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EFP Brief No. 256: Online Platform. Imagining the Future through Social Media as a Tool for Social Innovation

Friday, December 6th, 2013 is a virtual think tank of university students interested in sharing ideas on how to face main future challenges. It describes the results of a comparative study about the images of the future found among young students from Haaga Helia University of Applied Science (Finland) Tamkang University (Taiwan); and University of Alicante (Spain).

The Study of Images of the Future

The studies focused on images of the future date back to the second half of the twentieth century and have their origins in the fields of sociology and psychology. After the growing interest in this area which arose during the early 1990s, the study about images of the future –and more specifically about images of the future among young people– has consolidated within the framework of social sciences in general and, particularly, in the context of Sociology during the late 1990s and the first years of the twenty-first century.

According to Polak’s definition, “an image of the future is made of associated memories and expectations. It is a set of long-range goals which stress the infinite possibilities open to a person. Thus, an image of the future can be defined as a mental construction dealing with possible states. It is composed of a mixture of conceptions, beliefs, and desires, as well as observations and knowledge about the present. This affects a person’s choice both consciously and unconsciously and is derived from both reality and from imagination. It ultimately steers one’s decision-making and actions”. Therefore, the reflection about the expected impact of these images on the determination of our present actions and our attitude towards the future allows us to see the need for a systematic approach to study such images.

Nevertheless, the research into such images carried out during last century tended to be relatively sporadic and never had a predominant role in the context of futures research. As far as Sociology in particular is concerned, many works which attempt to identify and explain the concerns most commonly found among this population segment basically seek to answer the following question: how do young people expect their future to be?

However, it is far from easy to find studies where the approach consists in trying to find an answer to the question: what do young people want for their future? Therefore, there is arguably a lack of new approaches which can integrate aspirational parameters and enable a greater involvement of youths in the process of defining alternatives for the future.

For this reason, public and private institutions are now apparently taking a greater interest in identifying and understanding citizens’ expectations and wishes, which has led them to promote actions in line with the new paradigms of Social Innovation and Open Innovation that provide a more active, direct and continuous citizenship in governance, close to the concept of participatory democracy. In fact, this is something which currently seems much more feasible than not so long ago thanks to aspects such as technology development, the spreading of internet access and the increasingly high popularity of social online networks.

Therefore it is perfectly feasible to complement the descriptive approach to a ‘diagnosis of the future’ with images of the future and creative proposals directly defined and developed by young people, giving voice and prominence to them thanks to:

  1. the proliferation of communication channels that allow for immediate and continuous feedback (2.0 platforms, social networks) with the user/citizen; and
  2. the development of ‘participatory’ foresight methodologies in both institutional and private sectors.

The conceptual basis behind this approach leads participants to consider themselves as key actors in the task of defining their own future –through an active participation in the construction of shared images of the future. It could consequently prove much more motivating for young people to interact within these processes if participants are given some space to share and create.

Tool Set for the Future

The project presented here is based on a previous study (Guillo, 2013) which involved a total of 56 university students from the Haaga Helia University of Applied Science (Helsinki, Finland) and the University of Alicante (Alicante, Spain).

Based on the overall results and on the feedback provided not only by participants but also by the students and teachers involved, it was possible to highlight the following 4 points with the aim of achieving an improvement in subsequent studies:

  • Hard-to-understand / answer questionnaires: the students found the process hard to complete (too many categories and questions) and sometimes even confusing.
  • Lack of interaction: the platform suffered from a lack of technological tools, which always make it easier for users to interact with one another.
  • Overlap between groups: the selected categories proved useful to organise the responses to some extent but participants found numerous overlaps between the topics discussed in every category.
  • Hard to analyse: the scenario format gave us (as researchers) very valuable material to analyse. Nevertheless, a more precise way to express expectations, fears and wishes about the future is badly needed to improve interaction.

Taking into account the 4 points mentioned above, a new study was designed which included three significant changes with respect to the previous one, all of them oriented to improve users’ experience within

Removing the division into categories: the categories from the previous study (economy, culture, politics, ecosystem, security) were abandoned in order to build an easy-to-complete questionnaire. Since the information-collecting tool was going to be an online survey (embedded in the platform), it became essential to provide a short, clear and quick-to-answer questionnaire.

Changing narrative scenarios by keywords: In this case, the change also had to do with the difficulty found by participants when completing the process. Therefore, a decision was made to replace the initial idea of describing a future scenario (150 words) with the choice of keywords to describe their future scenario (10 words). This would additionally allow us not only to process participants’ responses much faster –almost in real time– but also to update the tag clouds inserted in the platform, which could largely improve the level of interaction within the platform too.

Using a clearer language: the feedback received from the previous study led us to modify the instructions given for the completion of the different questionnaires –using a more straightforward language. Various levels of information were offered, including more detailed information (tutorials and FAQs) in case users needed a higher degree of detail.

Thus, the design of our new study started by restructuring the platform in the following sections:

  1. RATINGSFeelings about the future in 2030. Participants were asked the question “are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?” in this section. This allowed them to position themselves in terms of pessimism/optimism, on a scale from 10 (totally optimistic) to 0 (totally pessimistic). Three different dimensions were taking into account: World (global level), Country (national level) and Myself (personal level).


  1. FORECASTS – Probable future in 10 words.Participants had to write a maximum of 10 words about the main features which, in their opinion, will characterise the world in 2030.


  1. SKILLS – Self-evaluate your references about the future in 2030.The ratings and forecasts given by participants were subjected to self-evaluation through these three questions (to be answered on a scale from 0,  the worst,  to 10, the best):
    • Are you concerned about the future?
    • To what extent are you prepared to face the future?
    • What is your level of knowledge about global change processes?

    Participants were additionally asked to complement their self-evaluations by naming some of the sources (books, webpages, magazines, journals, etc.) that they usually consult and on which their visions of the future are based.

  1. WISHES – Future you want in 10 words.In this section, participants had to write a maximum of 10 words about the main features that, in their opinion, should characterise the world in 2030.


  1. IDEAS – Open Discussions.This section was included as a meeting place to share creative ideas on how to face future challenges.A total of 378 university students (between 20 and 32 years old) took part in this study by accessing the open platform.

Images of the Future of Spanish, Taiwanese and Finnish Students

RATINGS – How do you feel about the future in 2030?

A remarkable difference exists in the images of the future found at a national level among the participants from Spain (median 4), Taiwan (6) and Finland (7). In the case of Spain, the differences become even more evident when comparing the three levels considered: global (7), national (4) and personal (7). However, such results should actually “come as no surprise” within the current context of social and economic crisis in Spain, which also shows a high degree of inconsistency as far as images of the future are concerned. Another interesting finding is the widespread high degree of optimism with regard to the personal level (7).

FORECASTS – The probable future in 10 words: Females show more optimism

Seeking to make the platform as interactive as possible, tag clouds were generated with the participants’ responses in this section. These tag clouds – including the 50 words with the highest repetition frequency among respondents- were available online, and a allowed us to draw some general conclusions:

− High consensus on the key factors that define the probable future by 2030. The words which show a higher repetition frequency were technology, globalisation, competitiveness, artificial, connected, energy, ecology and war. These words can be regarded as part of the main speech about the future, presented in the general, mass media as part of a globally shared image of the probable future.

