How do we determine our research themes?
Every two years we determine which issues require attention. We do this after input from the public and from experts in our programme panel and board. The Rathenau Instituut is unique in combining expertise in broad areas of research with an understanding of how science is actually practiced and how science, technology and innovation are embedded in society. That means that it is adept at analysing and managing the many different factors involved in an issue.
The Rathenau Instituut stimulates public and political opinion forming on social aspects of science and technology. We perform research and organise debate relating to science, innovation and new technologies.
The Rathenau Instituut works on the basis of an institutional decision by the government. We present a new work programme every other year. This document identifies the themes that the institute intends to address.
In 1978, the Dutch government wished to identify the likely societal effects of computer automation, then a rapidly emerging technology. Would the introduction of the micro-chip lead to mass unemployment, or would it bring new (economic) opportunities? The commission charged with answering this question was led by Prof. G.W. Rathenau (1911-1989), who was successively Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Amsterdam, director of the Philips Physics Laboratory in Eindhoven, and a member of the Scientific Advisory Council on Government Policy.
One of the commission's recommendations was that there should be ongoing and systematic monitoring of the societal significance of all technological advances. Rathenau's activities led to the foundation of the Netherlands Organization for Technology Assessment (NOTA) in 1986. On 2 June 1994, this organization was renamed the 'Rathenau Instituut'. While it remains an independent and autonomous organization, the institute now falls under the administrative responsibility of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW).
In 2004, at the request of the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, a new task was added to the Rathenau Instituut's remit: Science System Assessment (SciSA).