4.1.1 The relationship between the macro, meso and micro
Whether you support the techno-optimist or techno-sceptic position, or fall somewhere in-between, Box 5 makes it clear that your viewpoint reflects your personal values and beliefs. Consequently, your position on these issues as an individual is important because it has implications for how you approach technology assessment and evaluation at the micro level.
Furthermore, the kind of social debate and political conflict that results from strongly opposed views and opinions such as these is an example of why ‘... the formal structures of technology assessment cannot be adequately understood without reference to the broader social debates about technology to which, in one way or another, they are reactions’ (Jamison and Baark, 1990, p. 112). That is, the theory and practice of technology assessment and evaluation is shaped and conditioned by past, present and future debate and conflict over social, economic and political developments and their outcomes and implications. Plus, depending on the context and technology, an organisation is developing or working with ideas, actions and structures at the macro and meso levels that impact at the micro level.
The discussion of the development and application of technology assessment that follows provides several examples that illustrate the argument above.
Climate change is an obvious current example of the relationship between macro- and meso-level conflict and debate impacting the structures and mechanisms of assessment (and evaluation) at the micro level. Another illustration is the long-running debate and political conflict over the nature of the relationship between technology and society. It is enough here to note that the fundamental issue is whether technological development occurs primarily as a result of social pull by consumers and citizens or technology push by producers. That is, does the social define the technological or vice versa? Or perhaps it is neither or a bit of both?
Several more examples of the impact of social debate and political conflict on technology assessment will become evident from the following discussion on some of the agencies that carry out such work. Therefore, having set out in broad terms some of the challenges and issues that enter the spheres of technology assessment, I now want to move on to outline its recent history.
Identify at the macro level a governmental or commercial organisation or an NGO that you believe has been, or is, instrumental through ‘social debates about technology’ in influencing at the meso level an example of technology development and application in a chosen field, e.g. renewable energy and the development of wind turbines. In some cases you may be able to extend the exercise to the micro level. An example is set out in Table 2.
Table 2 The relationship between levels of technology assessment and application
|European Union||National governments and organisations||Individuals|
|E-government policy and technology||Policies and technology projects of member states and of developing countries||Online tax returns by individuals|
|Online business and administrative relations with government and public services|