− Females show more optimism than males. A marked difference could be perceived in the degree of optimism shown by females and males among participants from Spain and Taiwan (and also among those from Finland, though to a lesser extent). That is why participants from Spain and Taiwan show a higher repetition frequency in words such as opportunities, hope and ecology.

SKILLS – Self-evaluate your references about the future in 2030_ Homogeneous use of TV as information source

The results in this section show a high level of preparation and knowledge, along with a lack of diversity in the sources considered (mainly TV and general-information newspapers). On the whole, participants from Spain, Taiwan and Finland see themselves as ‘experts’ in the topics under discussion: the median is 5 or higher in every case. Nevertheless, when asked about the kind of sources that they usually resort to, only a few of them mention access to specialised journals, reports, databases, etc. Information availability also helps us understand the aforementioned conclusion about the globally shared image of the probable future.

One important finding when comparing across countries is that participants from Finland showed the worst self-evaluations, a point below self-evaluations of participants from Spain. These results contrast with the overall Education results observed in both countries during the last years.

WISHES – The future you want in 10 words: Different perceptions on ‘Love’ and ‘Community’

Significant differences regarding how they describe their probable futures. Words like technology, global and connected, which had a strong weight in Forecasts, are now losing repetition frequency. This can be interpreted as reflecting an attitude of rejection towards today’s ‘hyper-connected’ world (a shared vision for the probable future). On the contrary, words like opportunities or work have a stronger weight in these desired futures, which can be explained by young people’s professional aspirations.

A lack of specific, creative terms to describe the desired future. On the whole, no breaking ideas are found in the words given by the students. Thus, the most often repeated words within this section are equality, peace, respect, ecology or freedom, which, in our opinion, form part of what can be described as a utopian and very broad vision about the society of the future. This lack of specific and breaking ideas can also be related to the fact that young people find it hard to visualise all the possibilities ahead of them.

Few differences between males and females. The biggest visible difference between males and females refers to the word love (whereas no males mention this word as part of their desired future, it stands out as one of the words with the most weight among females).

Few differences between countries. The most interesting finding in this respect is the word communal, only present among Finnish respondents. In the cases of Spain and Taiwan, despite the appearance of words such as equality or peace –which clearly suggest an idea of cooperation with one another in their meaning– the complete absence of this specific word seems very meaningful to us, and could be interpreted as a weak signal regarding social life in the countries represented.

Online Participatory Foresight Processes

The comparison between the results obtained in this study and those from the previous experience (Guillo, 2013) leads us to highlight the findings below:

  • Simplicity encourages participation. A decision was made to remove the division into categories in our study this time, which made it easier and faster for respondents to complete the whole process. This resulted in a much higher participation: 378 respondents (as opposed to 56 in the previous study).
  • More interaction means enriching our own images of the future. Respondents consider the possibility of exchanging ideas about the future with young people who have different cultural backgrounds very interesting. Thus, the international connection with other students from different parts of the worlds was seen as an extremely positive factor. Moreover, the integration of the section Ideas makes it possible for them to directly interact with other correspondents, which was also highlighted as a very positive point (more than 300 replies were registered in the open discussions started in this section).
  • Motivation is a key point. Two different mechanisms were designed for the purpose of involving people in the platform. One of them was the development of future workshops, where students received explanations on the basics of futures thinking and were encouraged to participate in the process. The other mechanism was the creation of a brief presentation, available on the platform and easy to use for e-mail communications. In this sense, a higher degree of participation was found among the students who took part in futures workshops and were personally motivated to sign up for the platform.
  • A more straightforward language and better design elements help understand large amounts of data. Technologically speaking, tag clouds were the best way available for us to show the results from Forecasts and Wishes to respondents. These graphs allowed users to have a slight –but also very clear– idea about the image of the future generally shown by respondents. The same approach was applied to other aspects of the platform, such as the design of the slide presentation and the presentation dossier or the instructions contained in every section of the platform, among other things.

As a general conclusion, it could be stated that improving interaction tools, designing better communication elements and opening the platform to an international university-student context have all had a strong positive impact on this study. Thus, the results collected in helped us achieve a better understanding of the mechanisms behind social media involvement.



Authors: Mario Guillo (PhD Candidate)

Dr. Enric Bas                 

Sponsors: FUTURLAB – University of Alicante

FECYT – Spanish Foundation for Science & Technology

Type: International think tank
Organizer: FUTURLAB – University of Alicante, Mario Guillo,
Duration: 2011-2012
Budget: n.a.
Time Horizon: 2030
Date of Brief: October 2013

Download EFP Brief No. Online Platform

Sources and References

  • Guillo, Futures, Communication and Social Innovation: Using Participatory Foresight and Social Media Platforms as tools for evaluating images of the future among young people, Eur J Futures Res (2013) 15:17. DOI 10.1007/s40309-013-0017-2
  • Reinhardt, (ed.) United Dreams of Europe, Primus Verlag, Darmsdat, 2011.
  • Bas, Future Visions of the Spanish Society, in: U. Reinhardt, G. Roos, (eds.) Future Expectations for Europe, Primus Verlag, Darmsdat, (2008) 214-231.
  • Ono, Learning from young people’s image of the future: a case study in Taiwan and the US, Futures, 35 (7) (2003) 737-758.
  • Rubin, The images of the future of young Finnish people, Sarja/Series, Turku, 1998.

EFP Brief No. 181: Technologies for EU Minerals Supply

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

This exercise was part of an EU FP7 Blue Skies Project aimed at piloting, developing and testing in real situations a foresight methodology designed to bring together key stakeholders for the purpose of exploring longer term challenges and building a shared vision that could guide the development of the relevant European research agenda. This approach was applied to the theme of “Breakthrough technologies for the security of supply of critical minerals and metals in the EU economy”.

The Minerals Challenge

Minerals and metals are essential to almost every aspect of modern life and every economic sector. Aerospace, agriculture, culture, defence, energy, environmental protection, health, housing, transport and water supply are all highly dependent upon them. Plans for economic recovery and the development of new industries also depend on their availability – for example “green” energy production from solar cells and wind turbines, the green car of tomorrow and many more all require a range of rare minerals and metals for their production.

Although essential to our economies, development of this sector has been neglected in Western Europe during the past 25 years. This was mainly because of the very low price of these commodities – a consequence of abundant reserves discovered in the 1970s. As a result, the mining and metallurgical industry as well as related research and education almost disappeared from the present European Union, making our economies totally dependent upon imports.

Demand for these minerals and metals is likely to increase dramatically. Much of this new demand will come from rapidly growing, highly populated emerging countries, such as China, which have attracted large parts of the world industrial production due to cheap labour, regardless of raw minerals and energy issues. Already strong competition for access to natural resources, including mineral resources vital to any economy, is likely to accelerate further in the coming years with possible severe environmental and social impacts. The EU economy is more than any other exposed to these developments, as it produces very little of the minerals it consumes and almost none of the critical minerals it needs to develop its green technologies.

Against this background, the creation of a new research and innovation context in Europe has become essential, not only to reduce the EU’s dependence on imported minerals and metals but also to chart the road ahead, to develop a win-win cooperation with developing countries and to stimulate the competitiveness of EU technology, products and service providers to the global economy.

