Developing options for shaping technological development processes

Armin Grunwald

Armin Grunwald is head of the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). He also holds the Chair of Philosophy and Ethics of Technology at Karlsruhe University. As head of the Office of Technology Assessment (TAB), he advises the German Bundestag regarding issues pertaining to scientific and technological change. His research focuses on the areas of sustainability, technology assessment and ethics related to new technologies.

WiHo editorial team: How would you describe your institute's mission?
Armin Grunwald: We study scientific and technological developments in terms of their systemic interrelationships and societal impacts. ITAS generates and communicates findings and assessments, and it develops action and policy options. Its key aims include advising research-/technology-sector policy-makers, providing orientation for policies relative to socio-technical systems and carrying out discursive processes relative to open or controversial technology-policy issues.

WiHo editorial team: What activities of your institute have been especially noted by the scientific community and/or by the general public?
Armin Grunwald: The Office of Technology Assessment (TAB) at the German Bundestag (TAB is part of my institute) studied the impacts that a major, long-lasting power failure in Germany would have. Many of the study's findings were highly alarming, and thus the study was widely noted by policy-makers, municipalities and the general public.

WiHo editorial team: How do you think Germany compares internationally in terms of its research on higher education and science? What can we learn from other countries, and from which countries can we learn?
Armin Grunwald: From my perspective, German research on higher education and science is very well positioned in the social sciences – especially in sociology – and it receives considerable international attention. On the other hand, the gaps or discontinuities between disciplines (and especially with respect to philosophy and historical scholarship) tend to be wider in Germany than in other countries. We can learn from other countries, such as the Netherlands and U.S., with regard to interdisciplinary cooperation.

WiHo editorial team: What topics do you think will be central in research on higher education and science in the coming years?
Armin Grunwald: I think that new formats of transformative research, and new institutional frameworks for such research, will play a particularly important role. Research in real-world laboratories, for example, is already being intensively studied by sociologists and philosophers of science. Another core topic, one that is no longer new, has to do with digitalisation's possibilities and impacts for/on research and teaching in various disciplines, and for/on the shaping of institutional science constellations.

WiHo editorial team: If, during the next budget negotiations, you had one wish, what would you wish for?
Armin Grunwald: I would wish for funding for a highly interdisciplinary working group studying how ongoing digitalisation und autonomisation could or will affect and enhance the process of generating scientific knowledge.

WiHo editorial team: What especially appealed to you in the opportunity to become head of this institute?
Armin Grunwald: The opportunity to study relevant societal impacts interdisciplinarily and comprehensively, with a view to developing forward-looking policy options. Ultimately, I'm more interested in developing policy options than in trying to produce forecasts and deterministic ideas that could be used to force societal adaptations. I think an approach that stresses options is the right approach in a context of democracy.