Handbooks and teaching materials
Case studies

Further resources from ETC Group on technology assessment:

1) at the international scale:

2) as an alternative to technology transfer:


AfriTAP – the Africa Technology Assessment Platform.

Citizens’ jury/Citizens’ assembly – a group of people who are selected at random from the population to learn about, deliberate upon, and make recommendations in relation to a particular issue or set of issues. See citizens’ jury page for explanation

Citizen science – a form of research covering a spectrum of levels of people’s involvement, from merely contributing to research wholly organised by professional scientists (thus closely resembling scientism) to people being in charge of forming the questions that are asked, how they are answered and what is done with them (sometimes called ‘extreme citizen science’ or participatory action research).

Cognitive justice – coined by Indian scholar Shiv Visvanathan to call for the recognition of decolonised forms of knowledge, sometimes referred to as alternative sciences. He argues that different knowledges are connected with different livelihoods and lifestyles and should therefore be treated equally (see also Democratization of knowledge).

Collingridge dilemma – a situation in which efforts to influence or control the further development of technology face a double-bind:

An information problem: impacts of a new technology cannot be easily predicted until it is extensively developed and widely used.

A power problem: control or change of the technology is difficult when it has become entrenched.

Community-based participatory research – a partnership approach to research that aims to equitably involve community members, organisational representatives, and researchers in all aspects of the research process, and in which all partners contribute expertise and share decision-making and ownership.

Co-option – a process whereby a powerful initiative (or group) subsumes or assimilates a smaller or weaker initiative with related values or interests. It can take place through a process whereby a powerful group gains ‘converts’ from a smaller group by seeming to adopt key aspects of the latter’s interests, without actually adopting the full program or ideals of the smaller group. There are many accounts of participatory initiatives or methodologies that are initially idealistic, but which are then co-opted by powerful vested interests, becoming tokenistic (see tokenism).

Consent – the collective right people should have, firstly to know about scientific research and technological development and, secondly, to potentially say no to either the research or development, if they believe there could potentially be negative impacts. Consent is a process, rather than a one-off event, in which consent can be withdrawn, or can be re-considered as new information emerges and new experiences add to our understandings of a technology. See FPIC.

Democratization of knowledge/technology – the bringing of knowledge, and the processes whereby knowledge is generated, its understood meanings, and the way in which it is applied (e.g. as technology), under greater democratic control. Examples include participatory forms of technology assessment.

Facilitator – a participatory worker. Refers to someone whose role is to instigate or lead a participatory process. In countries where English is not the main language, the term facilitator is rarely used. In Germany, the term moderator is common. In Francophone and Spanish-speaking countries the term socio-cultural animateur (animateur/animadores) often refers to the same thing. Across the UK, particularly in Scotland, the term convener can be heard. The idea of meetings having a chairperson, chairwoman, chairman or simply chair occurs in a range of settings in many parts of the world.

Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) – A set of international human rights laws that is meant to protect the way of life of indigenous peoples and local communities. Many international conventions and treaties only require consultation and not consent, the latter being a much higher threshold. Without the requirement for consent, people are not able to veto government projects and developments in their area, which directly affects their lives and cultures. FPIC allows them to have the right to self-determination and self-governance in national and local government decision-making processes over projects that concern their lives and resources. See consent.

Gene drive organisms – a technology created by genetically engineering a living organism and then modifying the sexual system of reproduction to force modified genes on to future generations, so it spreads through the whole of a population.

Geoengineering – the intentional, large-scale technological manipulation of the Earth’s systems, often discussed as a techno-fix for combating climate change. Climate geoengineering technologies can be divided into three broad areas: so-called solar radiation management (reflecting sunlight to space), greenhouse gas removal and sequestration and weather modification. Geoengineering can refer to a wide range of techniques, including: blasting sulphate particles into the stratosphere or ‘whitening’ clouds to reflect the sun’s rays; dumping iron particles in the oceans to nurture CO2-absorbing plankton; firing silver iodide into clouds to produce rain or genetically engineering crops so that their foliage can better reflect sunlight.

Global North – used as part of a generalised description of the North–South socio-economic and political divide. Usually made up of countries including the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand (though definitions vary). See Global South.

Global South – countries of Africa, Latin America, and developing Asia-Pacific, including the Middle East. Definitions vary – see Global North.

Governance – all of the processes of governing – whether undertaken by the government of a state, by a market or by a network – over a social system (family, tribe, formal or informal organisation, a territory or across territories) and whether through the laws, norms, power or language of an organized society.

Institutions – stable, valued, recurring patterns of behaviour (e.g. ‘marriage is an institution’). As structures or mechanisms of social order, they govern the behaviour of a set of individuals within a given community. Institutions are identified with a social purpose, transcending individuals and intentions by mediating the rules that govern living behaviour. Erving Goffman (and to some extent Michel Foucault) discussed ‘total institutions’ as a place of work and residence where a great number of similarly situated people, cut off from the wider community for a considerable time, together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life.

Participatory – to allow inclusion of, and the opportunity for voice to, peoples in all their diversities, including indigenous peoples, local communities, farmers, fisher folk, as well as popular and social movements. To be participatory in the context of technology assessment means to address power relations with respect to the creation, validation and use of knowledge, particularly with regards to issues relating to science and technology.

Participatory action research (PAR) – an approach to research in and by communities that emphasizes participation and action. It seeks to understand the world by trying to change it for the good, particularly those experiencing oppression. PAR emphasizes collective inquiry and experimentation grounded in experience and social history. There are many different traditions of PAR in different cultures and in different languages. The philosophy behind Participatory Action Research (PDF) underpins many processes of participatory technology assessment.

Precautionary principle – a broad epistemological, philosophical and legal approach to innovations with potential for causing harm when extensive scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking. It emphasizes caution, pausing and review before leaping into new innovations that may prove disastrous. The precautionary principle is a central value behind most processes of technology assessment.

Public science – research that is conducted amongst, or includes, the public. Two traditions of public science have emerged, one based on participatory action research and another based on outreach programs by scientists and science communicators.

Scientism – the over estimation of the importance of physical science, and the belief that it offers the answers to all our worst difficulties. Based on the statements of prominent believers in scientism, Mary Midgley has suggested that the principles of scientism are: all questions of philosophy are either meaningless or can be answered by science; science has authority because it is based on empirical evidence – scientific claims will therefore always overrule philosophical claims; and science provides the ultimate account of the basis of reality – the ultimate metaphysics – but it substantively changes the questions, getting to the correct ones, rather than the meaningless philosophers’ ones.

Structural violence – refers to situations where neither culture nor pure individual will is at fault; rather, historically given – and often economically driven – processes and forces conspire to constrain individual agency. Structural violence is visited upon all those whose social status denies them access to the fruits of new knowledge or to benefits enjoyed by others.

Technology assessment platforms – TA initiatives that involve collaborations between a range of groups in collective evaluation of new and existing technologies. Examples include TECLA and AfriTAP.

Technological determinism – the idea that the future is determined by the technologies available to it, rather than the power of humans to shape it.

Technology lock-in – a form of social-economic path dependence whereby one or more actor (e.g. the state or private corporations) select a technology or technological standard and then, because of network effects, society gets locked-in or stuck with that technology or standard, even though some or all in society may be better off with an alternative.

TECLA – the network for the social evaluation of technologies in Latin America (Red de Evaluación Social de Tecnologías en América Latina).

Uncertainty – a state of limited knowledge where it is impossible to exactly describe the existing state, a future outcome, or more than one possible outcome.