However, these solutions can take a long time to be implemented, and it is important to identify today’s priorities for knowledge generation and innovation so that action can begin. This in turn creates a need for a foresight approach that brings together the knowledge and interests of the main stakeholders. It is in this context that the FarHorizon project invited leading experts in the area from government agencies, industry and academia to take part in a success scenario workshop. The aims of the exercise were

  • to identify the key challenges for raw materials supply in Europe;
  • to identify breakthrough technologies or other innovations that could transform the picture, including substitution, new sources, ways to change demand and new applications; and
  • to define in broad terms the research and innovation strategies needed to develop and make use of such technologies.

Success Scenario Approach

The “Success Scenario Approach” is an action-based approach where senior stakeholders develop a shared vision of what success in the area would look like, together with appropriate goals and indicators, which provide the starting point for developing a roadmap to get there. The purpose of having such a vision of success is to set a ‘stretch target’ for all the stakeholders. The discussion and debate forming an integral part of the process leads to developing a mutual understanding and a common platform of knowledge that helps to align the actors for action.

Important outcomes of these workshops are the insights they provide in terms of the level of maturity in policy design and development and the viability and robustness of long-term policy scenarios to guide policy-making. The workshops also provide indications on whether there is a need for further discussion to refine thinking and policy design and/or to bring additional stakeholders into the discussion.

The theme was developed in partnership with the French geosciences institution BRGM. The workshop brought together twenty representatives of scientific organisations, industry and government agencies to identify the role of technology in addressing the socioeconomic and political challenges facing Europe in this sector. Briefs on key issues were prepared before the workshop, and participants took part in an exercise to identify key drivers using the STEEPV framework (social, technological, environmental, economic, political and values). Common themes were increasing demand and growing sustainability requirements. Geopolitical themes were also touched upon.

The basic structure was to identify the key challenges facing the sector and then to explore the potential role of breakthrough technologies in addressing those challenges. A third main session examined the key elements needed for a sectoral strategy for innovation.

The figure below gives an outline of the methodology:

Challenges in Three Dimensions

Informed by the drivers, participants were tasked to identify the key challenges for raw materials supply in Europe and to prioritise these. If these challenges can be met, we can expect to achieve a situation as defined by the successful vision for the sector in 2030 and realise its benefits to Europe. Three dimensions of the challenge were addressed:

Geology and Minerals Intelligence

  1. Access to data on mining, production and geology
  2. Knowledge of deeper resources
  3. Better knowledge due to improved models of how deposits are produced
  4. Better exploration
  5. Systematic data sharing
  6. Exploitation of ‘exhausted’ mines

Mining, Ore Processing and Metallurgy

  1. Exploiting deeper deposits
  2. Accessing seabed deposits
  3. Better health and safety; prediction of seismic events and natural or man-made hazards
  4. Using less water and energy
  5. Reducing CO2 footprint
  6. By-product handling
  7. Social and business organisation

Sustainable Use, Efficiency, Recycling and Re-use

  1. Downstream resource efficiency
  2. Better citizens’ understanding/attitude
  3. Building capabilities and providing training
  4. Transforming waste into mines/urban mining
  5. More systemic view of different critical minerals
  6. Better use of other resources, e.g. water and energy
  7. Global governance of new extractive activities

Against these challenges, breakthroughs were sought in four areas: new applications, substitution, new sources of materials and rare metals, and changes in demand.

Four Key Actions toward a Comprehensive Policy for Securing Raw Materials Supply

Policy recommendations geared toward securing the supply of raw materials in Europe were summarised in terms of four necessary key actions:

Key Action 1: Establish an integrated strategy for raw materials supply and support it by providing continuous funding.

Research in the area of raw materials supply needs to be clearly linked to creating the right conditions for successful innovation. There is some concern that the European Commission has no competence in minerals as such but rather in matters of environmental protection, trade or economic competitiveness. This limits the development of a holistic, complementary approach needed to tackle the various issues related to securing Europe’s mineral resources supply within the sustainable development context. The sector needs a more horizontal approach – otherwise we may do research, but there is no innovation behind it. An innovation-friendly market can be created by developing stringent environmental and recycling regulations. Europe is at the forefront of a number of technologies in these areas. Regulators need to understand that part of their job is to stimulate innovation if not for today at least for tomorrow. Engaging them in foresight, along with technologists and users, is important for developing this horizon. There is a 7-8 year challenge to develop a new lead market.

Key Action 2: Move from stop and go to a lasting approach with three central aspects for a research, technology and innovation programme.

Support up to now has been project-based and provided only to a limited extent on a stop and go basis while continuous policies and knowledge development would be necessary.

2.1 There are three broad research priorities:

  • Research dealing with mineral resources intelligence. This is research of a totally different kind, i.e. mainly interdisciplinary. It is needed to keep up with a dynamic situation where even what minerals and metals are critical changes over time.
  • Research leading to new or better technologies with a focus upon whatever is needed by industry. The large scale South Korean national initiatives provide a good example of speed, scale and pragmatism and also represent the competition that Europe has to face. The US investment on rare earths in the Ames laboratory is another example.
  • Research on mitigation and understanding of environmental impacts.

2.2 Adopt a holistic approach to the innovation cycle. Support for research should be long-term and structured so that most publicly funded research is open and shared internationally. The full range of mechanisms is needed: basic R&D, integrated projects or their equivalent and joint technology initiatives. However, 80% of the effort should be in large applied projects and the rest focused on longer term work. Partnership with the US, Japan and possibly South Korea could be meaningful in a number of areas.

2.3 Adopt a joint programming approach. Currently there is little or no coordination between European-level and national research. Some governments are in a position to take the initiative in this area – notably Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Finland and Poland.

Key Action 3: Increase the flow of trained people.

A supply of trained people is a significant constraint. The lack of investment in research and teaching in this area over the past 20 years has depleted the availability of expertise to undertake the necessary research and teaching. Training initiatives are needed and within the European framework a pool of excellence should be developed – a platform that coordinates the supply and demand for education and training in the area with some elements being in competition and some complementary. There is also a need to attract interest from researchers outside the area; many of those doing research in this field have a background in the minerals sector, but breakthroughs may be more likely to come from people currently working in other fields.

Key Action 4: Governance issues are critical.

Securing raw materials is a task that goes beyond the competence and capability of the individual member states and is inherently European. Even current European initiatives in other fields are dependent on action in this sector – rare metals are behind all the EU’s proposed Innovation Partnerships. Collaboration beyond Europe is also necessary, but a collective voice for Europe is more likely to be heard in the international arena. There are also opportunities to exert a positive influence to halt environmentally damaging or politically dangerous approaches in other parts of the world, notably in Africa and parts of the CIS. The momentum from the current EU Raw Materials Initiative, aiming to foster and secure supplies and to promote resource efficiency and recycling, needs to be carried forward into the EU’s Eighth Framework Programme, its innovation policies and also its wider policies including those concerning interaction with the African, Caribbean and Pacific States.

