Running an exercise
This part of the guide assumes you have now designed your exercise and so focuses on the steps involved in running a Foresight exercise, in particular how to manage time, people, participants, communications and most importantly the learning process itself!
Managing a Foresight project means to apply the same rules of good project management as for any other project. Similarly, managing time and managing people are key aspects.
The latter is a particularly delicate issue, as there are different types of relationships that need to be handled in the Foresight process. The Foresight project team is the main body responsible for driving the relationships both inside the team and outside it. Perhaps the most important are those with the client, steering committee and participants.
Foresight is intrinsically participatory. Thus, a range of participants need to be involved, making enrolling participants is a key task. There are three basic aspects to be considered:
• Role/functions of the various participants
• Identifying participants
• Engaging participants
For it to be perceived as a success, and to ensure maximum benefit is derived from the exercise, the exercise needs to be promoted to raise awareness and build broad support (both within policy circles and the general public). This can foster a sense of ownership and so make it easier to implement the exercise’s recommendations.
Finally, Foresight exercises present their own intrinsic challenges, which stem precisely from the highly participatory and dynamic nature of the process.
The same rules of good project management practice apply to Foresight as to any other project. An implementation plan needs to be drawn up and followed, the project management practices should be put in place to continuously observe and ensure that the resources foreseen for each project step are used effectively (as defined in the implementation plan), that work schedules are kept to, and that outputs actually materialise.
The project needs to be monitored rigorously:
• To observe the activities during each project step and constantly compare them against the targets.
• To continuously adapt the implementation plan to its environment. The knowledge gained and the active participation of stakeholders may alter your view of the project. As Foresight exercises cannot be strictly defined from the outset, this is the best mechanism for incorporating changes.
The participatory nature of Foresight creates two specific challenges:
• Continuous adaptation of the process
• Preserving the learning effect
Various guidelines for improving Foresight practice and enhancing its impact on policy-making have been highlighted within the Mutual Learning process:
• Foresight for policy impact – some emerging guidelines
Keeping the Foresight exercise on time is crucial to sustaining momentum and credibility. Deadlines may also be imposed on the exercise by the policy agenda.
The exercise needs to be broken down into a number of distinct phases, each with a difference in emphasis and efforts. The timing of the implementation of each phases needs to be discussed by the team in consultation with the sponsor/client at the start of the project.
Breakdown into distinct phases: Indicative allocation of time %
Phase 1: A preparatory, design, and warm-up period which includes scoping, Ideally 2 months prior to start-up, 4
Phase 2: Start-up (allocation of tasks, work plan, website), First month into the exercise, 5-8
Phase 3: Running of the exercise, the bulk of the effort and time is dedicated to this phase which can be further broken down into phases addressing stakeholder-mapping and engagement, information-gathering, trends/driver analysis, 80-86
Phase 4: Compilation and presentation of results, Last 1-2 months of the exercise, 5-8
The time allocations shown in the table are indicative only and may vary from one exercise to another depending on the complexity of the project (e.g. a longer planning phase may be necessary) or the sponsor’s preferences (e.g. the sponsor may want more time and effort to be spent on dissemination/diffusion).
The results must be relevant for the timeframe in which they are due to be presented. For instance, if the results are supposed to provide an input to a national plan, they will need to meet the deadline for submissions.
Any deadlines set by the sponsor/client for deliverables and results from the exercise must be met. Deviations from the schedule should be anticipated and reported as soon as possible with an explanation to the sponsors to avoid misunderstandings. There are often valid reasons for deviating from the agreed schedule, such as delays in obtaining information or in organising events due to clashes. Where possible it is best to factor in the possibility of such delays at the planning stage to avoid disappointing the sponsors.
Time costs money:It is important to remember that the client/sponsor is providing the financial resources to pay for some or all of the working hours of staff spend on the exercise.
The client/sponsor expects value for money and results need to match the amount of time and effort that is supposed to have been invested in the exercise.
Time sheets are a useful way of tracking timely delivery of results and keeping an eye on the overall productivity of the team. They should ideally record daily tasks being carried out by the team members and help to identify unanticipated delays or the need to re-assign tasks to team members.
