Constructive technology assessment and realtime technology assessment as information and communication concepts for design processes

Constructive Technology Assessment (CTA) (Rip et al. 1995) and realtime TA (Guston & Sarewitz 2001) are highly challenging processes seeking to influence technological development in order to, among other reasons, identify potential adverse effects and to counteract or avoid them by means of suitable measures. Characteristic of these processes is that: i) the relevant players are identified and involved; ii) relevant feedback is made possible in the process; iii) the potential for shaping development is identified; and iv) this potential is exploited.

Given the numerous national as well as international arenas in which nanotechnology development and the dynamics of innovation take place, the assignment of technology assessment is a challenging task from the very beginning. In our view, it is important that these forms of supervision and generation of knowledge (also regarding unintended consequences) be developed. These should take place, as is the case with CTA, real-time TA, and also in the prospective TA approaches applied in this study, concurrently with development.

The design development process should be comprehensive and extend throughout the entire value chain and at the same time consider the temporal dynamics of the product cycle. Thus connections will be established that reach from the research side directly to the disposal phase (including corresponding emissions) and possible changes in the direction of development can be captured in a temporal context. Newer, ecopolitical, approaches, such as the Integrated Product Policy (IPP), are based upon this life cycle assessment approach and attempt to reduce environmental impacts along the entire value chain, for example, by promoting cooperation among the players throughout the product life cycle.

The design process should also take into account the already mentioned aspects of the Leitbild. For example, within the scope of the CTA it is at least in principle possible to work at the Leitbild level - or the implicit orientation level, which is present in every case - and to review "sustainabil-ity impacts." In this respect, methods are available to ensure by means of iterative steps greater certainty in the search processes.

The various discourse arenas used for the corresponding processes are a key element. We assume that the design development process is affected by a large number of players with different opportunities for influence, but their influence takes place in multiple arenas. These arenas are of a national nature but are also closely tied to the international level, such that directional influence takes place in a complex multi-tiered system. This does not mean that possibilities for overarching influence and steering development are ruled out, but rather that one has to take into account the multitude of actors in different arenas as a starting point for any efforts to steer the overall technology development in a certain direction (as, e.g., expressed in a certain Leitbild). Various studies have underlined that frequently regional and also national sector players put topics on the agenda and thus can introduce significant directional impulses.116 Analyses of these dynamics from an ecopolitical point of view have been carried out in

116 Problematic environmental impacts can, for example, become an issue due to the results of some studies; the scientific community may also become aware of problems that are not yet on the agenda, etc. The examples of developmental dynamics in the environmental field are numerous. At the same time the establishment of positively oriented Leitbilder has shown itself to be clearly more difficult.

the course of extensive research projects.117 Such direction-giving impulses are therefore not necessarily dependant on material inputs or power; sometimes ideas and key concepts can have a considerable impact. The (in this context) long-term Leitbild of nanobionics conveys, for example, a series of perceptions that were developed in the short-term Leitbilder also suggested above.

The role of images is of paramount importance to the development of the overall enthusiasm for nanotechnology (and therefore its promotion and support). The visibility of the nano-world has supported engineering fantasies closely associated with fundamentally positive images of precision, for example, "the end of environmental pollution," "abundance of resources," etc. That the reality frequently looks much different, however, is a well-known phenomenon in the area of technological development. However, it is crucial that the - for the most part inseparable - opportunities and hazards be recognized early on and that as a matter of principle the conditions for the attainment of these goals be made a part of constructive Leitbilder.

The course of public discussion to date on the opportunities offered by and hazards associated with nanotechnology has made evident that concrete measures for dealing with potential risks (apart from the reactions to what are viewed by many as possible long-term developments in the form of "foresight guidelines") have only just now been addressed, at a relatively late stage. Likewise, research efforts have yielded until now presumably only a limited understanding of these potential risks. The temporal negligence leads to the problem that negative side effects of technological development in general, and of nanotechnology in particular, usually become apparent only after substantial developments have taken place; a significant time lag between established technologies and knowledge about possible detrimental effects exists on the research side.

However, problems associated with nanotechnologies are now being more systematically investigated. A systematic research program with respect to health risks is developing out of initial warnings, assessments, and knowledge transfer from epidemiological investigations.118 At the same time, it must be noted that the level of current knowledge is limited and will remain so for the foreseeable time. "Quantitative toxicity studies on

117 Beise, M. et al. (2004) were able, for example, to demonstrate the accruement and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies based on, among others, environmental regulations and their dissemination.

118 A summary of the current state of knowledge can be found in Oberdörster et al. (2005a); for the systematization of the problems from a toxicological viewpoint cf. Oberdörfer (2005b: 65).

engineered nanomaterials are still relatively sparse" (Oberdorster et al. 2005b: 7).

Non-governmental and hybrid players

The attention paid in the USA relatively early on to hazards associated with nanotechnologies (research at Rice University) shows that even selective examinations in light of experience with other publicly controversial technologies can already exert significant influence. A more or less systematic investigation into environmental effects introduces and brings topics to the public agenda that otherwise might have been ignored. The creation of a corresponding "institution" is therefore an essential aspect of an integrated approach.

