Research that is being carried out at the University of Twente in the areas of science and technology policy, ‘technology assessment’ and history of science ranks highly worldwide and delivers important instruments for innovation policy
Research carried out at the University of Twente in the areas of science and technology policy, ‘Technology Assessment’, and history of science ranks highly worldwide and delivers important instruments for innovation policy, both at national and European level. This is the conclusion of an international visitation committee which evaluated the group, which is directed by Prof. Stefan Kuhlmann (earlier by Prof. Nelly Oudshoorn and by Prof. Arie Rip).
The dynamics and governance of science, technology and innovation (STI) is central to the research being carried out at the Science, Technology and Policy Studies (STəPS) group in context of the university’s Institute for Governance Studies (IGS). The point of departure for the research program at STəPS is research on STI as a social process. The entire course of technoscientific developments, from historical developments to future studies and policy, is being researched by various disciplines, including history, sociology and policy science.
The visitation committee, which was organised by QANU (Quality Assurance Netherlands Universities), comprised Prof. Susan Cozzens (Georgia Institute of Technology), Prof. Andrew Webster (University of York), Prof. Trevor Pinch (Cornell University), Prof. Alfred Nordmann (TU Darmstadt) and Mr. Paul ‘t Hoen (Chairman of the Dutch Advisory Council for ICT and Society. The committee evaluated both the scientific quality and societal relevance of STəPS’ research as excellent, saying, “The group is internationally one of the trendsetters in this field”.
High praise for all three research themes:
STəPS research focuses on three themes which are tightly interlinked and of which the visitation committee spoke highly.
The first theme, Science and Innovation Policies, directed by Prof. Stefan Kuhlmann and Prof. Rob Hoppe, examines the interplay between policy processes and science and innovation systems. While the role of scientific knowledge in policy processes is examined on the one hand, the question of how science and innovation systems change under the influence of political and normative policy processes is examined, on the other. According to the visitation committee, the research has a ‘major impact’ on science and technology policy and is nationally and internationally recognised for the conceptual tools that have been developed for policy and for the group’s readiness to research normative issues. In particular, the use of Constructive Technology Assessment - a method developed by the STəPS group – in policy-making has created space for normative discussion which has worldwide resonance. Participation in various national and international advisory committees also reflects the quality and impact of the research, the committee found.
The second theme, Technology Dynamics and Assessment, is directed by Prof. Nelly Oudshoorn and earlier also by Prof. Arie Rip. This theme is oriented towards gaining insight into the dynamics of processes of technology development; the role of users has received special attention in previous years. The central question concerns how socio-technical changes can be assessed and how these insights can be fed back into research practice and policy – this is the CTA approach. CTA research is being carried out under the direction of Prof. Arie Rip which in the last few years has focused on nanotechnology. According to the committee, the STəPS group has developed “one of the few international centres for high-quality research into the societal aspects of nanotechnology”. Research on the user-technology relationship carried out at STəPS has also set the tone worldwide. The widely-read volume ‘How users matter’, co-edited by Prof. Nelly Oudshoorn, has guided academic discussions on the ‘social shaping of technology’. Finally, the visitation committee mentioned the concept of ‘socio-technical scenarios’ that was developed within STəPS and with which common scenario methods have been enlarged through the inclusion of cultural and ethical aspects. The visitation committee praised the group’s ability to introduce novel and effective concepts to the international research field. The group operates on the cutting-edge of international science and technology research, the committee found.
The third research theme, History of Science, Technology and Society, is directed by Prof. Lissa Roberts. The visitation committee was impressed by how this relatively small research group delivers outstanding research. The group has worked collaboratively with leading historians in the field of scientific and technical history. They have developed novel historical insights into the role of technology in the formation of the ‘European’ identity and how knowledge development and material innovations came together to give form to modern society, amongst others. “We didn’t hesitate to assess the quality of the research as a 5 (excellent)”, reported the committee. The societal relevance of the historical research is also excellent; the committee referred to the well-received large-scale research project on engineering in the Netherlands, led by Prof. Johan Schot (now Technical University Eindhoven), as an example. There was also praise for the reading pack on the history of science and technology for secondary school students, currently being prepared by Dr. Fokko Jan Dijksterhuis.
Important collaboration with technical research institutions
STəPS research fits extremely well with the general profile of the University of Twente, in which technology is firmly situated in its societal context. STəPS works closely with the technoscientific institutes of the University of Twente. Parts of the research fall within the remit of the Institute of Nanotechnology MESA+ and the Centre for Telematics and Information Technology (CTIT). Collaboration with MESA+ involves Technology Assessment research on the societal and ethical issues around the development of nanotechnology. Collaboration with CTIT is focused on the role of users in the development and implementation of new ICTs.
The evaluation report ‘Research Review Science, Technology and Innovation Studies’ van Quality Assurance Netherlands Universities (QANU) and the underlying ‘Self assessment report’ are available at http://www.mb.utwente.nl/steps/.
Dept of Science, Technology, & Policy Studies (STəPS); School of Management and Governance; University of Twente; Capitool 15, P.O. Box 217, 7500 AE Enschede, The Netherlands; phone +31-53-489 3353.