Understanding technology foresight: the relevance of its S&T policy context

Diciembre 1999

Luis Sanz-Menéndez, Cecilia Cabello and Clara Eugenia García

Publicado en C. Moya et al., comps., Escritos de teoría sociológica en homenaje a Luis Rodríguez Zúñiga, 847-864, Madrid: CIS, 1992.

Studies concerned with the development of technologies have lately undergone a great impulse. Many of them have been approached from diverse academic perspectives with long-standing traditions and a great number of them have also benefited from the assumption of new conceptual perspectives. In this respect, history, sociology, and philosophy of technology constitute paradigmatic examples. An analysis of the evolution of these various academic paradigms in recent years is carried out, although succinctly, in the first part of this Working Paper.

The second part of the Working Paper deals with the issue of social research on public perception with the particular case of the development of biotechnology. Research on the public perception of technologies is a useful tool of a prospective and pre-formative nature which plays an important role as a via media between descriptive analyses (sociology and economy of technical change) and value-oriented studies (technology assessment and science and technology policy analysis).

In recent times, the citizens have registered a growing concern over the regulation, management and elaboration of technological policies. This development demands a comprehensive knowledge of the interaction between society and technology. Studies on public perception are highly important not only for the analysis and interpretation of

future scenarios in the development of technologies, but also for the task of identifying the kind of public policies required to avoid unwanted effects and for the orientation of technological advancement towards ends considered as beneficial by society as a whole.

The persistence of a dual self-identification expressed by citizens in the Spanish Comunidades Autónomas (nationalities and regions) is one of the main features of centre-periphery relations in democratic Spain. This 'dual identity' or 'compound nationality' incorporates -in variable proportions, individually or subjectively asserted- both state/national and ethnoterritorial identities with no apparent exclusion. It characterises the ambivalent and dynamic nature of spatial politics in decentralized Spain. A succinct review of the main developments in Spain's contemporary history is carried out in order to provide a background for the discussion of the various identities expressed by citizens in Catalonia. A segmentation analysis reviews the various forms of Catalan self-identification, among which ‘duality’ is to be underlined.

Since the 1980’s Spain has developed an ambitious road building programme with the construction of approximately 12,000 kilometres of new motorways. This article analysis the factors related to the placement of these new motorways during two distinct planning periods from 1983 to 1993 and 1994 to 2004.

Recently Technology Foresight (TF) exercises promoted by governments are spreading all over Europe, however the forms that TF takes within each country is very diverse. First, in order to understand the importance of the policy context, as an example, we will explain the "fate and fortune" of foresight in Spain in relation to the attempts to bring it into the science and technology (S&T) policy agenda and will analyse the institutional constraints over the development of TF. The second part of this paper is related to the extent in which TF is a useful tool for policy making. We will enlighten the analysis with the use of the theory of decision making, especially in the reflection on the role of the information emerging from TF as legitimation for policy makers, but more importantly on the promising use of TF for coordination within national innovation systems.


Keywords:technology foresight; science and technology policy; Spain; policy legitimation; information and decision making.