The ‘scope’ of a Foresight exercise defines ‘what the exercise will look at’, i.e. ‘what is in and what is out’. Accordingly, depending on the scope, some things will be excluded from the view while others will be taken up. It is therefore necessary to carefully design a scope that is appropriate to achieving the objectives of the exercise.
As described in more detail below there are basically two aspects involved into defining the scope of a Foresight exercise:
• Choice of the topics to be dealt with
• Decision on the perspective to be adopted to investigate the topics
Finally, you will have to combine your choices of focus, topics and perspective into a coherent exercise design.
Selecting the topics to be covered
A topic within a Foresight exercise is a fairly tightly constrained theme that can be dealt with, for example, by a working session of an expert panel or a section of a Delphi questionnaire. A Foresight exercise with a given focus can cover a variety of different topics. Some exercises have covered around 20, although less than 10 is more typical. The choice of topics is critical for the relevance of the exercise and can often itself be considered a part of the outcome.
Many past Foresight exercises have dealt with topics relating to developments in science and technology. Typical themes for such technology-oriented Foresight exercises have included microelectronics, new materials, nanotechnology, biotechnology and communications technology. Some of these exercises have looked at just one technology field in considerable detail. Other exercises have scanned very broad technological fields to identify a number of “key or critical technologies” (e.g. those considered to be of major importance for a nation).
However, it is also possible to deal with topics other than technology. Recently more and more Foresight initiatives have dealt with socio-economic topics such as demographic change, health, human resources, social welfare education (at all levels), transport, housing, energy, cities, environmental management, water supply, climate change and its effects, community development, crime and violence, youth alienation, mental healthcare, creative components of culture, and social engagement.
Some exercises have aimed at identifying a number of upcoming developments rather than choosing one particular topic.
The procedure for the selection of topics depends very much on the focus and objectives of the exercise. In the case of territorial Foresight the decision on the topics to be dealt with in the exercise will follow different criteria than for sectoral Foresight or issue-driven Foresight.
Territorial Foresight usually aims to tackle the relevant factors likely to shape the future of the region. Therefore, there is often a range of topics considered as indicated in the table below. Usually a territorial vision is elaborated which comprises several different aspects. SWOT analysis is often used in these cases to identify topics that are of strategic importance to the region.
Example topics of previous regional Foresight exercises
Specific case of Foresight for policy-making: Shaping within boundaries:
The literature often emphasises that Foresight should be closely linked to action and decision making, mainly targeting public policy. Foresight exercises are expected not only to provide information for policy but also to develop concrete “policy recommendations” or even to suggest precise policy instruments. It was suggested during the FORLEARN Mutual Learning workshops that there may be a need to rethink the way Foresight can actually achieve change. It does not usually make sense to aim at affecting the whole socio-economic framework but rather that a bigger effort should be made to analyse what can be shaped within this framework.
To achieve a realistic impact it is crucial to consider how to strike the right balance between shaping the future and adapting to constraints for the target area (e.g. country, region, sector or thematic field). By acknowledging the constraints of acting upon the future it becomes possible to focus the exercise on these aspects that can indeed be shaped, thus increasing the actual space for manoeuvre. Sometimes there may be more possibilities for change than are obvious at first sight, but sometimes there will also be less.
To sum up, it is critical to clearly acknowledge what the external limiting factors are in order to ensure that the expected outcome is realistic. The more the limitations of Foresight are clarified and acknowledged, the more it can concentrate on the issues where there is actually room for manoeuvre, thereby optimising its efforts and real impacts.
See also: Foresight for policy impact – some emerging guideline
Defining the perspective
The perspective refers to the way a topic is addressed, or in other words the set of questions that is considered in order to deal with the topic. While in general Foresight may address scientific and technological, institutional, social and economic developments to an equal extent, often only one or two of these are addressed in full. For instance, Delphi studies aimed at informing S&T strategy of a wide range of actors concentrate on scientific and technological developments, while in the UK and the Netherlands science-related Foresight panels, which are related to public science policy, often focus on institutional responses to scientific and technological developments. Foresight related to economic, environmental or agricultural policies tends to focus on social and economic needs and developments.