The activities of international NGOs such as the ETC Group underline the importance of the non-governmental players and their ability to set agendas. Irrespective of an assessment of the specific activities of this NGO, it was able to demonstrate that the possible "dark side" of a technology had not been sufficiently worked out and, in particular, that communication with the public (other than with regards to the positive aspects) had not been sought out. At the very least, the media assertiveness of such players suggests gaps in research as well as in communication. The literature study by Howard, commissioned by ETC Group, increased the suspicion that researches, firms, and regulators were blocking out (or had given insufficient attention to) potential risks. In that respect, the study was of considerable importance as it scientifically supported the misgivings of ETC Group by a recognized professional.

The International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON) is based at Rice University and financed by a handful of large corporations, including the global reinsurer Swiss Re. ICON's activities focus in part on providing an Internet platform, organizing some events, and releasing statements on topics relevant to nanotechnology, for example, on the nanotechnology politics of the EU.

The International Risk Governance Council (Geneva),119 which is concerned with risks of all kinds (particularly so-called systemic risks) has made nanotechnology one of its current priorities. The board members are from government ministries and corporate associations; the participants are from business, various government agencies, and last but not least, an American NGO. It provides a forum for discussion and attempts to offer an

119 IRGC is a public-private partnership in which governments, industry, and academia can freely discuss such issues and together design and propose appropriate risk governance recommendations that have relevance to both developed and developing countries. (

overview of the national nanotechnology politics and to develop recommendations for action specifically with regard to potential risks. The financial support comes above all from business (no nanotechnology firms) and several nations have also contributed.

The Woodrow Wilson Center in the USA has likewise become an essential player in the nanotechnology field. Funded by an endowment, the center, under the direction of David Rejeski, from early on arranged events and conducted analyses, which proved to be path-breaking with respect to side effects in the developing field of nanotechnology. Among other aspects, the center's output showed that the regulatory system could not be characterized as adequate with respect to nanotechnology and that an imbalance existed between the intensive public promotion of nanotechnology and the necessary accompanying research into the potential risks. The Woodrow Wilson Center also distributes information such as an overview of nanotechnological research and nanotechnology-based products. Their information activities, for example, provide regulatory authorities with information on the corresponding products. It is obvious that such institutions do contribute to the availability of the basic information for any risk assessment.

The institutions mentioned represent only a small fraction of the growing nanotechnology scene that has developed in recent years. The brief reference to these organizations is intended to demonstrate that although the "traditional" players continue to be important, increasingly a hybrid field of players is developing that is leading and significantly influencing the public discourse on nanotechnology. The traditional understanding of the distribution of tasks between states and private actors is changing obviously, and in this context national borders play a more and more limited roll. Instead, differentiated fields of discourse are to be seen, whose development dynamic can be appropriately characterized by the term "nanogov-ernance" (see Petschow/Weizsâcker/Rosenau 2005).

These hybrid organizations are usually significantly more dynamic in taking up new topics and consequently better able to influence the discourse. Nonetheless, these players cannot assume the functions of government. Against the backdrop of the international dimension of technology development, regulatory regimes solely at the state level are almost no longer conceivable. Organizations such as the OECD and the ISO standards bodies are also increasingly being given a larger role to play. However, these have only recently set up committees to deal with nanotechnol-ogy - or here, rather, nanoparticles (see below).

The manner in which discourse about an emerging technology is carried out is a further important aspect in dealing with new technologies (particularly when it is a line of technology that eventually will become ubiqui tous). Looking at the British example - the deployment of a task force on nanotechnology by the Royal Society - two aspects appear to be significant. First, a relatively broad participatory process was adopted, and both scientists and the general public were included. Secondly, by involving researchers from various fields, differing states of knowledge could be made accessible, thus overcoming the often one-dimensional view of technological opportunities and possibilities; possible adverse effects could therefore be recognized and dealt with from early on.

Such open processes, representing a forum of diverse opinions and viewpoints, can increase the attention given to safety, health, and environmental aspects as well as sustainability-oriented approaches.

The need for such discourse is also increased by the information dynamic achieved. Discussions of nanotechnologies are for the most part globally intertwined. Today, a vast number of information platforms facilitate dissemination of information with unprecedented speed. This applies not only to NGOs but also to all other private and public organizations pushing the discourse on nanotechnologies. One example of this information dynamic, which is also of considerable interest to business, is the 31 March 2006 report from the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) in Germany. Several poisoning incidents had been reported in connection with the product Magic Nano, a glass/ceramic sealing spray intended for use in the bathroom and purported to contain nanoparticles. This product was consequently withdrawn from the market. The cause of these poisoning incidents has as of this writing not been fully resolved; authorities have not yet ruled out the possibility that nanoparticles in the product might be responsible for the problems reported.120 Regardless of the actual outcome in these incidents, the dynamic of the information dissemination process turns out to be extremely relevant. What in German newspapers was only a marginal note (seven lines in the Berliner Zeitung of 31 March 2006, for example) merited in the Washington Post (6 April 2006) an article of more than 40 lines, including queries of various nano-experts. The report was likewise discussed and evaluated on the various Web pages of several organizations (for example ICON, 1 April 2006).

In summary, the level of sensitivity with respect to the existence of potential or alleged nano-risks is clear, as is the significance of the international exchange of information. At the same time, it is evident that although the presumed positive effects associated with "nano" were being used to advertise the product, it is neither clear to what extent it contained nanoparticles - the producer claims that this is not the case (see Small

120 The producer of "Magic Nano" has meanwhile indicated that the product contains no nanoparticles (cf. Small Times 2006).

Times 2006) - nor to what extent the poisoning symptoms could be traced back to the alleged nanoparticles. The case furthermore demonstrates that the term "nano" apparently can be used arbitrarily.

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