The NBT scores highly on capacity, competence and quality. The secretariat has high competence and credibility, a solid network, and high skills of communication, dissemination, and agenda setting. The NBT scores highly on capacity, competence and quality. The secretariat has high competence and credibility, a solid network, and high skills of communication, dissemination, and agenda setting.
The Norwegian Board of Technology (NBT), established in 1999, is an independent body with a broad range of tasks related to assessment, counselling, dissemination and public debate on the opportunities and consequences of new technology. This evaluation concerns NBT’s network, context and management, tasks, communication and results, as well as achievement of set objectives. Furthermore, collaboration with other institutions both within Norway and internationally, has been assessed.The evaluation is based on available documents on NBT’s operations during its first decade, interviews with a broad range of stakeholders, a self-assessment from the NBT, data on similar bodies in Denmark and Finland, as well as an analysis of the NBT’s media exposure and contributions to the public debate.
The NBT receives positive mention from the interviewees and partners, and scores highly on capacity, competence and quality. The secretariat has high competence and credibility, a solid network, and high skills of communication, dissemination, and agenda setting. The international collaboration is considered particularly important for the NBT’s skills development and ability to identify current challenges.
Many topics, limited use of citizens and scenarios
The NBT is to be an independent consultative office for technology assessment. They shall provide reports and holistic assessments of the potential benefits and consequences of specific technologies, both for the society at large, and for the individual citizen. They shall involve the opinions of citizens in their evaluations, and consider the challenges and possibilities of new technology in all fields of society.
The NBT has a comprehensive thematic profile. Since 2008, four main topics have set the framework for their activities: emerging technologies, climate change, internet and privacy, and health. These priorities ensure that the NBT reaches out to various target groups, all the while establishing long-term competence within selected fields of importance. The Board uses a range of methods in their technology assessments: expert groups, scenarios, hearings and various forms of citizen involvement. The involvement of citizens and the use of scenarios (foresight) are stipulated in NBT’s regulations. The objective of involving citizens in the technology assessments seems to have been given a lower priority. Compared to the first working years, there has been a decline in the use of methods enabling wide-ranging involvement of citizens.
Collaboration and division of work with other bodies
The regulations state that the NBT shall “cooperate with other bodies working on similar tasks and find an adequate division of work”. In general, the informants consider the collaborations to be good and rewarding. The various bodies have differing roles and fields of expertise, and there are few problems related to demarcation and division of work. The reviewed material suggests that the collaborating bodies have limited insight in each other’s operations, and that there is a significant potential for increased exchange of information. It also outlines the potential for the NBT to extend their collaborations further – undertaking more cooperative ventures with other organisations. Several informants request structure and forums for exchange of information and collaboration.
Dissemination – hard work for visibility
The NBT shall actively stimulate the public debate on technology, and communicate the results of their work to the Norwegian Parliament, governmental authorities and the wider society. The NBT have high ambitions for their dissemination activities, and work very actively with this. The Board reaps a lot of positive feedback for their ability to communicate comprehensible presentations of the societal consequences and possibilities of technology.
The visibility of the NBT in mass media and the public debate is significantly strengthened over the last term, but there is still a need for increased efforts. The Board has a broad thematic scope and hence a challenging task ahead if all user groups are to be reached. This can hardly be expected with the current resource base.
A performance-oriented Board with high resource utilisation
The most distinctive performance measures in the NBT’s regulations are contributing to Norway becoming aware of and making decisions on new technological challenges, as well as promoting human and environmentally friendly technology assessments. The informants give the NBT good credentials along both dimensions. The NBT has repeatedly stood out by being proactive, putting current issues on the agenda, and contributing to matters being viewed from a wider societal perspective. Several of the NBT’s advice and contributions have been included as separate points in white papers, Official Norwegian Reports and in the ministries’ work on the topics. There are also several examples of the work of NBT being used by the Parliament. The informants have markedly positive perceptions of the NBT’s capacity and utilisation of resources. Several emphasise the extraordinary ability of the NBT to make the most of what little resources they have.
The purpose and tasks of the NBT are widely defined, and the regulations provide a range of objectives and tasks. These include monitoring international trends, identifying and analysing challenges, initiating reports and communicating results, advising and consulting, and promoting both the public discourse on technology as well as a human and environmentally friendly technology development. The data shows that the NBT complies with their regulations and also emphasise projects that considers possibilities of new technology. Great emphasis is put on the advising and consulting, to ‘assess technological challenges’ and ‘outline measures regarding technology management’ as stated in the regulations. Overall, the NBT embraces a wide range of both tasks and themes. However, the limited resources cause great challenges in prioritising between the different task.
The future role of the Norwegian Board of Technology
The NBT’s level of achievement is generally high, and a main recommendation is to continue their work to put important issues on the agenda, and contributing to placing technology in a wider societal perspective. The main challenges of the NBT lie in the scarcity of resources and the limited embedment in the surroundings, in addition to a broad mandate. Making some decisions regarding these challenges could make it easier for the NBT to achieve their goals:
Embedding in the surroundings: The NBT should clarify their unique role in the landscape of institutions and organisations working with issues regarding society’s technological challenges and possibilities. A closer national collaboration should be sought, and the NBT should contribute actively to making other institutions embrace a broader societal perspective on issues on technology. To facilitate this, establishing a structure and permanent forums for national collaboration in this area should be considered. Other ways of embedding the NBT should also be considered. The structure for collaborations should include the Parliament, relevant ministries, the Research Council of Norway, and a wide array of adjacent bodies and organisations.
Prioritising projects and work methods: With a broad mandate and scarce resources, different prioritisations will determine the future role of the NBT. The Board should discuss how the agenda setting and the advisory role can best be combined and exercised. It should be evaluated to what extent ‘assessing technological challenges’ requires a single voice from the NBT, and how controversial issues can best be raised in public discourse. Furthermore, the Board is encouraged to consider new ways of citizen involvement in their projects, and to consider the choice between greater project initiatives or several smaller projects.
Frames of resources: The Board must clarify their possibilities and limits for external funding, and budgetary authorities should consider mechanisms to ensure the NBT a set grant that provides opportunities to apply for and manage further external funding.