Authors: Luke Georghiou, Jacques Varet, Philippe Larédo
Sponsors: EU Commission
Type: EU-level single issue foresight exercise
Organizer: FP7 FarHorizon Project Coordinator: MIOIR, Luke Georghiou
Duration: Sept 08-Feb11 Budget: N/A Time Horizon: 2030 Date of Brief: Apr 2011


Download EFP Brief No. 181_Technologies for EU Minerals Supply

Sources and References

Georghiou, L., Varet, J. and Larédo P. (2011), Breakthrough technologies: For the security of supply of critical minerals and metals in the EU, March 2011,

European Commission (2010), “Critical Raw Materials for the EU”, Report of the RMSG Ad Hoc Working Group on defining critical raw materials, June 2010

European Commission (2011), Tackling the Challenges in Commodity Markets and on Raw Materials, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, Brussels, 02/02/2011 COM(2011) 0025 final

EFP Brief No. 177: Scenario Workshops GM Crops and Foods

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Five scenario building workshops were organised in autumn 2008, each involving students of different disciplines and a school class. In the workshops, the lay participants developed scenarios on the future development and use of genetically modified crops and foods in Germany. The underlying driving forces and the resulting opportunities and risks were discussed. The aim of the project was to develop and test a new approach for scenario building workshops with laypeople and to contribute to the debates on future research agendas for genetic engineering in the agriculture and food sector.

The Context: Controversies on GM Technology in Agriculture and Participatory TA

Genetic engineering has been one of the most controversial modern technologies for quite a long time, and the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops is an important area of conflict in Europe. Key words describing the current situation are the increasing use of GM crops worldwide, reluctance of introducing GM crops in Europe, open questions concerning the coexistence of transgenic crops with conventional and organic farming, the ongoing development of new GM crops with new traits, and complications within the existing EU regulations. The future development and use of GM crops in Europe (and in Germany) is characterised by high uncertainty, thus creating the opportunity to develop different scenarios.

In the past, participative technology assessment (TA) activities on this topic – such as stakeholder discourses, consensus conferences, citizens’ juries, public meetings, and public debates – took place in different European countries. They mainly focused on the first generation of GM crops. First generation means the currently used GM crops exhibiting herbicide tolerance and/or insect resistance. Furthermore, the debates have centred on issues of current concern while the assessment of possible future developments is less developed and scenarios have not been applied in this context.

In spite of the uncertainty of future developments, scenarios have also not been employed in other assessments of GM plants and food so far. What we have is vision papers on future research agendas and on the opportunities of modern biotechnology that do not really reflect the societal and political discussions about this topic.

Objectives: Discourse and Opinion Formation

The overall objectives of the project were to contribute to

  • the debate on the future shape of research agendas in the area of GM crops and foods;
  • opinion formation on this controversial topic among the workshop participants;
  • discursive TA methodology.

The project addressed both young people in education and laypeople in the area of GM crops and foods (Meyer et al. 2010).

Approach: A New Scenario Workshop Methodology

To inform the workshop participants, the project group drafted 23 fact sheets (of 4-6 pages) in advance, grouped into four thematic complexes:

  • Technologies and utilisation of GM plants and foods
  • Framing conditions for future developments
  • Regulations of GM crops and foods
  • Impact dimensions of GM plants and foods

The fact sheets describe the current knowledge and include different disciplines, varying assessments and controversial perspectives of stakeholders. The aim was to draw up information sheets that are comprehensible to laypeople. Draft fact sheets were commented on by scientists and stakeholders to ensure an appropriate and balanced description.

The one-day scenario building workshops were at the centre of the project. The aim of the workshops was to construct scenarios for the future development of GM crops and foods in Germany, in a medium-term perspective (until the year 2025). The scenario building workshops took place at the

  • University of Freiburg (28 November 2008),
  • University of Hohenheim (24 October 2008),
  • University of Karlsruhe (17 October 2008),
  • Hermann-von-Helmholtz-Gymnasium Potsdam (23 September 2008), and
  • University of Potsdam (11 November 2008).

The workshops followed a common procedure comprising the following steps:

  • Welcome and introduction round
  • Explanation of discussion principles and framing
  • Identification of driving forces
  • Grouping of driving forces
  • Selection of key driving forces
  • Identification of possible future developments and characteristics of the key driving forces
  • Grouping of these developments and characteristics of the key factors into scenarios
  • Elaboration of the scenarios (group work)
  • Presentation of the group work on the scenarios and final discussion round

The workshops’ results were documented, and the project group undertook an evaluation by comparing the outcomes of the different workshops.

Scenarios: Possible Futures of GM Crops and Foods

The comparison of the workshops’ results shows that the possible futures of GM crops and foods in the assessment of the laypersons are not only characterised by the polarisation of “utilisation versus non-utilisation”. The scenarios constructed in the workshops include a number of visions between these extremes. Additionally, the scenarios describe not only developments in one direction but also include disruptions where the originally increasing spread of GM crops is reversed. The scenarios of the five workshops can be grouped into four categories of future developments (see figure):

  • Increasing utilisation of GM crops
  • Utilisation of GM crops only for specific uses (such as functional food or plant-made pharmaceuticals)
  • Reversal in the utilisation of GM crops
  • Low utilisation or blockade of GM crops use

The scenarios contain differentiated statements, amongst other things, on regulation, research, utilisation, acceptance, coexistence, freedom of choice, risks and alternatives.

Strong versus Weak Regulation

In the scenarios, the future design and handling of authorisation procedures are the key point under the header of regulation. Strong or stronger forms of regulation, in most scenarios, imply a low cultivation of GM crops or totally abandoning GM technologies altogether. Vice versa, an increasing cultivation of GM crops in most cases is associated with weak or weaker levels of regulation. Increasing utilisation of GM crops can lead to their exclusive use. Both descriptions of development are based on the same assumption: The extent of state interventions is directly responsible for the promotion of or restraints on research and economic activities. But this assumption is not valid for all scenarios: In two scenarios, stronger regulation goes hand in hand with an increasing cultivation of GM crops. The reasoning is that stronger regulation is necessary for better acceptance of GM food, which is the necessary precondition for an increased cultivation of GM crops.

Five scenarios describe a reversal in the utilisation of GM crops and foods. This is an indication that development paths involving the reduction of regulations can be unstable – a sustainable development is not assured. These scenarios have a tipping point where weak regulation is replaced by strong regulation or GM crop cultivation is abandoned altogether. In the period under consideration, the shift in the regulation regime results from the discovery of new risks and changes in acceptance.

In the analysis of the scenarios with increasing cultivation and weaker regulation, a number of risks were identified, such as the absence of positive impacts (or benefits), long-term negative ecological consequences, insufficient risk research or an increasing monopolisation of the seed sector. This raised doubts among the participants whether the scenarios are sustainable in the long-term. Finally, only very few workshop participants assessed scenarios with weak regulation and increasing GM utilisation as desirable. Yet, a minority of participants considered those scenarios as realistic.

The workshop participants see a strong influence of different stakeholder groups on the future development of government regulations on GM crops and foods. The influence of companies and lobbies is contrasted in an ideal-type manner with the influence of civil society and citizens or voters. Besides the actors, (health) benefits and scientific insights about risks are considered key issues that influence political decisions, via the public acceptance of GM crops and foods. In this respect, risk assessment and its standards (and the issues of regulatory approval that this involves) are contested – a controversy that unfolds between scientific substantiation, stakeholder influences and the political shaping of regulations.

