Written by Nera Kuljanic with Sarah McCormack,
STOA, the European Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment Panel, works to provide independent assessments of new developments in science and technology to policy-makers by conducting research projects and organising discussion forums involving policy-makers, experts and the public. It is governed by the STOA Panel, whose membership was enlarged in 2015 to include 24 MEPs from eight Parliamentary Committees. This is a very positive step, as it brings STOA closer to committee work and promises more diversity in debates about current and emerging technology trends and their impact on society.
Building on a long tradition, STOA regularly hosts a number of workshops and other high-level events. Some look at more long-term developments, such as the workshop entitled ‘Robots, enabling the disabled or disabling the abled?‘, whereas others are organised around hot topics in research and innovation, with an interest for industry, such as graphene and quantum technologies, or the challenges of an emerging crisis, such as the Ebola outbreak. In December 2015, a high-level conference about online privacy and IT security in the EU, co-organised with the Civil Liberties, Justice & Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee, was opened with speeches by EP President Martin Schultz and the Chairmen of LIBE and STOA, Claude Moraes and Paul Rübig, respectively. In May 2016, STOA and the Japanese STS forum co-organised a conference on how science, technology and innovation could help societies in adapting to the changing world, with contributions from leading European and Japanese personalities from academia, industry and policy-making. This meeting helped further consolidate the close relationship the two groups have developed over the years, with STOA delegations regularly attending and contributing to the STS forum annual meetings. All these events bring leading experts in their fields together to discuss pressing issues and developments in the world of science and technology with policy-makers and the public.
The 14th edition of the STOA Annual Lecture, held on 9 December 2015, was dedicated to the topic of light and quantum optics. Professor Serge Haroche, recipient of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics, delivered the keynote speech. More than a hundred people attended the lecture and discovered the emerging world of quantum technologies, many of which have already changed our lives, such as transistors, lasers and GPS, while the second quantum revolution is under way, with a substantial contribution from Professor Haroche himself. The organisation of the next STOA Annual Lecture, planned for 16 November 2016, is well under way. If you are interested in how space activities and research are benefiting the industry and changing our lives, keep an eye on the STOA webpage, where the event programme and speakers will be announced after the summer.
Another recent highlight was the 4th round of the MEP-Scientist Pairing Scheme, hosted by STOA, which brought together 31 researchers from across Europe to be paired with MEPs, with the aim of increasing mutual understanding and creating long-standing cooperation between parliamentarians and scientists. Scientists presented their research activities to the MEPs they were paired with, learned about the work of the European Parliament and its different services, and accompanied MEPs in their daily activities, including in committee and political group meetings. The Members benefited from intense and in-depth discussions with their academic counterparts about topics with a scientific dimension currently on the EP agenda. This scheme promotes dialogue and reinforces science-for-policy and policy-for-science in the EP. STOA is currently organising the Pairing Scheme for the fifth time. Newly established MEP-scientist pairs will meet in November, in the framework of the ‘Science meets Parliaments’ event co-organised by STOA and the JRC, on 8 November 2016.
STOA also undertakes research projects to help Members get an in-depth understanding of the possible effects of techno-scientific developments on society and to support them in the decision-making process. Collaborative Internet and additive manufacturing technologies, ICT in the developing world and ethical aspects of robotics are topics covered by recently published STOA studies. Ongoing projects include: precision agriculture; assistive technologies for persons with disabilities; waste management; the impact of new technologies on the labour market and social economy; and additive bio-manufacturing (e.g. 3D-printing).
The new strategic orientation of STOA to enhance its scientific foresight activities is underlined by the production of EPRS publications on emerging techno-scientific trends, highlighting societal and legislative implications of new technologies such as drones, synthetic biology and metamaterials. With the scientific foresight approach, applied to several of its projects, STOA works to generate sound future-oriented evidence on scientific and technological issues to inform decision-makers in their current policy-making role.
Stay in touch with STOA via the EPRS blog, YouTube and on Twitter. Visit the STOA website to register for upcoming events, and let us know what you think of STOA studies or briefings you have recently read.