The Concept of 'Sociotechnology' and Funding Agencies Dedicated to Science and Technology for Society

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Tahara, Keiichiro
Yarime, Masaru
Yoshizawa, Go
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Note: This is part of the panel presentation "Knowledge Use and Exchange for Policy and Society in Japan: Concepts and Practices." Research Question Research Institute of Science and Technology for Society (RISTEX) in Japan has a unique funding agency dedicated to research projects on "sociotechnology". One question is what is meant by "sociotechnology" and what are similar concepts and practices comparable to this term. Another question concerns in what sense this organization is unique compared to other agencies in the world. For the research on the concept and similar terms of sociotechnology, a mind map software and a qualitative data analysis (QDA) software are employed to visually and constructively arrange text data collected from a vast range of documents including books, articles and manuscripts in English and Japanese. For the research on foreign agencies comparable to RISTEX, web research, document analysis and e-mail interviews are basic tools. Preliminary Results The umbrella term "sociotechnology" includes technology for, as, with, and by society. Technology for society refers to practical activities aiming to solve tangible but often intractable problems. It is more than applied technology. Technology as society was known as social control and is now developed under the name of social engineering. This somewhat Popperian concept (Popper 1936, 1945) covers social activities and structures as a technological system. Technology with society has often been used as a popular adjective "socio-technical" (Emery & Trist 1960), the concept of which now refers to a balanced way of seeing technology and society and particularly focuses on the often complicated interactions and networks of technological and social actors - actors include data, figures, objects, architects, as well as humans in a Latourian sense (Latour 1987). Technology by society may be the most understandable in its first appearance, but probably this concept includes more than usually imagined by the term like collaboration, multiplicity of perspectives etc. Lastly, technology for society is more straightforward - technology oriented to problem-solving in the policy process and the social practice. From a preliminary research we identified three key functions of sociotechnology. The first is oriented to problem-solving. The corresponding disciplines, frameworks and approaches include policy science, finalization of science, knowledge use and exchange, problem-oriented learning and utilization-focused evaluation. The second is extensiveness, comprising of comprehensiveness and interrelatedness. The related keywords are, for instance, STS, evolutionary economics, social engineering, management studies, socio-technical system, network theory, soft systems methodology, creative holism, transition management, problem structuring, and systematic review. The third is collaboration and trans-disciplinarity. These are similar in the sense that both appreciate the collection and diversity of perspectives, drawn from actors in the former and disciplines in the latter. Regional sociology, communication studies, social intelligence, empowerment, appreciative inquiry, participatory technology assessment, regional foresight, and upstream engagement can perform the function of this kind. In this way terms comparable to "sociotechnology" so far we enumerate are mode-2 science, constructive/real-time technology assessment, soft science and technology, participatory action research, and collaborative problem-solving. These will be organized and distributed in a schematic map with the help of the computer applications. Rarely can we find organizations dedicated to the promotion of science and technology for society. Some possible organizations include NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) in the UK, and STW (Dutch Technology Foundation) in the Netherlands.
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