For each topic that has been chosen for a Foresight exercise, different perspectives can be adopted for the investigation. The majority of past Foresight exercises have taken one of the following perspectives:
• Confined perspective (Focusing on one aspect of the topic (e.g. technological development within the field)
• Techno-economic perspective (Typically emerging business opportunities within a technology field)
• Holistic perspective (social/cultural + economic + technological)
For a technology topic this means that the interaction between societal and technological developments is the focus of the exercise.
For a societal topic (e.g. health) this means that technological developments are also closely investigated.
Background Information: Although Foresight practitioners often consider a holistic perspective to be desirable, it is not always easy to achieve. The reason for this is that in many professional communities and policy-making bodies it is rare for all aspects of an issue to be discussed in an integrated way. Often experts and organisations (such as government departments) are interested in only one of the aspects. Engineers and specialists from the social sciences rarely used to talk to one another. A current topic of much debate in the Foresight community is how to achieve better integration between societal and technological aspects in Foresight. There is a general agreement that in order to tackle long term developments, even in a confined thematic area, there needs to be a wide ranging appraisal of future developments.
It is important to ensure that the perspective you adopt matches the objectives of your exercise and allows you to achieve the intended outcomes. So, for instance, when policy makers want to address societal changes a narrow perspective on technological aspects alone will not serve their needs. On the other hand if decisions on technology funding are to be supported, a broad socio-economic perspective might not be able to derive the detailed technical information needed. Later on when selecting the methods you will need to consider carefully whether the method is suited to the perspective adopted, as not every method adapts equally well to every perspective. Also when you design various events, such as panel discussions or open consultation phases, it is important always to reflect which level of analysis you are targeting and how the results will be linked to the other features of the chosen perspective.
See also: a presentation used by TNO to define the perspective adopted to address emerging innovations – Combining the focus, topics and perspectives
After having drafted the first ideas on the focus, topics and perspective for your exercise, the challenge will be to combine these into an integrated and consistent framework. There is a wide range of possibilities for this as there is no one-to-one mapping between the focus, topics and perspective in Foresight. An exercise which is primarily concerned with technology topics may strongly emphasise the interaction of the technology field with the socio-economic framework. Such an exercise will dwell on social factors and economic developments relevant within the field. On the other hand, an exercise concerned with a social issue like demographic change might well explore the role of technological developments that have an impact on demographic change or else are likely to be affected by it.
In summary, although there is a great deal of overlap in terms of broad themes discussed by various types of Foresight activities, the same topics can be discussed from completely different angles.
Scoping an exercise
Scoping a Foresight exercise is far from straightforward. There is no single best way, as many things depend on the specific context, issues and needs. Every Foresight exercise is different and there is usually a lot of “learning by doing”. Even if an experienced practitioner is involved and may have a mental picture of the exercise at the outset it is likely to evolve in different directions as it progresses. There are also times where Foresight exercises are systematic and recurring activities, in which case it is easier to learn from experience.
Careful thought and planning during the design phase can obviously help avoid serious mistakes. A lot can also be learned from the experience of others who have carried out similar exercises. Some of the issues to be considered when designing an exercise range from the initial positioning in the wider landscape, the major design decisions, to the design of the methodology.
It is an over-simplification to present the issues in sequence. In reality the various steps and decisions are deeply interlinked and take place in parallel. Therefore, Foresight design will always be an iterative process involving numerous feedback loops. For instance, the amount of resources needed depends on the objectives and the outcomes, but the objectives are often reviewed according to the resources available.