Overcome time constraints:Whereas the Foresight team are paid to dedicate time to the exercise, the stakeholders may not always have the time to participate actively in the exercise on a regular basis. This also depend on whether the stakeholders, and in particular, the panel members, are paid for their time and if the remuneration they receive adequately covers their efforts. Often even when resources are available to pay stakeholders and panel members, the latter simply do not have the time because of other commitments (or because they are insufficiently interested or have other priorities). When this happens, it may hold up the overall progress of the exercise.
For example, in the Malta eFORESEE ICT pilot, given that the more influential players had limited time to dedicate to the Foresight exercise, one-to-one interviews were conducted with the more prominent members of this group to obtain their insights on the effective orientation of the exercise and to identify other key people who could be consulted.
Time as a resource:Time is a valuable resource which needs to be used wisely. In a Foresight exercise time has special significance as it marks important advances in information gathering and breakthroughs in terms of changes in mind-sets and insights into hidden obstacles and agendas affecting progress. It is important not to underestimate the power of time in bringing about transformations in behaviour and in offering windows of opportunity for new initiatives. Time forces Foresight to evolve as an iterative process where linear thinking and approaches are overtaken by feedback loops, as particular approaches and perspectives are revisited and methods are revised to improve the process. This is one reason why the Foresight process needs to retain a level of flexibility in the way it is designed, planned and implemented.
Time management is a shared responsibility: Ensuring effective time management and introduction of related strategies is the collective responsibility of all those engaged in the Foresight exercise, from the sponsors, clients, team leader, to the implementation team, including technical secretaries and panel chairs and members.
Where possible, plan for delays: The team leader needs to ensure in the planning phase that the time needed to complete all the tasks is quantified. In order to allow for a degree of flexibility, tasks can be allowed some leeway for possible delays but absolute cut-off dates should be agreed for completion and delivery of results. Any delays anticipated after the cut-off dates need to be reported immediately to the team leader. A balance has to be struck between seeking to achieve perfect results and delaying the process as opposed to ensuring that the project is delivered on time even if some aspects are not fully addressed as envisaged in the plan.
Don’t get side-tracked! Remember that while spin-off activity and related initiatives can enhance the overall quality of the process and the results achieved, it is important that the team is not distracted from its purpose and lured into working on a different project. It is important to recognise when enough has been achieved on a project and to leave secondary activities for a follow-up project.
The term “participants” refers broadly to all the people taking part in the Foresight exercise other than the members of the project team directly responsible for running the exercise.
One of the main features of any Foresight activity is its participatory dimension, i.e. the active, widespread and highly valued involvement of the various participants or stakeholders throughout all the stages of the exercise. This participation should not be occasional and sporadic, but must be considered a determining factor in the final result. Going beyond mere consultation, this can require the participation of stakeholders in steering the exercise from the identification of the general and specific objectives, through the planning of the activities to be completed and the methodologies to be adapted, to the management of operations and the dissemination of results. This is particularly important in enhancing the results of Foresight because it will give stakeholders a sense of ownership of the process and its outputs. The more actively they have been engaged into the process the more likely it is that they will use the analysis and results of the exercise to choose the most appropriate actions to prepare for the future.
Besides panels and working groups, it is common to arrange ‘windows’ of wide consultation during certain phases of the process, where instruments, such as questionnaires, workshops and public meetings, are used. This is important:
• to get “out of the box” thinking
• to enhance the visibility of the exercise
• to avoid domination by any one particular group
• to confer wider ownership over the outputs of the exercise
For a Foresight exercise to be successful it is vital to identify the people that should be engaged. This may change over the course of the exercise, so this process has to be repeated at intervals. This can range from identifying experts who are needed to provide specific information, to identifying respondents for a survey or finding participants on panels or in scenario building workshops. There is no one recipe for this. Depending on your goals and on the methods you are using, the criteria will be different. However, other aspects such as cost and management capabilities also need to be taken into account when deciding how many people and who should be involved.
Also the number of participants can vary widely from a few tens of people up to thousands. Participants can include representatives from various administrations, universities, businesses, industry associations, chambers of commerce, trade-unions, NGOs, the media, and the wider public. For each particular exercise the suitable range and number of participants has to be considered carefully.
Much will depend, for instance, on whether the main goal is to bring about change in a particular arena (e.g. a new approach to be adopted in the healthcare system) or you are more focused on analysing a specific topic (e.g. the societal impact of ambient intelligence). So, for instance, in some cases you will need a small group of high ranking people from specific stakeholder organisations while in other cases it is more important to engage people outside existing networks to create out of the box thinking.
