The role of Foresight and Future-Oriented Technology Analysis in the Governance of Emerging Technologies: The Example of Nanotechnology
The emerging technologies of the last decades, such as nanotechnology, were often understood as means to achieve a variety of goals associated with broader future needs and expectations that are framed today as Grand Challenges. In the case of nanotechnology, the direction innovations would were highly uncertain when the first national nanotechnology programs were established in the 1990s.
The aim of this paper is to show in a first step what problems/challenges with regard to the innovation system were addressed and what main actors were involved in the future-oriented activities that were conducted prior to the establishment of national nanotechnology programs. In a second step, the paper will show how goals of sustainability were added to policy agendas and what role different future-oriented technology analyses played in different countries.
In many countries FTAs, and forward-looking activities were part of early governance processes that determined how different goals, such as economic growth, increasing competitive and location-specific advantages, sustainability innovation were related and linked, and how nanotechnology was conceptualized to respond to the global challenge of sustainability.
This paper compares and contrasts the national sets of FTA and foresight activities in different countries with regard to the governance of nanotechnology. It will focus on sets of national activities, analysing what kind of FTAs were used to shape the technological field and to influence the national innovation systems. The paper identifies two main dimensions as crucial for the impact of FTAs in the countries in question, namely the interrelated dimensions of timing and actors.
The first set of national activities the paper analyses are those in the US, where FTAs were used to create visionary concepts and to promote cooperation between and among agencies and departments of the federal government. The second set of national activities the paper analyses is from Germany, where different FTAs were used to shape and define research and innovation agendas.
Compared with other countries, the US and Germany started early with FTA and rank high with regard to R&D spending and output indicators such as publications and patent applications. In both countries FTAs were used to shape and define research and innovation agendas in an early stage.
The third country in focus is Denmark, a latecomer. Denmark faced the challenge of acting in an already well-defined field. At the same time the Danish actors had the opportunity to make use of international discussions analysing the potential of nanotechnologies and nanosciences for sustainability goals. The fourth set of activities comes from Russia, were an ambitious nanotechnology initiative became federal law in 2007.
It will be shown how timing and the involvement of actors and absence of actors impact the way specific goals and challenges were approached.