A Foresight exercise will be justified only by its subsequent impacts. Therefore, before committing substantial resources, it is necessary to find out whether the specific context will allow the exercise to be carried out satisfactorily and have the desired impact on the system addressed (e.g. a country, the Research and Innovation system, the Healthcare system, etc.). This is the essence of the feasibility phase. It should lead to a formal decision, taken jointly by the sponsors and the coordinator, to proceed, to refocus or even to halt the project. Political support may also be sought in these early phases, in order to raise the profile and bolster the credibility of the exercise.
Making the major design decisions
Once the decision to proceed has been taken, a number of important decisions need to be made. These include issues such as the focus, objectives, users, outcomes, scope, approach, time horizon, and the expected duration of the exercise. The outcome of these decisions will normally be set out in a scoping document.
Taking stock: Compiling a Scoping Document
Finding and securing resources consonant with the focus, objectives and scope is one of the major challenges (if not the major challenge) during the design of the exercise. These resources will not only be financial (i.e. to cover the exercises costs), for which it will be necessary to find and convince sponsors, but also human (i.e. skills and competencies).
Setting-up the exercise
Before the exercise can be launched a number of organisational structures need to be put in place or defined, such as a project team, a steering committee, and working groups of experts and stakeholders. It will also be necessary to define a communication strategy, as communication is vital to the success of the exercise. The project team’s first job will be to write the implementation plan, defining the project in more detail.
Designing the methodology
The methodology, which acts as the skeleton of the exercise, is to be designed earlier according to the objectives and the desired outcomes of the exercises.
And some points to keep in mind …
Even if this is not codified within the ‘official’ documentation, it is well-known to practitioners in the field that many exercises have failed to live up to expectations.
• Challenges for the design
• Where can we get help?
• The “Doing Foresight” tool is specifically designed for the evaluation and self-evaluation of Foresight exercise but can also be used as a checklist of all the issues to be considered in the scoping and design of a Foresight exercise.
A Foresight exercise is usually a relatively extensive undertaking requiring the appointment of a project team, a steering committee (usually), and often working groups of experts and stakeholders. These ‘structures’ will need to be organised and monitored, to ensure that the objectives of your activities will be met. To simplify, we consider that the project team and the steering committee will be appointed in the design phase whereas the working groups will be set up over the course of the project (therefore described in the ‘Running an exercise’ section).
• Information gathering
• Steering Committee
• Implementation plan
Before embarking on a Foresight exercise it is worth reviewing previous work as useful material to start building on. Naturally, when getting acquainted with the area you are tackling (e.g. the structure of the region or the basic aspects of the issue) you will quickly become aware of the main Foresight activities with a similar focus.
By reviewing other work you can:
• Avoid ‘reinventing the wheel’ by building on available results and on previous knowledge
• Learn from past experience
• Save resources by making use of what is available
• Collect inputs for the exercise already know
• Avoid being criticised for repeating “old stuff”
• Identify people who can contribute in various functions
• Make use of available skills and knowledge sources
• Improve acceptance by linking up with what is already familiar
There is more about reviewing previous work in one of the example cases:
• Eforesee Malta – Exchange of Foresight Relevant Experiences among Small Enlargement Economies
Types of inputs to look out for when reviewing past exercises
Skills and competencies needed
This will mainly be ‘tacit’ knowledge developed by various people in activities like those listed here. A latent Foresight potential can be mobilised with the right stimuli, e.g. the sensitivity of the various players (businesses, authorities, research technology-transfer and innovation-support) to the Foresight approach. Also, there might be explicit expertise in Foresight tools and methodology.
Information that can be used as a starting point of the exercise or later on as an input
This may include all kinds of formalised knowledge like forecasts, scenarios, results of other Foresight exercises, opinion polls, data sets, market reports, benchmarking data (both quantitative and qualitative). It can include meaningful information on the current state of play and on the main trends (e.g. economic, social and demographic trends).
Resources to be mobilised in the exercise
Associations and bodies representing various different sectors of society – networks, consumer/citizen groups, business associations, credit unions, chambers of commerce, leading figures in the community (public, business), participants that can be involved in your exercise as ‘experts’, etc.
