META – the Centre for Methodical Ethics & Technology Assessment - is an independent expertise centre within the Social Sciences Group of the Wageningen UR in the Netherlands. META's primary objective is to serve as a bridge between science & technology and society, acting as an intermediary between the various parties involved in innovation trajectories.
META was originally established in 1999 and has been active in its present form from 2004 onwards.
One of its core activities consists in the supervision and execution of the Society Programme of the Centre for Biosystems Genomics (CBSG) at Wageningen UR, in close cooperation with the Centre for Society and Genomics (CSG) at the Radboud University Nijmegen. Another important partner is the Celiac Disease Consortium (CDC) at the Leiden University Medical Centre.
As the acronym suggests, META approaches innovation processes on a meta-level, i.e. viewing them not only from an internal, engineering perspective – the actual process of product design, development, testing, improvement, implementation, etc. - but also considering the larger context within which these processes occur, as it is this larger context that is most often the source of social, psychological, ethical and legal concerns. In particular, META focuses on the discourses surrounding innovation processes, as this is the level upon which those concerns typically manifest themselves.
META's primary objective is to serve as a bridge between science & technology and society, acting as an intermediary between the various parties involved in innovation trajectories. META builds bridges between stakeholders through interpretation and elucidation of their respective wishes, viewpoints and arguments, through facilitating discussion and delivering relevant information, with the explicit aim of bringing stakeholders closer to each-other.
Through fundamental scientific research as well as applied research META would like to increase the chances of success for innovations by involving society as early as possible in the innovation process and by stimulating different parties within the chain to cooperate. The intended result being that (new) products will be better accepted by, and more in tune with, the needs and wants of the end user. META calls this research action research. It assumes that innovations have an impact on all the actors involved and therefore strives to implicate them in all the phases of the innovation process. Actors will be provided with concrete perspectives for action and their wishes and critiques will be fed into the process on a regular basis.
Disciplinary background and research methods
META employs researchers from different scientific disciplines, such as philosophy, science and technology studies (STS), consumer studies, communication studies and anthropology. Its disciplinary affiliations include hermeneutics, social constructionist philosophy of technology, phenomenology, and critical theory and it deploys a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods including conceptual analysis, focus group discussions, direct/participating observation, depth interviews, internet queries, questionnaires, and literature studies.
Moreover, META examines and tries to refine research methods applied in specific research domains by taking these methods ‘out of the box’ and introducing them into ‘new’ and/or other research domains. As such, it aims to develop its own specific toolboxes for doing ethical research and technology assessment.