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CEFIC: Foresight study on the introduction of new technologies: the case of nanotechnology

Foresight study on nanotechnology


Emerging technological developments represent an important driver of international economic and industrial competitiveness, and an important approach to resolving Europe’s societal challenges. There is considerable economic and political pressure to develop effective strategies to ensure that novel technologies deliver innovations in line with societal priorities and requirements. New technologies are challenging the decision-making practices associated with traditional risk and benefit assessment approaches and there is now a need to identify novel approaches focused on the optimal governance of European technological innovation.

Between 2013-2014, IOM led a 12 month project funded under the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) Long-range Research Initiative (LRI), entitled “Foresight study on the introduction of new technologies; the case of nanotechnology” (CEFIC LRI IOM-S2), working in collaboration with Matter. An Advisory Board and Stakeholder Group, consisting of European experts from industry, business, academia, regulatory bodies and NGOs, was also established and provided expert input at critical milestones of the project.

The project looked to identify the drivers of effective policy in the area of strategic development of novel technologies, using nanotechnology as a case example and had the following specific objectives:

  • To strengthen the link between technical expressions of risk resulting from health and environmental assessments, which at present may only tenuously link to health and environmental policy objectives and to public perceptions.
  • To identify methodologies and institutional practices which can facilitate assessment of both the risks and benefits of an event or activity as an input into decision–making associated with technological innovation processes.
  • To develop improved risk-benefit metrics in order to make decision-making explicit, rather than implicit as is the case at present. As part of this, it may be relevant to examine how and if social and economic issues can be included as part of the assessment process in order to increase transparency in decision–making.
  • To develop methods to ensure that input from all stakeholders, including the general public, is formally taken into account in the development, governance and commercialisation of emerging technologies.

In order to address these objectives a foresight study was undertaken to develop a governance landscape suited to identifying the drivers and the context in which they act, using nanotechnologies as a case study. Following a mapping of the existing governance landscape, four plausible foresight scenarios were developed, capturing critical uncertainties for nanotechnology governance. Key governance elements were then 'stress-tested' within these scenarios to see how well they might perform in a range of possible futures and to inform identification of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for nanotechnology governance in Europe. Based on the study outcomes, a series of recommendations were then proposed regarding the development of governance associated with the responsible development of new technologies.

A paper describing the outcomes of the project has been published in Risk Analysis.

The Final Project Presentation is also available to download here.

Further information about the CEFIC LRI is available on its website.

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