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Cluster in the Research area "Knowledge society and knowledge policy"

Knowledge and Technology Policy
Societal debates on technologies take place in many different contexts, depending on the level of technology diffusion, the knowledge already available, and the anticipation of non-intended side effects. While some of the technology debates initially focus on the promotion and regulation of research on certain technologies, others are about the complex management of conflicts on long established technologies. As a consequence there are different conceptual requirements on technology policy, ranging from foresight and the selection of technologies to promote to technology regulation with regard to environmental or societal problems. Therefore there are also manifold requirements on technology assessment as a means of reflection on technology impacts and as a basis for decision-making processes in technology policy.
This field surveys new forms of the social shaping and governance of technologies, analyzes new forms of technology conflicts, contributes to approaches of conflict solution, and works out the functional role of technology assessment in these contexts. Research is targeted at the observation and reflection of the modified knowledge structure and knowledge policy in modern societies and in specific fields of technology, where exemplary policy and conflict analyses are carried out. In these contexts, it is investigated how changes in the production, organization, and distribution of knowledge require new forms of problem-oriented research, updated criteria for concerted decision-making, modified expectations regarding the scientific advice for policy and the public as well as different possibilities and limits of risk control.

Technological Change and Social Dynamics
The process of continued technologization of society represents a central historical and structural dimension of the description of all societal areas. The effects and consequences of these processes of technologization exert an enormous influence on the societal and cultural forms of appearance of societies. Technology pushes, such as the introduction of information and communication technologies, fundamentally change not only the social forms of communication but also the social structures and routines. Here experience shows that the intended and non-intended impacts of new technologies lead to a higher degree of complexity on different societal levels, which turns their analysis into a great challenge. In this respect the impacts of specific technologies are assessed, complex societal changes induced by technology pushes and the implications of social dynamics on the shaping of technologies are analyzed. The approaches of technology assessment take account of contradictory societal processes of change which are made fruitful for the conceptual development of technology assessment.
This perspective is covered by two fields of work: First, by the analysis of the relationship between working structures and technological developments. Here a special focus of the research activities is on the field of economic globalization and its impacts on institutions, organizations, and individuals. Second, the cultural embeddedness of new technologies as well as the relations of conditions and influence of cultural and technological aspects are being investigated. This perspective links the production, organization, and distribution of knowledge with the cultural framework conditions of societies.

Concepts and Methods of Technology Assessment
At ITAS, technology assessment is conceptualized as a type of problem-oriented research. Starting point for this kind of research are the major technology-related problems currently identified in society and respective options for their solutions. Against this backdrop this research field aims at the development and improvement of the theoretical basics and methods of problem-oriented research on scientific and technological developments. To this end, concepts of problem-oriented research are being investigated and compared with regard to the normative models, conceptual prerequisites, and research strategies they are based on and the conditions for their implementation.
In the framework of the development of methods the focus is on conceptual works and the reflected application of technology assessment which also includes the further development and testing of inter- and transdisciplinary concepts. For example, the work on “interdisciplinary risk research” aims at a cognitive integration of insights from science and social sciences. Various starting points could be subsumed under the term “systemic risks”, which indicates a change of perspective towards the evaluation of systematically produced, non-intended, and potentially harmful consequences of socio-technological systems. Further special emphases are put on participatory procedures of technology assessment and policy advice as well as on the epistemological, normative, or strategic issues of future-oriented research concepts like scenarios, simulations, or visions for technological developments. Moreover, especially with regard to the future perspective of technical developments, reflections on applied ethics are conducted.