The various bodies and their roles
Each Foresight process needs a management structure allowing the various actors to be coordinated effectively. Although each project is different, some elements of this organisational structure have proved useful in various exercises, in particular:
• Steering committee
• Coordinator or executive director
• Project Management Team
A number of formal and informal roles can also be distinguished in Foresight, including promoters, stakeholders, sponsors, the steering committee, champions, experts, process experts, monitoring groups, etc. Formal roles and responsibilities require careful definition. While the steering group, the project management team and the coordinator are clearly defined groups of people with similar functions in most exercises, the participants can be organised in a number of bodies with various configurations, ranging from one-off participation in a single event through to regular involvement in a variety of tasks, such as reporting.
The role of these bodies depends very much on the approach adopted to design decisions. Usually the steering committee is responsible for strategic directions while the project team is responsible for operational activities. However, the governance of the wider programme is a matter for all stakeholders. In the case of bottom up approaches, groups of participants are assigned far reaching competencies over shaping the process (e.g. a panel group can decide to split into two sub groups or to adopt a method other than that originally proposed). In such cases there will be a continuous need for the management team to adapt the process.
The actors involved in the exercise need to be related to each other in a formal structure to ensure a smooth workflow and information exchange, adequate timing, and monitoring of progress. The coordinator, together with the client, will set up the formal structure at an early stage in the project. Depending on the complexity of the exercise and the number of bodies involved, it will be necessary to create various bodies and define their mode of interaction with the overall project. Many projects have, for instance, initiated panel groups that were steered by external committees. The decision procedures will have to be defined early on to avoid confusion on who decides what and when during the process.
The picture below shows an example of a management structures from the experience of North-East England where each programme area had its own coordinator.
The tasks of the project team are likely to include most of the followings:
• Day-to-day running of the project
• Managing the various processes
• Reviewing the existing literature
• Preparing synthesis and scoping documents
• Organising workshops and conferences on specific issues
• Selecting and nominating group members
• Maintaining regular contacts with participants, sponsors, stakeholders and the Steering Committee
• Integrating and summarising content and management reports and presenting them to the Steering Committee
• Organising the sub-contracting of some of the tasks and carefully monitoring the sub-contractors
• Organising expert hearings
• Organising public debate on specific issues
• Ensuring awareness and networking
• Employing Foresight methods, e.g. scenarios
• Preparing reports on specific issues
• Preparing intermediary and final reports
The appointment of a suitable project team with the right profile and competencies is one of the keys to the success of the exercise.
The Steering Committee (or steering board or group) includes high level executives from private and public-sector institutions relevant to the focus and scope of the exercise. It is usually responsible for strategic decisions and for legitimating and building support for the exercise.
The main tasks of the Steering Committee usually include:
• Approving and validating the objectives, focus, scope, methodology, work programme, major decisions, and communications strategy
• Structuring the dialogue between the actors at the highest level so as to shape the strategic orientation of the project
• Evaluating project progress, monitoring the quality assurance process
• Validating and endorsing at the highest level the results of the project and their implementation and contributing to their dissemination
• Raising awareness, mobilising high-level experts and appointing them to various panels
• Formulating the strategic and policy recommendations
In the composition, the following important considerations have to be taken into account:
• Involving people at the right level, which is often, but not always, at the highest possible level
• Keeping the balance between the different stakeholders (public / private, institutions / NGOs)
The Steering Committee will meet when major decisions have to be taken or approved, typically from 2 to 4 times a year. These meetings are major milestones in the exercise and should therefore be carefully prepared. The Steering Committee might be backed up by a Technical Committee which will deal with the more day-to-day operational issues.
Fostering/encouraging an actor-oriented and participatory approach in the Foresight exercise: communication with interested parties generates useful discussion and brings in valuable information and analysis.