In the description of each Foresight method you will find some criteria for the choice of participants meeting the needs of this particular method. However, it is highly recommended that you compile a set of criteria specifically tailored to your exercise and to the specific event you are planning. A list of criteria that have proven of relevance in past Foresight experiences is given below.
It might be useful to note down the criteria you want to use within a structure (such as a matrix) before you actually set out to identify names.
There are two main steps to enrolling participants:
• Selecting participants
• Engaging participants
The aim of communicating and promoting the exercise is to raise awareness about its objectives and create a wider circle that reaches beyond the participants. It usually targets policy-making/government actors, civil society and the general public. It is an ongoing process throughout the Foresight exercise.
See also: Designing the communication strategy
A Foresight exercise is by definition participatory. To obtain broad participation, it is essential to promote the exercise, raise awareness and build support. Throughout the process, it is necessary to continue and enrich the dialogue with the clients/sponsors, stakeholders and, when appropriate, the public at large. Communication includes:
• Interacting with sponsors and stakeholders when important decisions have to be taken and keeping them regularly informed (formally and informally) of progress (see Managing relationships)
• Dissemination of preliminary and final results
• Collecting and taking into account feedback on the process and on the outcomes; from the stakeholders and contributors to the exercise
• Networking with other exercises
In addition, various tools can be used to promote the exercise more widely:
• Publications and traditional communication tools (databases, newsletters, etc.)
• Forums and participative events (hearings, seminars, conferences, workshops, meetings, etc.)
• Illustration of Foresight success stories in other contexts
Why is it important to promote the exercise?
Ensure wider uptake of results: In most cases promotion beyond the inner circle of participants is important to ensure you obtain the maximum benefit from the exercise. Only if there is a general awareness of the exercise will a wide range of people take up the results to support their own decisions or buy into the visions that it produced. This is especially true for government agencies that are not directly participating in the process. If they are not kept actively informed is is unlikely that they will give their backing to the results later on.
Helping the process: Recruiting participants for your various activities will be much easier if there is a general awareness of the exercise and positive view of it. Obtaining additional funding or other support such as venues for meetings, etc. will also be much easier to achieve if the exercise has a well-established good reputation.
Avoiding misconceptions: Active promotion will help to avoid problems during the process resulting from misconceptions and misunderstanding such as expectations about the ability of your exercise to “predict” future developments. Also, accusations such as failure to engage a relevant stakeholder group or partiality of the approach to one interest group can be avoided by keeping the exercise as transparent as possible to the general public throughout. For this purpose it is crucial during promotion to clearly communicate the objectives and expected outcomes and the reasons for the approach you have taken. Just as when communicating with your targeted stakeholder groups, following your communication strategy, you might have to think about targeted promotion to specific groups outside the exercise.
One of the main features of any Foresight activity is the participatory dimension. The various participants/stakeholders should be consulted frequently throughout the course of the exercise, and the exercise should be designed so as to offer many ‘natural’ opportunities for doing so.
Promoting the exercise: To promote the exercise it is useful to have a continuously updated public website. It is also a good idea to have a well-designed brochure describing the main features of the exercise such as the objectives, approach, expected outcomes, etc. early on. The brochure could, for instance, be based on the scoping document that is produced during the design phase.
Various tools can also be used to promote the exercise such as:
• Publications and traditional communication tools (database, flyer, newsletters, etc.)
• Forums and participatory events (hearings, seminars, conferences, workshops, meetings, etc.)
There is more information on promoting the exercise in some of the example cases:
• Vision 2023: Turkish National Technology Foresight Exercise
• Eforesee Malta – Exchange of Foresight Relevant Experiences among Small Enlargement Economies
• Managing relationships
• Tailoring communication to diverse target groups
• When is the right time to communicate?
• Who is involved in the communication process?
• Relating outputs to potential users
• Diffusion and dissemination of results
• Designing the communication strategy
Some of the main challenges you are likely to meet when running the Foresight process include:
• Communicating throughout the exercise
• Enrolling participants (i.e. identifying them and keeping them on board)
• Keeping to schedule
• Continuously adapting the process
• Maximising the learning effect
• Interacting with the client
• Communicating outcomes and processes
• Promoting the exercise
There are also overlaps with the challenges identified during the design phase.