The Feasibility assessment aims at looking at weather the specific context of an Foresight exercise allows the exercise to be carried out satisfactorily and yield valuable impacts on the system addressed (be it a country, the Research and Innovation system, the Healthcare system, etc.). It should lead to a formal and joint decision of the coordination and the sponsors. At the end of this Phase the process can proceed, might have to refocus or be adjusted or be cancel completely. This should happen before committing substantial resources into a project.
The next pages will guide you through the issues to take into account and highlight some of the problems that may arise. Should many barriers be apparent at this juncture, it is critical to address each and to also take into consideration if foresight might not be the adequate approach. The option to completely abort the exercise should be left open at this stage. Decisions have to be taken with care and due to the financial resources of the sponsor and the professional credibility of the coordinator as well as the Foresight Community in general.
A new Foresight exercise never emerges into an empty landscape of strategic intelligence and policy-advising and has to be embedded within a wider context. It has to coexist, collaborate and compete with complementary or alternative approaches such as Evaluation, Impact Assessment, Risk Assessment, Technology Assessment, Technology Forecasting, Strategic Planning, Innovation Studies and Futures Studies.
The context of an exercise is always specific as the local political, economic and cultural conditions are unique. Other actors, institutions, decision-making centres, committees, policies, programmes, projects, and activities are certainly already present and addressing some, or all, of the issues at stake. The first step before starting a Foresight exercise is therefore to systematically analyse this context and to identify the agents that it is essential to have on board (and those that it is not), any agents that may help the exercise (and any that may oppose it). It is important to be realistic and aware that some people or institutions may oppose, impede or hinder the starting exercise, openly or not by considering that it steps on their territory.
Foresight exercises have sometimes been managed as a relatively ‘stand-alone’ project, in particular when organised by regional public authorities. Such projects may be initiated from a strategic position, such as central planning departments or the office of the regional ‘governor’. By virtue of their broad focus and central position, these exercises often address cross-thematic and cross-sectoral issues, which can be missed by existing, more-focused, institutions and processes. However, this independence also makes their results difficult to implement, especially if the institutions in charge of the implementation are organised along ‘traditional’ lines.
Typical problems for the Foresight exercise that might emerge while analysing the context include:
• The sponsor/client has no possibility of acting upon the results of the exercise (e.g. because of a lack of resources or a lack of influence)
• High-level policy support for the exercise does not look likely
• The sponsor’s organisation is divided as to the usefulness of the exercise
• The expectations of the clients are unrealistic given the context
• The political landscape is likely to change dramatically during the exercise (e.g. impending elections)
• Relevant/key stakeholders cannot be actively engaged with the project
• There is no champion in key implementing organisations
• The area to be tackled is highly controversial among stakeholders and/or policymakers
• There has been a recent attempt to involve stakeholders in strategic planning that did not succeed
• There is no tradition of participatory approaches in the field, making engagement of stakeholders difficult
Specific case of Foresight for policy-making
Foresight outcomes can be taken on board by policy-makers only if they are fully in step with the policy-making process, in terms of timing, cultural compatibility and usability. Therefore, a thorough analysis of the political context during the design phase of a Foresight exercise is essential. The system in which the exercise is embedded has to be understood as well as the one on which it is supposed to have an impact. The culture of decision-making within ministries/agencies matters for the positioning of Foresight. Decision-making practices are usually context-specific and not codified. They have to be deconstructed in order to “prepare the field”. It is very important to position Foresight within the complex process of policy building and to link up with other activities such as ongoing planning that are already in place.
The following checklist was elaborated as a tentative guideline to perform this crucial step in the early phase of designing a Foresight exercise:
• Who are the main actors involved in the decision making process related to the subject that the Foresight exercise will be dealing with? (If possible identify not only the departments/institutions but also specific persons)
• What are other government bodies that might be affected by decisions that might be influenced by the Foresight exercise?
• What are other government bodies that might be in a position to act upon the results of the Foresight?
• What is the procedure for decision making? (in some cases it could be useful to develop a graphical representation such as a flow chart)
• What kind of input is fed into the policy decision making process and at which stage (e.g. advisory groups, studies)?
• What other strategy building activities are in place (e.g. regional development plan, consensus conferences)
When analysing the context in which a new Foresight exercise is embedded it is important to identify any other policies or programmes that already in place. It is imperative to make clear how the new project differs or adds to what is already available and why the approach being used is important or necessary.
