IGS Universiteit Twente
2010 Conference: Tentative Governance in EST

Tentative Governance in Emerging Science and Technology

For emerging science and technology (EST) governance becomes tentative when it is designed as a dynamic process to manage interdependencies and contingencies. Tentative governance aims at creating spaces of openness, probing and learning instead of trying to limit options for actors, institutions and processes. It answers political and organizational complexities with explorative strategies, instead of relying only on orthodox or preservative means.

Tentative governance is a particularly pertinent issue for EST such as nanotechnology, life sciences, genomics and other emerging fields of innovations with the potential to radically transform domains and sectors,. These fields are subject to a broad array of inherent uncertainties related to technological shape, configurations and applications and the resulting societal benefits and risks. At the same time, actor constellations and practices related to knowledge production, innovation and societal appropriation are in the process of emerging and largely differ from established technologies. This poses specific challenges to the governance of these fields, which has to address ill-defined and sometimes ‘moving targets’. Simultaneously, promises and expectations abound. Many actors from government, academia, industry, and civil society expect that EST will constitute “key technologies of the future” and that some may even lead to a “next industrial revolution”. Thus, developing appropriate governance modes seems all the more important. However, modes of governance are usually attuned to established technologies. Innovative modes of governance under headings such as ‘reflexive governance’, ‘transition management’, ‘Constructive Technology Assessment’, ‘Ethical, Legal and Societal Issues (ELSI) Studies’, or ‘Real-Time Technology Assessment’ are only now emerging. What we are seeing, in other words, is a co-evolutionary growth of innovative modes of governance and constellations, practices and technologies in EST. Hence, it can be argued that governance modes, be they regulatory approaches, institutional arrangements or modes of coordination among various actor constellations turn out – and probably even need – to be tentative in order to respond to the uncertainties and to be prepared for further dynamics. We assume that tentative governance is neither a particularly desirable or worrisome approach, but rather an empirical phenomenon.

The aim of the conference is to identify and elaborate the specific governance challenges of EST and to discuss ways of responding to them. Papers may address these issues conceptually or empirically for EST in general or for a specific innovation. We invite interdisciplinary contributions from policy and regulatory governance studies, legal studies, higher education studies, science and technology studies, technology assessment and innovation studies.