Coexistence, freedom of choice and alternatives

In the scenarios, successful freedom of choice for consumers and coexistence of different agricultural production systems not only depends on an adequate regulation of such coexistence. A broader framing is used: Research activities and favourable general economic conditions for agricultural production systems not using GM crops (such as conventional and organic farming) have to be maintained in the long-term to guarantee freedom of choice. In the perception of the laypeople, the future development of alternatives in agriculture and food supply is determined strongly by research investments and research successes.

Scenarios with successful coexistence and freedom of choice as well as scenarios with failing coexistence and freedom of choice can be found in all four groups of scenarios. In the long run, diminishing freedom of choice is expected from a market-oriented development accompanied by deregulation. In contrast, coexistence and freedom of choice can be maintained if higher acceptance and increasing utilisation of GM crops and foods is based on stronger regulation and compromises with opponents. Freedom of choice and coexistence take on different forms and proceed along different paths of development in the scenarios. These differences correlate with uncertainties in expert assessments as to whether coexistence can be achieved for all agricultural crops and sites in the case that the cultivation of GM crops becomes more widespread in Europe (Bütschi et al. 2009).

In all scenarios reversing the trend toward GM crop cultivation, insufficient coexistence regulations and/or regulations that do not work well are assumed for the period of growing GM crop cultivation. The consequence is that at the end of this period – at the tipping point – freedom of choice no longer exists or at least alternatives, such as organic farming, will have been neglected. There are major difficulties in shifting back to a GM-free agricultural production at this point where health or environmental problems pertaining to GM crops lead to the reversal.

The participants take a negative view of a situation where utilising GM crops goes along with diminishing freedom of choice (overall 7 scenarios from five workshops). In contrast, maintaining alternatives is seen as positive. Arguments supporting the latter are consumer sovereignty and openness for future adaptability.

Some scenarios make a number of differentiations in regard to coexistence. Successful coexistence is questioned especially for crops with high outbreeding potential and for agricultural landscapes with small field structures. Additionally, the scenarios see chances that restrictive coexistence regulations might induce innovations.

Conclusions: Importance of Dialogue, Benefits and Alternatives

Based on the scenario results and the workshop discussions, the project group has worked out recommendations for research and political agendas in the area of GM crops and foods. The following points were identified as important (Meyer et al. 2009):

The development of new GM crops should concentrate on applications with benefits for individual consumers or for society at large (such as supporting the adaptation to climate change). This is an important precondition for higher acceptance by consumers and citizens.

In the case of an increased cultivation of GM crops in German agriculture, this could be an unstable process associated with risks of disturbances up to the point of failure. This is indicated by the scenarios of reversal. Therefore, policies pertaining to GM crops and foods should be shaped in a process of dialogue. Such dialogues should be open-minded and continuous and not only take place before the implementation of specific measures. A discursive policy approach is necessary despite the manifest controversial debates.

The currently dominant pattern of argumentation that an ambitious regulation of GM crops constrains the cultivation of such crops should be reassessed. Some scenarios describe an alternative development path in which an increasing utilisation of GM crops is combined with stronger regulation. The argumentation in this case is that high acceptance – as a precondition for increased cultivation and use of GM crops – can be achieved only with strong regulation.

Scenarios envisioning the utilisation of GM crops only for specific purposes indicate that greater differentiation and GM crops with new output traits (such as functional foods or plant-made industrials) can gain importance in the future. The progress of technological improvement, development of acceptance, results of risk assessment, and need for regulation can be expected to vary for the different areas of use.

The long-term existence of alternatives to GM crops has a high priority for many workshop participants. Appropriate regulations for coexistence are seen as necessary but not sufficient. Research on different agricultural production systems (such as conventional farming and organic farming) and their further development and use should be sponsored to ensure that they are preserved for the future.

In the perception of the participants, the successful development and introduction of GM crops and foods is associated with an increasing number and a more diversified set of actors in this sector of research and economy. The currently small numbers of companies that develop and market GM seeds are judged negatively as a quasi-monopoly structure. Therefore, research funding should also support the emergence of new actors in research and product development.

Author: Rolf Meyer
Sponsor: German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)
Type: Participatory technology assessment, genetic engineering, Germany
Organizer: Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS), Karlsruher Institute of Technology (KIT), contact:: Rolf Meyer, ITAS,
Duration: 10/2007-10/2009 Budget: N/A Time Horizon: 2025 Date of Brief: Feb. 2011  


Download EFP Brief No. 177_Scenario Workshops GM Crops and Foods

Sources and References

All project documents in German (final report with references, workshop report, manual for scenario workshops, fact sheets) are available at the project homepage:

Bütschi, D.; Gram, S.; Haugen, J.M.; and Meyer, R.; Sauter, A.; Steyaert, S.; Torgersen, H. (2009): Genetically modified plants and foods – Challenges und future issues in Europe. Final report of the joint EPTA project. Berlin;

Meyer, R.; Knapp, M.; and Boysen, M. (2010): Zukünfte der Grünen Gentechnik. Ergebnisse aus Szenario-Workshops mit Laien. In: Technikfolgenabschätzung – Theorie und Praxis 19 (1), 74-79.

Meyer, R.; Knapp, M.; and Boysen M. (2009): Diskursprojekt “Szenario-Workshops: Zukünfte der Grünen Gentechnik.” Final Report. Karlsruhe, Berlin, October 2009.

EFP Brief No. 167: The World in 2025

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

DG Research’s Directorate for Science, Economy and Society in collaboration with the Bureau of European Policy Advisers launched a foresight exercise on “The World in 2025”, which resulted in a report published in January 2009.

The World to Come – Global Trends & Disruptions

The report “The World in 2025” highlights the main trends up to 2025 (demography, urbanisation, macro-economic projections, education, science and culture) and underlines the pressures on natural resources and the new production-consumption patterns while attempting to identify the so-called “wild cards”. The role for European foresight and forward-looking activities are presented focussing on a multi-polar world and beyond technological innovation. The report has benefited from the discussions of the group of experts set up by the European Commission in 2008 (see box below).

It has taken stock of the most recent publications in the field of foresight and forward-looking activities and includes most of the reflections of different Commission Directorates-General.

Group of Experts & Scenario Process

DG Research’s Directorate for Science, Economy and Society in collaboration with the Bureau of European Policy Advisers (BEPA) launched a foresight expert group on “The World in 2025”, which met on five occasions in 2008 and 2009.

The objectives of this group were, first, to assess and measure global trends over recent decades to serve as a basis for forward projections while distinguishing the different major economies and regions, including the European Union, and identifying the main economic, geopolitical, environmental and societal relationships and interconnections.

Secondly, the group was asked to generate and analyse alternative (even disruptive) scenarios of world trends up to 2025 based on specified assumptions about economic, political, social, environmental and technological developments in order to assess their consequences for the EU and to examine which policy responses could be appropriate.

“The World in 2025” group was composed of experts with a profound understanding of global challenges and developments as well as a solid knowledge of foresight in specific countries or regions. Group members included representatives from think tanks, universities, industry, the European Commission and governmental bodies. Meeting five times in 2008 and 2009, the group produced two publications: one collects the experts’ individual contributions and the other called ‘The World in 2025 – Rising Asia and Socio-ecological Transition’ highlights the conclusions.

The experts identified principal trends, tensions and transitions while highlighting strategies that may help policy stakeholders make informed decisions. They also say that competition for natural resources and shifts in wealth, industrial production and populations may lead to tensions over natural resources (food, energy, water and minerals), migration and urbanisation.