• Establishing a science-society dialogue: the engagement of non-scientific knowledge, values and preferences in the Foresight process through social discourse improves the quality of the exercise by giving access to a wider range of perspectives and options
• Enabling a process of mutual learning
The communication strategy and foresight process run in parallel: Those interactions between stakeholders which occur throughout the Foresight process, together with expert input (externalisation), trigger a learning process involving exchange of knowledge and/or information which is consolidated through network building and enhanced stakeholder engagement.
The communication strategy, if well-planned and implemented, provides a good reflection of the main thrust of the Foresight exercise. This will be transmitted to those involved or targeted by the exercise using various media over the lifecycle of the project, from start-up to implementation and diffusion. An implicit objective of a Foresight exercise is the learning and unlearning it generates in terms of policy transfer, formulation and implementation. A well-designed communications strategy moves beyond one-way reporting of the work underway and is more specifically oriented towards generating a high degree of interaction and learning among all those involved in the exercise or in some way addressed by it.
The communications strategy described here is tailored to a typical national Foresight exercise, and would therefore need to be adapted for a more trans-national collaborative exercise, or for an exercise at regional or sectoral level to include specific strategies for the exchange of expertise and collaboration in joint projects/programmes between the partner countries/regions. A trans-national or regional dimension strongly influences the dynamics of the Communication Strategy and should be given due attention.
There is more information on communication strategies in some of the example cases:
• Vision 2023: Turkish National Technology Foresight Exercise
• Futur – the German Research Dialogue
• Eforesee Malta – Exchange of Foresight Relevant Experiences (Small Enlargement Economies)
• Why is communication so important to the success of a Foresight exercise?
• What kind of information needs to be communicated in Foresight exercise?
• How can communications be designed in a Foresight exercise?
• How to profile stakeholders?
• How can communication be tailored to various target groups?
• When is the right time to communicate?
• Who is involved in the communication process?
At the end of the design phase you will need to draw up an implementation plan with a detailed description of the activities planned for the various phases of the exercise.
The implementation plan should list all the major milestones such as events, deliverables and decision points. It might also include a more detailed list of the tasks associated with each milestone. The plan needs to indicate financing requirements so costs can be estimated.
For this purpose the plan needs to be as detailed as possible, highlighting the number of players involved, the scheduled events, expected results, and the dissemination and promotion activities. The plan should also describe how final results will be disseminated and enhanced (emphasising the points of interest to each category of sponsor).
The aim should be to arrive at a fully developed specification, about which reasonable consensus should be obtained among the key actors of the exercise such as the project team, coordinator, sponsor and steering committee, as well as in some cases key stakeholder representatives.
The implementation plan will later be used to monitor implementation. More information: See a template of a possible Implementation Plan
When planning the implementation of the Foresight exercise it is crucial to build sufficient flexibility into the activity programme to take account of possible contingencies during the exercise. Keep the process modular so that different activities can be added or removed in response to the changing context, feedback from sponsors, participants or stakeholders, or changes in the availability of resources.
• Adaptive Foresight
• Continuous adaptation of the process
A Foresight exercise needs to be designed as an iterative process, which by definition is difficult to predict. In the opinion of many experts the number of “loops” is a relevant quality indicator for the exercise. This implies that they must often proceed by redefining the expected outcome, or even the interim objectives. This organisational flexibility will be beneficial for the exercise, provided it does not entail the loss of reference points in the process. In this sense, the steering committee should act as a safeguard, by defining an “acceptable” amount of room for manoeuvre.
• Steering Committee
• Managing the process: adaptation of the process
At the end of the design phase it is advisable to draft a “scoping document” describing and explaining the major decisions. This document does not need to be long or highly formalised. Its purpose is to secure and strengthen the common understanding that has been achieved between the sponsor, coordinator, team, main stakeholders and maybe even already a number of other groups. This document can subsequently be used as a reference point throughout the exercise.
Writing up the document also requires a first feedback loop including all the actors involved at this stage of the exercise.