3 Technology policy

Now we will move from thinking about technology development to thinking about supporting technology development and innovation. Technology policy research attempts to explore the process of development of policies on technology. Traditionally, this has focused on national level policy development by governments, but increasingly local and regional institutions have been involved in technology policies. Also there has been expansion in supra-national policy development, as for example, within the European Union and African Union. Finally, and crucially, citizens have increasingly articulated their concerns about science and technology, and do this earlier in the process of development.

Historically, research on technology policy has tended to focus on how and why governments (and increasingly other institutions) develop technology policies, the implications of technology policy for the innovation process, evaluation of different types of technology policy in different contexts and studies of the impact of technologies, including on less developed regions of the world.

Increasingly, however, policy research has moved to address issues such as public-private relations and the growing institutional complexity of multi-agent processes. Policies are often designed to change a given situation but the situation is changing anyway and involves an ever increasing number of social agents and actors. Policy is constantly developing and is thus a process and not only a prescription.

Box 4 Technology policy

Basically, a technology policy is usually a set of defined proposals for preferred approaches to the development and use of technology, often set out in some form of policy statement or document. A policy statement may set out specific priorities, identifying preferred lines of development e.g. to focus on technology X rather than Y. In addition, it may sometimes specify specific means for achieving the stated ends. For example “to be at the forefront of the development of ‘Technology Z’, requires investment of X% of available R & D funding”.

The emphasis in policy statements is usually on defined ‘goals’ or specific aims, but equally technology policies also often reflect and comment on the underlying principles shaping the policy and may provide political justifications and arguments for the approach being adopted. Policies are processes and not only prescriptions.

At its simplest, a technology policy may amount to no more than a specific allocation of R & D funds to projects or programme, but policies may also propose other, more complex, institutional, organisational or financial measures to help achieve the proposed aims e.g. the establishment of a new grant scheme, or a new research programme or agency supported by public funds. Such proposals are sometimes called policy measures – ways of seeking to achieve the goals of the policy.

To summarise, various policy measures are developed and applied, and are usually linked to programmes (for example, of research or innovation support), in order to achieve policy goals. They involve processes, such as: those linking academic institutions to industrial sectors and the development of human scientific and technological capabilities.

2 Social construction of technology and actor-network approaches

3.1 The role of government