Each expert produced an individual contribution to the discussions and, collectively, they generated a set of indicative scenarios for the world in 2025. The experts covered a wide range of issues, including demography, migration, urbanisation, cohesion, macro-economics and trade, employment, services, environment and climate change, energy, access to resources, education, research, technology, innovation, economic governance, defence, security and intercultural dialogue.

The key messages concern the main challenges to be faced in the next fifteen years, the main drivers that could impact on the future, the main strengths and weaknesses of Europe by 2025 and finally the wild cards that may radically change the different situations that are foreseen.

Europe to Face Marginalization

The report “The World in 2025” underlines the major future trends: geopolitical transformations in terms of population, economic development, international trade and poverty. It elucidates the tensions – natural resources (food, energy, water and minerals), migration and urbanisation – and draws transitional pathways towards a new production and consumption model, new rural-urban dynamics and a new gender and intergenerational balance.

Shift towards Asia

By the year 2025, the centres of gravity, wealth and industrial production may shift towards Asia, and the United States and Europe could likewise lose their scientific and technological edge over Asia. India and China could account for approximately 20% of the world’s research and development (R&D), that is more than double their current share.

Within 16 years, the world population will reach eight billion, the experts in the report say. Some 97% of world population growth will occur in developing countries. The analysis of demographic growth for 2025 indicates that the European population will only constitute 6.5% of the world population.

Scarcity of Natural Resources

Increased population, according to the expert group, may lead to greater scarcity of natural resources and impact the environment. This can result in tension and shifts in production and consumption patterns and the availability of natural resources.

From these demographic and resource challenges, the report sees a new ‘socio-ecological’ production and consumption model arising. New technologies (renewable energy sources, capture and storage of CO2, nuclear power, hydrogen and fuel cells) as well as changes in social behaviour, supported by economic incentives, will contribute to a reduction in energy consumption (better house insulation, replacement of environmentally damaging cars with greener options, and increased use of public transport).

The report says that while numerous scientific and technological advances will give rise to controversies in society, Europe, with its wealth of various debate and participative governance experiences, is well equipped to manage them and involve civil society in research. Global access to knowledge, though, together with the development of joint global standards and the rapid worldwide diffusion of new technologies will have a great impact on Europe’s future welfare.

It is assumed that by 2025 Europe will be specialized in exporting high-tech products. Although the specific products are currently still unknown, they can be expected to benefit from the rapid growth in Asia whose growth will probably be accompanied by an increasing inequality in the purchasing power of the population. “The increase of the population is already a good indication of the future opportunities of the market, of the consumer aspirations that have not been covered, better than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).”

Potential Conflicts, Threats and Wild Cards

The report also points to the possibility of future social conflicts emerging in Europe around scientific and technological advancements in areas like cognitive sciences, nanotechnology, security technologies, genetic manipulation, synthetic biology and others.

Among the unforeseeable turbulences that could shape the next two decades, the report identifies seven “wild cards”:

  1. Persistence of the financial and economic crisis beyond 2010.
  2. A major war (for the years 2010-2020 of strong turbulence).
  3. A technological disaster that could influence the choices of priorities of governments (e.g. a nuclear accident like Chernobyl blocking the nuclear option for many years).
  4. Pandemics with devastating effects.
  5. The collapse of a major urban area in a developing country.
  6. The blocking of the European Union as a result of the difficulties of establishing new economic governance and political decision mechanisms;
  7. A breakthrough in the field of renewable energy production;
  8. A new wave of technological innovations and a new rapid growth cycle driven by emerging countries;
  9. Sudden or even brutal acceleration of the (nonlinear) impacts of climate change;
  10. Progress in the adoption of a world governance system due to the extent of the problems to be dealt with and to the pressure of public opinion.

What Experts Recommend to EU Policy Makers

Key RTD Areas

The EU should struggle for maintaining its leadership in key RTD areas, such as technologies of energy saving, research into sustainable development and climate change, health and the containment of diseases, food safety and security in general.

Europe Must Not Fall Behind in R&D

Experts suggest that Europe become a model based on emphasizing quality of life, which might involve maintaining global access to knowledge and guaranteeing or contributing to establishing international standards in science and technology. “To ensure access to knowledge through the global networks also means to be attractive for the researchers and the investment that comes from the outside”, the report points out.

From ‘Brain-drain’ to ‘Brain-circulation’

There will be a switch from ‘brain drain’ to ‘brain circulation’, and young researchers will be moving to various regions of the world, which will become educational and scientific centres. It is estimated that in 2025 there will be 645,000 Chinese students and 300,000 Indian students outside their countries. In turn, the number of European students that transfer to these two countries can also be expected to grow.

Effective Governance

Europe needs good policy in order to retain its traditionally strong position in developing cutting-edge innovation that goes beyond incremental improvements of existing technology. It will be essential that some key governance issues are solved. For instance:

  1. Set a new 3% target. One in which the EU member states commit themselves to spending 1% of GDP from public funds for research and 2% for higher education by 2020. Its implementation will be under the full control of the national governments.
  2. Consider the “Grand Challenges” – a term denoting major social problems that cannot be solved in a reasonable time, under acceptable social conditions, without a strong coordinated input requiring both technological and non-technological innovation and, at times, advances in scientific understanding. In a way, the central issue is the other side of the coin of the previous one. Can resources, not just in terms of research but also procurement and other investments, be shifted across European stakeholders to more productive “societal uses” to influence not only the pace but also the direction of technical change and innovation?
  3. Create a strong coordination between research and innovation policies in order to orient innovative activities towards the needs of society. A stage gate approach is suggested, including adequate provision for innovative procurement and pre-commercial procurement practices.
  4. Discuss European versus national research policy approaches. The global financial crisis represents a window of opportunity for more radical reflections on the relationship between Community and national research policies. As fiscal pressures mount in each member state, the question of increasing the efficiency of national research funding agencies and of higher education and public research funding is likely to be raised in coming months and years in many countries.

The opportunities for further deployment of new Community instruments will only be realized if they can demonstrate their particular value for Europe in terms of administrative flexibility and best practice governance. Only then will they play a central role in structuring a new, post-crisis augmented European Research Area (ERA).

Will the Looming Crisis Be Averted in Time?

If issues of effective governance at EU level are not addressed as ones of absolute priority, the crisis shock might actually go the other way: increasingly questioning the value of Community research and leading to a future ERA that is much more based on the member states’ national efforts at attracting research talent within their own borders.

Outlook: Socio-economics & Humanities Re-considered

The stimulating contributions and discussions of this expert group have paved the way for a broad debate at European and world level. This prospective analysis contributes to understanding, anticipating and better shaping future policy and strategy developments in the European Union.

Forward-looking approaches help in building shared visions of the future European challenges and evaluating the impacts of alternative policies. A qualitative and participatory method (‘foresight’) combined with quantitative and operational methods (‘forecast’) allows better long-term policies to develop, like the post-2010 European strategy and the European research and innovation policies. Through its Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) with its ‘socio-economic sciences and humanities’ theme, the European Union is funding forward-looking activities with around EUR 30 million.

