applied a broad range of analytical and participatory methods and approaches: explorative survey studies, parliamentary hearings, theatre plays, essays, interviews with experts and stakeholders, retrospective trend analyses, consensus conferences, public forums, citizen conventions, technology festivals, didactical packages for scholars, among others.


The main target group of the IST is first and foremost the members of the Flemish Parliament. The Institute is aware of the fact that a TA project can only lead to the desired impact, if the political network and the general public are well informed and if the policy options are perfectly clear. Communication is paramount to achieve that goal, provided that

…it is tailored to the target group;

Scientific reports are relevant for scientists and for the knowledge building within the Institute. Nevertheless, to address specific target groups, including policymakers, specially adapted and attractive means of communication should be put into action. …it joins reality; It is key to communicate at the appropriate moment. As far as the content is concerned, communication should keep in touch with reality.

…it considers the media as partners;

Properly communicating with the media is crucial, not only with specialist journals or with the so-called quality newspapers, but also with the popular papers, magazines, radio, television, and on the internet. The media constitute a very important factor in raising public and political opinion.

…it is supported by the organisation as a whole;

The dissemination of the results of a TA research should not be limited to the director and the communication manager. It is the responsibility of every TA researcher to propagate the results of his or her project.

…it is a continuous effort.

The actual work only begins when a study comes to an end and the results are being published. TA will only have an impact if its results are continuously communicated and commented, in a way that appeals to people and makes it belong to various contexts. In other words, TA communication also takes place outside the offices and the meeting rooms.


Over the years, the IST has developed various communication products, including an electronic newsletter (e-zine), custom made publications (reports, dossiers, recommendations and facts in a nutshell), and the web site:


On October 24 2011, the Bureau of the Flemish parliament decided to cease the activities of IST by December 31 2012. The decision on the demise of IST was prepared by a political working group, which had been installed in November 2010 by the Bureau of the Flemish parliament in order to have a political evaluation of 3 out of 4 »paraparliamentary« institutes (the Flemish Peace Institute, the Children´s Rights Commissariat and IST). In other words, this working group discussed on what could be the future of these institutes within the context of parliament. Representatives from all democratic political parties present in the Flemish parliament took part in this working group. In May 2011, the representative from the green party (Groen) decided to leave the discussions after a conflict on the objectives of this working group. The representative argued that the working group had too many prejudices and jumped too fast to closure conclusions for the different organisations.

In brief, the decision differentiates between TA advice function and TA research function of IST:

Parliament´s decision leaves an opportunity for the Flemish government to take up the TA research and/or TA functions of IST.

Parliament´s decision in October 2011 to close IST at the end of 2012 emphasized a period of significant uncertainty concerning the future of policy oriented technology assessment in Flanders and threatened to create an institutional vacuum for decision-supporting and participatory TA in Flanders. In the months following this decision, two organisations were identified by IST, the Flemish Parliament and the Flemish government which could potentially integrate the TA research function:

VRWI is the independent Flemish strategic advisory council that can act proactively or on request of the government and parliament for the policy areas science and innovation. VITO is an independent and customer-oriented research organisation that provides innovative technological solutions and scientifically based advice. Hence, while the first is much more policy oriented with links to government and parliament, the latter is much more research oriented with links to academia, industry and government.

Several choices had to be made by the key players, i.e. the Flemish parliament and the Flemish government:

In July 2012, the Flemish government then took the decision to relocate the TA research activities to the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO). This involves the transfer of a significant part of IST´s budget from parliament to the government and the opportunity for the current TA practitioners at IST to start working at VITO.

For sure, parliament´s decision to close IST has highlighted the need to reflect on the de- and re-institutionalisation process of policy oriented TA activities in Flanders. For months it was unsure whether such kind of activities would disappear or re-emerge in a different institutional context. The government´s decision to integrate TA activities of IST in VITO offers a unique opportunity to tackle limitations of the (parliamentary) TA model that has been used in Flanders of the past 10 years. It is to be expected that new ways of linking and embedding TA expertise with other innovation stakeholders and discourses will be developed over the coming months and years. Expertise that has been built up by IST is useful in this matter but will also to be matched with the ever evolving science and innovation landscape. This includes:


IST, Instituut Samenleving en Technologie
Vlaams Parlement
1011 Brussel

Director: Robby Berloznik
Contact details until December 31 2012

Fon +32 2 552 40 50
Fax +32 2 552 44 50

© EPTA, provided by ITA; version 19 Oct 2012