Sociotechnical scenarios and strategy articulation for key areas of nanotechnology

While the eventual effects of nanotechnology on the economy and society are uncertain, controlled speculation about such impacts is possible with the help of sociotechnical scenarios. Such controlled speculation can be used as support for strategy articulation for firms, researchers and policy makers. This Constructive Technology Assessment approach has been developed and validated in the TA NanoNed program (www.nanoned.nl/ta).

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In this project, the CTA approach of scenarios and workshops will now be further applied to application domains that feature in the NanoNextNL program. Specifically, this project examines dynamics in and effects of demand articulation for novel micro- and nanotechnology-enabled sensor applications in the domains of drinking water and food & beverages.

There are big challenges in managing and assuring quality and safety of products in the domains of drinking water and food & beverages. Important issues for food & beverages are: ensuring authenticity, reducing food wastage, process optimization, and the public image of healthy and safe food. Issues in the drinking water sector are: dealing with unknown contaminants, process optimization and the public image of high quality drinking water.

food and beverage

drinking water

Emerging sensor technologies enabled by micro- and nanotechnologies are expected to contribute to solving these issues by offering innovative solutions. However, sensor innovation and implementation is not straightforward due to technological challenges and lack of clarity in requirements of users regarding application of such sensors. Through in-depth interviews and interactive scenario workshops with stakeholders, the project aims to gather insights in how preferences and requirements for novel micro- and nanotechnology enabled sensors in the water and food domains evolve and shape innovation processes.

In November 2013, an interactive workshop conference was held which gathered participants from the drinking water and food & beverage sectors. The meeting was visited by representatives from knowledge institutes, food and water companies, sensor companies, inspection authorities, and organizations involved in certification and standardization. The meeting aimed to advance understanding of user requirements regarding sensors and to explore possible strategies in order to further articulate requirements and realize such requirements into concrete products.

During the conference it became increasingly clear that the formulation of demands and precise requirements for sensors was not univocal. In some situations, questions marks were placed regarding the need for on-line and rapid at-line monitoring technologies. Nevertheless, favorable monitoring applications in the domains of drinking water and food & beverages were identified. Participants distinguished between opportunities for sensor applications in the Netherlands and for other countries.

To advance the development of sensor technologies, participants recommended experiments with and stepwise introduction of sensors applications, the development of standards, and dedicated support actions by the government. Last but not least, participants also remarked that societal debates about what is acceptable in terms of safety and quality of drinking water, food & beverages, were also important for the introduction and embedding of novel sensor applications. The evaluation of the workshops by the participants revealed that the sessions had contributed to broadening their insights about dynamics regarding application of sensors in their field, and gave cause to new strategies and actions regarding the development and introduction of sensors.

Project duration: 9/2011-12/2013

Contact person: Haico te Kulve

h.tekulve(at)utwente.nl, + 31 53 489 3352 / 3353

Paper on the approach of Constructive Technology Assessment

Report on the interactive workshop (in Dutch)