4.1 Research and development policy

Technology policy has emphasised choices concerning innovation support programmes and research and development funding – all set within broad strategies concerning preferred lines of technological and scientific development and assumptions about their relative outcomes – how and when investment in technology will yield economic and social pay-off.

Debates over which science and technology to promote can often be quite bitter since they affect departmental R & D budgets. Major research institutions will defend their programmes whilst insurgent new groups with novel ideas will try to get access to funding. For example, hard pressed renewable energy researchers often resent the large sums allocated to nuclear research.

The debates can also take on a political dimension since they sometimes reflect major political issues. At present defence related research is a major focus in the UK and some people feel this is a distortion of priorities. For example it is sometimes suggested that Japan’s economic success in the last half of the twentieth century was in part because it did not invest heavily in defence R & D and could therefore focus more of its innovative effort in the civil sector.

Other areas of debate can be equally contentious. Can and should the UK (or any other similar nation) try to ‘keep up’ in every area of science and technology? What should be the balance between the various fields? Can a nation afford to be at the forefront of computers, telecommunications, biotechnology, energy technology, and aerospace? Or should it be more selective? And if so how? Can European or African nations keep up by better integrating their technology policies? How can less developed countries access science and technology for their development needs?

These are large contentious issues often involving conflicts and uncertainties about potential future developments. A number of analytic techniques have been developed to try to reduce the uncertainty, the most recent being Technology Foresight.

4 Choice of technology

4.2 Technology foresight