This means that it is critical to establish why Foresight is a suitable approach to tackling current needs and, most importantly, the way in which Foresight might be positioned in the existing policy cycle. Thus, the benefits of Foresight in improving or evolving the current policy and decision-making systems, as well as the actors who should or are likely to be involved in this process, need to be defined at the start.
The figure below represents the policy cycle schematically. It is important to understand from the outset whether the Foresight exercise aims to unlock new needs and knowledge in the context of the project or if the objective is to facilitate the adoption or the implementation of the envisaged outcomes.
The exercise will require time and commitment from the participants. Therefore, it must be ‘legitimated’ enough to assure them that they are engaged in a worthwhile endeavour. This legitimation comes from key actors in the field giving their “seal of approval” and from the professionalism of the process and the project team.
Securing adequate political support early on will help ensuring that the exercise is perceived as being worth taking seriously. Key people, potential ‘champions’ or ‘ambassadors’, are to be targeted first as they are likely to give the exercise extra momentum and to help put forward the arguments. This can entail certain risks as well (e.g. it might lead to rivalry, or misplaced expectations from the proposed Foresight exercise).
Foresight exercises that are reliant on the support of one high ranking policy actor could run into problems if this person changes position (e.g. due to elections or the restructuring of a ministry). Also for the sake of a balanced vision and a diversity of perspectives it is advisable to seek support from different policy actors such as different ministries or departments within one ministry. Furthermore, it might be useful not only to look for people concerned with the design of policy but also with the implementation.
Later on, it also implies that the output of the exercise must be followed-up and acted upon. Otherwise, stakeholders will not give you a second chance.
The ultimate success of a Foresight project depends on a couple of factors. Amanatidou differentiates between internal and external success factors. Internal are the factors directly related to the foresight process. External are the systemic factors of the environment of that process. Amanatidou makes further differentiations within the two categories of success factors:
Actors are relevant, e.g. with regard to “who is the client?” This has to be clear and transparent to all participants and persons involved at all levels. Clients with a high level of absorptive capacity and a strong network can act as ‘foresight champions’ and enable a high degree of commitment for the process within their organisation.
Inputs and outputs are another subcategory in terms of scientific rigor for the process, reliability, accuracy. Additional important inputs for the process are also inter-disciplinarity and creativity of the team and stakeholders involved. Only if these inputs are met at a high level can they set the ground for high quality outputs such as relevance, usability, timeliness for policy-making.
The quality of the process itself and the methods used are essential for the success. The methods have to be in accordance to objectives and the environment of the project, of course. Not all methods fit the same purpose. Early engagement of the project team and the client and an appropriate time frame for the process are also basic features of a successful foresight process. There has to be an implementation plan for the process and the organisations involved and for the results as well.. This goes hand in hand with a solid communication plan, to make each step and output transparent and achieve a high level of ‘ownership’ among the participants. The objectives of the process have to be clear and non-divergent, they need to be well-articulated, not convoluted and easy to understand for a broad audience, even if they are not involved. The same holds true for the intervention logic: it has to be understood by common sense.
Amanatidou differentiates four groups of external success factors. The institutional context of the foresight process is important with regard to the compatibility with the strategy of the other implementing institution(s) and the ability to enable inter-institutional configurational relations.
For the ultimate outcome of the foresight process, the state of innovation system has to be considered. This, of course is dependent on the regional or sectoral scope of the exercise. Does the foresight process fit into the Type and state of innovation system and its performance? Can it add value to some of the individual elements of the regional/national/trans-national/sectoral/technological innovation systems? A foresight process is more successful if the innovation system in focus is open to the promotion of new ideas on political agendas.
Socio-cultural context should be regarded as a success factor in terms of tradition (type and extent) of public engagement. This includes also the type and extent of public protest and public trust. Has society perceived the utility of foresight in general? Is the exercise set in a culture that is encouraging creativity and innovation?
Finally, the success of foresight is an issue of governance. Optimally, foresight is situated in the policy making cycle and used for revising past policies and for setting priorities in upcoming agenda settings. Foresight is not only an asset with regard of its ultimate recommendations but the added value also lies in the process of raising public awareness and ignite interest public participation.