Authors: Anette Braun       

Axel Zweck         

            Sponsors: European Commission – DG Research – Directorate L – Science, Economy and Society Unit L2 – Research in the Economic, Social Sciences and Humanities – Prospective
Type: European/international – covering issues from a European or even global perspective
Organizer: European Commission – DG Research – Directorate L  – Science, Economy and Society Unit L2 – Research in the Economic, Social Sciences and Humanities – Prospective
Duration: 2008 Budget: N/A Time Horizon: 2025 Date of Brief: Dec. 2009


Download EFP Brief No. 167_The World in 2025

Sources and References

Based on the report ‘The World in 2025 – Rising Asia and socio-ecological transition’ (Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2009) and information from the European Commission.

‘The World in 2025 – Rising Asia and socio-ecological transition’ report is available at and

EFP Brief No. 165: Global Technology Revolution China

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The purpose of this study was to identify emerging technology opportunities that the Tianjin Binhai New Area (TBNA) and the Tian-jin Economic-Technological Development Area (TEDA) in Tianjin, China could incorporate into their strategic vision and plan for economic development through technological innovation, to analyze the drivers and barriers that they would face, and to provide action plans for implementation.

China’s Next Regional Engine for Economic Growth

The Tianjin Binhai New Area (TBNA) consists of 2,200 square kilometres along 150 kilometres of coastline in the municipality of Tianjin in northeast China. Tianjin municipal authorities first established this locality in 1994. At that time an arid, undeveloped area, TBNA was given the ambitious task of spurring industrial growth in Tianjin. In little more than a decade, it has become home to 1.4 million people, northern China’s largest container port, and a broad base of industry and manufacturing.

In 2006, China’s State Council named TBNA a “special pilot zone” with a mandate to become the country’s next regional engine for economic growth. Now reporting directly to the State Council, TBNA is expected to invigorate the economy of the northeastern Bohai Rim region in the same manner as Shanghai and Suzhou did in the Yangtze River delta area and Guangzhou and Shenzhen in the Pearl River delta area.

The Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area (TEDA) is one of three administrative zones in TBNA. It is also TBNA’s industrial and manufacturing base and the centre of TBNA’s financial and commercial activities. TEDA is to play a key part in the economic growth envisioned for TBNA. Established in 1984, TEDA is today a bustling industrial-park complex. It possesses a robust manufacturing base, with pillar industries in electronics, automobiles and parts, food processing and biopharmaceuticals. Many of the world’s Fortune 500 companies, top Chinese firms, and other leading multinationals have strong presences in TEDA.

A Vision of the Future for TBNA and TEDA

The State Council envisions TBNA becoming a centre in north China for leading-edge research and development (R&D) and technology incubation, first-class modern manufacturing, and international shipping and logistics. At the same time, the State Council intends for TBNA to lead efforts to address many of China’s most urgent national problems, such as rising energy demands, a growing scarcity of usable water supplies and gravely escalating urban pollution. Thus, TBNA is to present an alternative to the traditional industrial economy, shaping a model of sustainable development and eco-friendly industry.

Innovation in science and technology (S&T) stands at the core of this vision of economic and environmental development, particularly of cutting-edge R&D. TBNA will need to take definitive steps to pursue this goal, and TEDA will be at the forefront of this effort. Building on its existing manufacturing base, TEDA aims to transition from a successful industrial-park complex into a state-of-the-art science and engineering (S&E) centre for high-impact emerging technologies. Other enterprises with relevant capacity located elsewhere in TBNA will follow suit. The desired end result is innovative R&D that meets international standards and positions TBNA as a global technology leader.

The Role of this RAND Study

Early in the process of developing a strategic plan for this ambitious transformation, senior managers from TBNA and TEDA found a 2006 report by the RAND Corporation, The Global Technology Revolution 2020: Bio/ Nano/ Materials/ Information Trends, Drivers, Barriers, and Social Implications. (Referred to hereafter as GTR 2020. See EFMN Foresight Brief No. 90). This report presents a comprehensive foresight analysis that identifies technology applications (TAs) most plausible by 2020, those countries capable of acquiring them and their likely effects on society.

Having reviewed GTR 2020, TBNA and TEDA managers approached RAND to conduct a foresight study designed specifically for their purposes. They commissioned RAND to do the following:

  • Identify promising emerging TAs for TEDA and other high-tech centres in TBNA to implement as a pivotal part of TBNA’s overall strategic plan for economic growth.
  • Identify the capacity needs to implement these TAs as well as the critical drivers and barriers that might facilitate or hinder implementation.
  • Develop a strategy and action plan for each TA.
  • Provide guidance on how these TAs might fit into an overarching strategic plan for TBNA’s economic development.

Incorporating Local Context and Current Realities

The analysis leading to the selection of TAs and, eventually, the strategies and action plans for them took into account four principal factors:

  • TBNA and TEDA’s missions as mandated by China’s State Council,
  • China’s pressing national needs,
  • drivers and barriers to technological innovation in China as a whole and for TBNA more specifically and
  • relevant capacity currently available to TBNA and TEDA both locally and more broadly in R&D, manufacturing and S&T commercialization.

The starting point was the 12 TAs identified in GTR 2020 as those that China could acquire by 2020. This was combined with a rigorous study of the realities, circumstances and issues in TBNA and in China more broadly, drawing on a diverse array of Chinese- and English-language sources:

  • Chinese- and English-language documents describing the mission, history and current status of TBNA and TEDA,
  • Chinese- and English-language literature on China’s social, environmental and economic needs, and measures that the Chinese government has taken to date to address them,
  • on-site interviews in TBNA, TEDA, the Tianjin Port, the municipality of Tianjin more broadly and the city of Beijing,
  • visits to S&T institutions that could provide capacity outside TBNA and TEDA, such as Tsinghua University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences and
  • a two-day workshop in TEDA with key figures from TEDA scientific institutions, firms and management.

Emerging Technology Opportunities for TBNA and TEDA

Based on analysis of the above sources, the authors narrowed the 12 TAs identified in GTR 2020 down to a final selection of seven. These either come directly from GTR 2020 or are hybrids combining one or more of the original 12.

  1. Cheap solar energy: Solar-energy systems inexpensive enough to be widely available to developing and undeveloped countries as well as disadvantaged populations.
  2. Advanced mobile communications and radio-frequency identification (RFID): Multifunctional platforms for sensing, processing, storing and communicating multiple types of data. RFID involves technologies that can store and wirelessly transmit information over short distances.
  3. Rapid bioassays: Tests to quickly detect the presence or absence of specific biological substances with simultaneous multiple tests possible.
  4. Membranes, fabrics and catalysts for water purification: Novel materials to desalinate, disinfect, decontaminate and help ensure the quality of water with high reliability.
  5. Molecular-scale drug design, development and delivery: The abilities to design, develop and deliver drug therapies at the nanoscale to attack specific tumours or pathogens without harming healthy tissues and cells and to enhance diagnostics.
  6. Electric and hybrid vehicles: Automobiles available to the mass market with power systems that combine internal combustion and other power sources.
  7. Green manufacturing: The development and use of manufacturing processes that minimize waste and environmental pollution and optimize the use and reuse of resources.