There may be a variety of past activities where all these types of expertise can be found:
• Participatory approaches such as citizens boards, open consultation processes
• Attempts to gather anticipatory intelligence like planning processes
• Academic studies aiming at deriving anticipatory intelligence by applying formal methods (Futures Studies)
• Strategy building in public bodies like ministries and other groups of actors (public initiatives, professional organisations)
• See also: Skills and competencies
To identify these activities you will have to find your own way of “looking around” asking people, reading publications, etc. Previous projects have mapped past and ongoing exercises (see the European Foresight Monitoring Network) and there are several newsletters, websites and journals regularly reporting on progress in the field.
Collecting Information throughout the process
You will need information on various topics throughout the exercise as an input into the process (such as background documents for panel discussions, etc.)
This will include all kinds of formalised knowledge, such as forecasts, scenarios, results of other Foresight exercises, opinion polls, data sets, market reports, benchmarking data (both quantitative and qualitative). It can include meaningful information on the current state of play and on the main characteristic trends (i.e. economic, social and demographic trends).
To identify this information you will have to find your own way of “looking around”, asking people, reading publications etc. However, in the case of Foresight activities and Future studies the references in this guide are a good starting point. Previous projects have mapped past and ongoing exercises and there are several newsletters, websites and journals regularly reporting on progress in the field.
Methods that support the collection of information about the current situation within a geographical or thematic field are referred to as diagnosis methods (see methodological framework). Various techniques are discussed under the heading of “environmental scanning.”
There is more about gathering information in one of the example cases:
• Futur – the German Research Dialogue
Data collection aims to gather information about the dynamics or the evolution of the key variables of the system studied. Thus the set of variables representing the system has to be defined. However, collecting information before the exercise to save time may become counterproductive if it causes information overload.
Although an experienced Foresight practitioner would probably be aware from the outset that demographic change needs to be taken into account in any territorial Foresight exercise it might be more important to have more detailed information about the precise nature of the migratory flows.
Data are basically needed to inform an answer the following three questions about each key variable:
• What is the past development of this variable?
• What is its trend (logical extrapolation)?
• What are the curves and potential breaks that could block the trend?
The first issue when answering these questions is find the right set of indicators to describe the development of the variable.
The choice of indicator is crucial. Even when dealing with ‘simple’, quantifiable indicators it is nonetheless essential to know about their strengths and limitations. For example, at the infra-national level the migratory balance often plays a stronger role in demographic change than fertility or life expectancy. Again it is useful to know exactly who is leaving the territory and who is coming in.
Sometimes we will be dealing with ‘composite’ indicators. One of the best known is GDP (Gross Domestic Product) which measures the monetary income generated by the production of goods and services in a particular country. However, it is not clear that GDP makes sense at regional level.
When it comes to values that change or to any other values that cannot be measured by standard accounting, the problem is even more complicated. And if we happen to be concerned (and we should be!) with lifestyles, for example, the problem of their definition and of finding relevant indicators -and of weighting them- is more complex still. Nevertheless the results of the same opinion or declaration poles done by sociologists at different periods of time might be indicators. In the worst case, series of dated facts might also be indicators. But data should also be questioned: are they dependable? How are they collected? Should we use volumes or growth rates?
Some practical advice: Where to obtain the information: in the case of sub-national territories, regional agencies generally gather most data about the specific territory, but this information might have to be compared with that at national or international level to understand the specificities of the region.
How is this information collected: it is useful to complete a record for each variable using a basic template such as: definition of the variable, indicators of its evolution, past evolution and why, hypothesis for the future.
Who gathers the information: depending of the involvement of the Foresight group, either the records are distributed as documentation to the participants, or the back-office of the study is in charge of filing the documentation.
How can information be stored? The easiest way is generally to set up a website where all the variable records are stored. It is useful to allow just one person who gather the different files to post them on the site so that one person is responsible for ensuring that only the updated version of each file is on the site. Participants can access the site with a password and download the files.