The objectives of a Foresight exercise must be clearly stated, internally consistent and (at least initially) avoid being too specific. This is important to gain widespread support for the exercise early on, although care must be taken not to promise too much to too many players. Ideally, the objectives should be debated by the key players in order to ensure early buy-in to the exercise.
Typical objectives of Foresight exercises include:
• Informing policy-making so that decisions taken by key actors in the commissioning body are more aware of longer-term developments and how these are liable to interact with current policy decisions. This can involve gathering intelligence on possible longer-term developments and how these may interact with the policy decisions made today, or providing alerts on major future risks and opportunities. Often a Foresight exercise will be stimulated by the need to take a particular decision. However, the knowledge developed, and the Foresight capabilities embedded in the organisation as a result, should have a wider significance.
• Building networks that bring together people from different sectors and institutions involved with shaping the future of a particular topic. They will be brought together to work on their visions and assessments of the future. The purpose of this is to help them become better able collectively to understand the challenges and opportunities that they are liable to confront, and the strategies and objectives that others might pursue.
• Developing capabilities widely throughout a region or organisation and develop a “Foresight culture”. The aim here is for people with a variety of backgrounds to be able to define and embark upon their own Foresight activities and create their own Foresight networks.
• Building strategic visions and creating a shared sense of commitment to these visions among Foresight participants. Done well, Foresight is more a process than an academic study, and the involvement and mobilisation of regional actors is one of the key success factors and can be seen as an objective in itself.
• To achieve its objectives Foresight facilitates a process of systematic collective reflection on the long-term future. This process of reflection can have several outcomes and benefits.
The results of Foresight are generally fed into public decision making, but they also help participants themselves to develop or adjust their strategies. Thus Foresight functions as an alternative policy instrument suitable for addressing the challenges of governance within complex systems.
A Foresight exercise can pursue a wide range of objectives. It can generate insights into the dynamics of future developments, visions about future states of affairs, a shared sense of commitment to efforts leading towards these visions among a group of actors, and strategies to support these visions. Furthermore it can change the structure of the community of actors involved. However, this does not imply that every exercise can achieve all these objectives at the same time and to the same extent.
When designing a Foresight exercise a set of objectives matching the needs of the specific case has to be carefully defined. These objectives should be clearly stated from the beginning of the exercise and communicated to participants, stakeholders and the public throughout the exercise.
Points to consider when defining the objectives
Starting from the definition of the focus of the exercise, the set of objectives the exercise is to pursue should be drawn up.
Ideally this should be done in close interaction with all the key players involved. It is vital for the success of the exercise that there is a clear understanding of the objectives among both the sponsors of the exercise and the people charged with carrying it out, such as the project coordinator and the executive team. The objectives obviously have to be realistic in relation to the available resources, in terms of money (and!) time. Accordingly, there will be an iterative process of adaptation. When – as is often the case – resources are less generous than initially hoped, the objectives may have to be reconsidered. As the success of the exercise will later be measured in the light of these objectives it is extremely important not just to list everything that could possibly be achieved but only those aims that will guide the exercise and can realistically be achieved. It is probably better to agree to drop an objective than to promise something that will later have to be abandoned.
Some important characteristics of the objectives
The objectives should be readily understandable, internally consistent, and (at least in the first instance) not too specific. This is important so as to gain widespread support for the exercise early on, although care must be taken not to promise too much to too many players.
The objectives need to include not only information needs, such as deriving inputs for decision making, but also the benefits of the Foresight process, such as improved networking or encouraging forward-looking attitudes. The involvement and mobilisation of actors in the system is not only one of the key factors for success. It can also be seen as an objective in itself (see outcomes and benefits). How much emphasis is put on each kind of objective needs to be considered carefully, as this will determine the choice of both approach and methods. When making these decisions later on it should always be possible to go back to the objectives to argue for one choice or the other. Finally, it is important that the objectives reflect the close linkage of Foresight to action. They should not be confined to information needs and process benefits but also embrace actions, and measures to be proposed by the exercise.
Critical issues when defining the objectives:
• Be realistic
• Involve the client/sponsor
• Involve key players as much as possible
• Be clear and easily understandable
• Do not forget objectives related to the Foresight process
• Stress the need to come up with suggestions for actions
• Reference point for decisions throughout the process and later during evaluation
SRA: Strategic Research Agenda
Within a given research field, the Strategic Research Agenda identifies major focus areas, a number of
enabling activities and a structured, forward-thinking assessment of the possible future research landscapes, usually in a predefined timeframe.
Strategic Research Agendas have the purpose to create a foundation for innovative research as well as inspiration for new researches and skills in their field of operation.
A Strategic Research Agenda is set up to help to identify, address and tackle new research challenges.
Strategic Research Agendas are commonly used in ERA nets and similar transnational research policy partnerships to combine a certain set of stakeholders in its formulation as well as in its execution. The SRA identifies priority research areas, gaps and need. To set up and pursue a SRA in the context of ERA nets, JPIs, etc. there has to be the willingness among the stakeholders to work together, to overcome the fragmentation of information on the state of research, to streamline national programmes to reduce duplication, to exploit synergies and to coordinate research in the field agreed upon. The SRA also opens up opportunities to create partnerships with the private sector in the creative and other industries.
The overarching principle of the SRA for ERA nets is that it actively supports the alignment and coordination of regional, national and European research, technological development and innovation.
The framing – especially the emphasis on connectivity and synergy – reflects the priorities and approaches of researchers, funders and practitioners in the countries participating in the network activity. See for example: