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What we do

The Rathenau Instituut supports the formation of public and political opinion on socially relevant aspects of science and technology. It conducts research on this subject and organises debates on science, innovation, and new technology.

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 boardThe 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. 

Our work programme

Society is facing major challenges. The effects of climate change are becoming more perceptible: from droughts to floods, and from heat waves to degradation of biodiversity. We are living longer, but for many of us that means living longer in poorer health. There
are staff shortages in the health and education sectors, putting essential services under strain. And with the war in Ukraine, Europe is also under geopolitical strain. Adding up all these challenges, one sees a society confronted by a number of key choices. With its Work Programme for 2023-2024., the Rathenau Instituut aims over the next two years to clarify how science, technology, and innovation (STI) can contribute to finding solutions to these challenges that society is facing.

In the coming years, we will pursue that aim by addressing four themes:

  • Digitalisation
  • Climate
  • Health
  • Knowledge for transitions

In the coming years, the Rathenau Instituut aims to play a major role in public and political dialogue regarding the challenges that we have referred to above. In this work programme, we will focus our activities on the following overall aim:

We clarify how science, technology, and innovation can contribute to tackling the urgent challenges facing society, while bearing in mind public values.

Read our previous Work Programmes and Annual Reports

Our history

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).

International collaboration

The societal aspects of technology, science and innovation often have an international dimension. Therefore, the Rathenau Instituut often collaborates internationally. Read more about our International collaboration.

Research at request

Besides the research we do for our own work programme, we sometimes do research at the request of third parties. Examples of these are ministries, governments, and public organisations. Read more about our research at request.