Drivers and Barriers to Implementation

Widespread, sustainable implementation of any TA depends on the balance between the drivers that facilitate implementation and the barriers that hinder it. The factors considered that will most influence China’s ability to successfully pursue cutting-edge R&D and technology innovation were:

  • the country’s needs,
  • its national R&D policies,
  • other national policies that could generate demand (or, as appropriate, reduce demand) for certain TAs,
  • intellectual property rights (IPR) protection,
  • finance and banking laws and regulations,
  • local policies, laws and regulations that could directly affect the ability of individuals and organizations to conduct cutting-edge R&D and commercialize innovative technologies,
  • human capital and
  • culture of R&D and innovation.

These same eight factors will most affect TBNA’s ability to develop and implement the selected TAs. Some of these are clearly either a driver or a barrier throughout most of China. But occasionally, local circumstances make them stronger or weaker drivers or barriers in a particular organization or region (or for a specific TA) than they are elsewhere in the country.

Several of these factors are unmistakable barriers in TBNA and hold for all seven TAs. IPR protection, for example, remains a barrier in TBNA, as in China as a whole, to both homegrown innovation and the involvement of foreign capital and talent in new R&D and technology ventures. Finance and banking laws and regulations are also a barrier in TBNA, as they are in China generally, because they discourage investment of venture capital. But, for certain of the seven TAs, sources of venture capital available to TBNA for specific technologies mitigate this barrier to some degree. Lack of a culture of R&D and innovation is a third barrier in TBNA, as it is in China as a whole. It discourages the risk-taking in new ventures that is essential to pursuing and commercializing groundbreaking R&D.

TBNA has one driver that all seven TAs share: human capital. This stems from the strength of TBNA’s current manufacturing base, the corresponding workforce and the concentration of academic institutions in the municipality of Tianjin. However, young Chinese people are tending to shy away from technical and vocational training, and domestic competition for S&E talent is heated. Both of these could be mitigating factors.

Capacity Currently Available to TBNA and TEDA

To fulfil the State Council’s mandate, TBNA and TEDA will need capacity in three areas: (1) R&D, (2) manufacturing and (3) S&T commercialization. Both local capacity—in TBNA, TEDA, and the municipality of Tianjin more broadly—and that from elsewhere in China and internationally will play a part.

In terms of R&D capacity, TBNA and TEDA have a growing number of institutions that provide cutting-edge research facilities and a professional cadre of highly trained scientists and engineers. But they face intense competition, both within China and abroad, for human capital of this calibre.

With regard to manufacturing capacity, TBNA and TEDA have a substantial industrial base that has been growing for the nearly 25 years since TEDA’s inception. Investment by an array of Fortune 500 companies, a track record of increasing industrial output and a rising gross domestic product (GDP) indicate the strength of this base. TBNA is also steadily improving the physical infrastructure—utilities, cargo facilities and waste-management processes—that are vital to manufacturing capacity. But a potential shortage of the skilled labourers and technicians needed to work in manufacturing and, again, heightened competition for those on the job market are real challenges.

As for S&T commercialization, TBNA and TEDA operate a well-established network of research parks and technology incubators aimed at supporting emerging high-tech enterprises. Ample financial incentives help spur development and attract human capital. Yet, these enterprises face considerable challenges due to China’s need to better protect IPR and reform finance and banking laws and policies. They also lack strong linkages between R&D institutions and commercial industry to facilitate the transfer of high-tech products to the market.

Strategy for Building TBNA’s Future

Implementation Strategies for the Selected TAs

China already has a well-developed first-generation solar-electricity industry. Consequently, the best opportunity for TBNA and TEDA in cheap solar energy lies not in entering the first-generation market but rather in becoming an R&D and manufacturing centre for second- and third-generation systems, initially for the global export market.

TBNA should aim to become an R&D and manufacturing centre for mobile communication devices and RFID systems. It should focus initially on the domestic Chinese market and then broaden to the global market. In addition, it should build state-of-the-art R&D programs in two component technologies: displays and power sources.

The long-term strategy is for TBNA to become a leading player in the global marketplace for state-of-the-art rapid bioassays. But its initial focus should be on using licensing and partnership agreements to attract leading companies to TBNA and TEDA.

Long-term goals for TBNA are: (1) to become a centre for R&D in nanoscale membranes, filters and catalysts and (2) to become a leader in manufacturing state-of-the-art membranes for purifying water. It is vital for TBNA to foster close relationships between research labs and private companies to facilitate commercialization.

TBNA should aim to become a centre for R&D and manufacturing of drugs developed through bio-nanotechnology. It should focus initially on attracting investment from foreign enterprises and, in tandem, on aggressively building homegrown R&D capacity. Eventually, it should direct R&D activities toward commercializing novel medical treatments and techniques.

Given the strong market potential of electric- and hybrid-vehicle components, TBNA should develop and expand collaborative R&D on subsystems and component technologies. At the same time, it should develop the capacity to manufacture hybrid vehicles and components for hybrid and electric vehicles. It should target the growing global market first and the Chinese market later.

TEDA should become a centre for green manufacturing in China. The initial focus should be on attracting to TBNA those companies at the leading edge of green chemistry and engineering. Over time, TBNA itself should start conducting R&D on new green manufacturing processes and, eventually, implement them in TBNA and TEDA.

An Overarching Strategic Plan

The seven TAs should form a pivotal part of TBNA’s strategic plan for economic growth through technological innovation. All of the TAs are in line with promising global trends; they are well suited to current capacities in TBNA, TEDA and the municipality of Tianjin and build on existing pillar industries; and they support Chinese government priorities.

Part of the overarching strategic plan should be geared toward addressing broad general challenges that currently stand as barriers to all seven TAs. The plan should include measures to help TBNA and TEDA enforce existing laws in the IPR domain. TBNA and TEDA should incorporate into the plan ample opportunities for cross-fertilization between research facilities and industry. Finally, it is vital that TBNA build a culture of R&D and innovation. The plan should contain elements that promote flexibility and risk-taking in TBNA and TEDA’s funded ventures. TBNA could use a three-pronged framework to integrate the specific action plans for the seven TAs into an umbrella strategic plan:

  • Develop state-of-the-art R&D capacity in relevant areas.
  • Update and expand the existing manufacturing base.
  • Build capacity for S&T commercialization.

These three activities would need to be carried out in parallel. Each requires using and expanding existing local capacity and introducing new capacity. Novel advances should stem from and extend the existing capacity base while fresh R&D programs are started and new companies with state-of-the-art capabilities come in to bring overall capacity up to world-class standards. Each will also support the others.

Authors: Richard Silberglitt            

Anny Wong                   

            Sponsors: Tianjin Binhai New Area (TBNA), Tianjin, China

Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area (TEDA), Tianjin, China

Type: Technology foresight within the local and regional context
Organizer: RAND, Richard Silberglitt
Duration: 2007-2008 Budget: N.A. Time Horizon: 2020 Date of Brief: Dec 2009


Download EFP Brief No. 165_Global Technology Revolution China

Sources and References

The Global Technology Revolution China, Executive Summary: Emerging Technology Opportunities for the Tianjin Binhai New Area (TBNA) and the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area (TEDA), MG-776-TBNA/TEDA, RAND Corporation (2009).

The Global Technology Revolution China, In-Depth Analyses: Emerging Technology Opportunities for the Tianjin Binhai New Area (TBNA) and the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area (TEDA) (Chinese Language Version), TR-649/1-TBNA/TEDA, RAND Corporation (2009). Available online at