International Conference 2012

Abstracts Detail

The Didactics of Technology Assessment – Contributions from Philosophy of Education for Interdisciplinary Scientific Policy Advice.

Richard Beecroft

Hochschule Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences

Scientific policy advice has long gone from its early simple paradigm of “speaking truth to power”, mainly due to three reasons:

a) science is not any more considered as a guaranteed source of “truth”

b) adressing only “power” is considered a technocratic and elite-building approach, and

c) merely “speaking” is not sufficient to foster understanding of the issue at hand

Whilst the first two have been subject to intense discussions, e.g. along concepts like constructivism vs. realism (a) or participation (b), there has been very little discussion on the third. Not even the intense discussion of public understanding of vs. engagement in science managed to include the field of policy advice systematically.

In practice however, scientific policy advice has developed strategies for fostering understanding rather than merely speaking truth. This is of special relevance in policy fields in which the professional background and experience of politicians – typically law, business and major political fields such as international relations – does not suffice to take decisions, a typical example being Technology Assessment (TA). As TA has to work on a very broad spectrum of technologies with various impacts for a number of policy fields, its approach is necessarily interdisciplinary and will in almost all cases transcede the competencies of both its addressees and the scientists working on the subject.

Using the Office for Technology Assessment at the German Parliament (TAB) as a case study, I will present a reconstruction of their practices of policy advice from a perspective based in Philosophy of Education. This theoretical frame enables a shift from the notions of “knowledge” and “speaking truth” to a notion of understanding. Both the scientific work and the policy consultancy of TAB are supposed to support such practices of “understanding” systematically - they are didactical settings at their very core. As such, it is worthwhile to analyze their potentials and limitation with a typical didactical concept, the “didactical triangle”. This simple schematic (educandus – educans – world) offers an analytical starting point to analyze the relation of parliament, TAB, and the scientific communities involved.

Following the phases of the TAB-Process this way, different practices of understanding can be identified and linked to different modes of interdisciplinarity: Problem-, theory- and method-orientation appear not as different paradigms of interdisciplinarity (Schmidt), but rather as different phases of one process. In this case study, interdisciplinarity seem to be based on a variation of the interdisciplinary relations. Despite these changes in modes of interdisciplinarity, the didactical perspective shows one common characteristic of all stages of the TAB-process, namely the asymmetry of the disciplines involved. The contribution ends with a critical discussion of the possibility of generalization of theses two findings.