The making of a network

In 1989 a young Dutch historian traveled around the United States in search of kindred souls. Not yet 30, Johan Schot had already set out on an unusual personal trajectory, combining an academic interest in the history and social study of technology with professional consulting in environmental management. After a first degree in history from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam Schot had obtained a job at the TNO Center, a private research institute in Apeldoorn, as a consultant in the area of environmental technology. TNO had been one of the first research organizations in Europe to take the ideas of pollution prevention seriously, and it was as part of that interest that Schot traveled to the U.S. to visit some of the companies where the ideas had first developed.

Schot gave a talk on constructive technology assessment to an academic conference in California that was organized by the Society for the History of Technology. In his presentation he applied some of the new conceptual tools of evolutionary economics and innovation theory to technology developments in the environmental field. By reflecting on technological development in this more proactive way, Schot argued, technology assessment could be integrated into the construction, or design, process, thus making many production processes more appropriate and responsive to societal needs (Schot 1992).

Schot characterized three elements of constructive technology assessment, which he has continued to develop in the years since he first presented his paper (1998). On the one hand, he contended, there was the element of expectation or anticipation; CTA sought to identify and articulate the ideas, visions, and goals of particular projects as an explicit part of the technological development process. Secondly, there was the element of reflexivity, of building processes of dialog and interactive communication into the design and construction of technology. And, thirdly, there was the element of contextual, or social, innovation: technology development, or construction, was not merely a matter of ideas or communication, it was also a matter of connecting people, of establishing what Schot called a "technological nexus" for bringing different "actors" or participants together in the co-construction process. To a large extent, GIN is an example writ large of what Schot discussed in his conference paper.

Schot then toured the US, and eventually met up with Kurt Fischer at Tufts. Fischer had worked in a number of different companies but was back in academia, and trying to get his fellow academics interested in the environmental changes which were taking place in the business world. Like Schot, Fischer was also working in the not-yet-existing intellectual terrain of environmental management, and, also like Schot, he was interested in creating new channels of communication and interaction not just within academia but in business, government, and "non-government." Together, Schot and Fischer thought up the idea of a transatlantic meeting, bringing together a coterie of Americans and Europeans from different social domains and areas of concern in order to develop a new environmental management agenda. And so GIN was born.

The first GIN conference in the Netherlands in 1991 was kept small by design but the second, held two years later in Boston, attracted 166 participants, with Dutch and Americans making up well over half the number on both occasions. Thereafter the network expanded rapidly, and a pattern was set, which continued throughout the 1990s, of having a conference one year in North America and the following year in Europe. The network has enrolled substantial numbers of participants from Denmark (Copenhagen, 1994), from Canada (Toronto, 1995), Germany (Heidelberg, 1996), California (Santa Barbara, 1997), and Italy (Rome, 1998). In 1998 a node was established in Asia, with a network office in Bangkok inaugurated at an ambitious launch meeting in July. In addition to the conferences a number of workshops have been held on particular themes that have attracted local participation. A series of publications have drawn not only on conference papers, but have included substantive bibliographies of relevant literature.

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