Archive for the ‘US’ Category

EFP Brief No. 185: Practical Applications of Foresight Approaches in U.S. Analytical Studies of S&T Futures

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Foresight activities at the U.S. National Research Council have a long history (nearly 150 years) and have occurred under various names. They are best known in the form of evidence-based analytical studies of particular scientific, engineering, medical or societal issues that provide not only state-of-the-art snapshots of the underlying science but also analyse future needs to maximise gains for science, engineering and medicine as well meeting society’s goals. The impact of the studies is on policymakers, programme managers, the various research sectors (academic, industrial etc.) and the informed public.

Defining Needs for Foresight

In the U.S., the importance of science and technology (S&T) as components of decision-making by the legislative and executive branches of government is well-established. Even when policy issues are not overtly focused on S&T, decision-makers often seek an empirical basis for the outcomes of deliberations. Thus, foresight can be important for writing new laws, establishing and reviewing regulations, improving government programmes, influencing leaders in education and industry and establishing international collaboration.

The National Research Council (NRC) was established in 1917 as the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences (founded 1863) to carry out a wide range of activities that bring together the top scientific experts to meet the government’s needs outlined above. This paper, therefore, will identify both the typical needs addressed through this process as well as the capacities of the NRC in meeting them.

Defining Needs by Field

The natural inclination of active scientists is to identify problem areas for foresight studies by scientific field. This approach responds to the structure of some government research-funding agencies, particularly where the agency is primarily organised by field (e.g., National Science Foundation) or where an agency dominates the government support of a particular field and is thus concerned with the long-term issue of particular scientific fields. It is also relatively simple to identify the top experts in such fields in the research community since they organise by such fields. Typical examples of topics covered in NRC reports developed along such lines are:

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium
  • Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond
  • The Sun to the Earth – and Beyond: A Decadal Research Strategy in Solar and Space Physics
  • Connecting Quarks with the Cosmos: Eleven Science Questions for the New Century
  • New Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy

Defining Needs by Problem Area

More frequently, the need for foresight analysis is expressed as a problem that requires integrating several fields. The complexity of societal challenges is increasingly well-understood and, as a result, the knowledge needed for sound public policy decisions cannot be found in one scientific realm only. Even government agencies, once seen as singularly focused on a particular discipline, are now reaching extensively across other fields – note, for example, the National Institutes of Health – where they engage in widespread hiring of scientists from engineering, computer science, physics, chemistry and the social sciences.

There is also a strong democratic element to this definition of needs. The public and their elected representatives are increasingly inclined to turn to S&T for answers to problems in their lives. This leads to very broad-scale, integrated approaches to the NRC for analysis. Some recent examples include:

  • Implementing the New Biology: Decadal Challenges Linking Food, Energy, and the Environment
  • Sustainability Linkages in the Federal Government
  • Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises
  • The Future of the Nuclear Security Environment in 2015
  • America’s Energy Future: Technology and Transformation

Defining Needs by Government Agency

Given the original mandate of the NRC to respond to analytical needs of government agencies, which is no longer exclusively true, there is a continuing flow of requests from such agencies to assist in setting priorities, identifying future helpful and threatening trends, and defining the parameters of where government investments would achieve the greatest returns.

This need can apply to an entire research portfolio in an agency, or it can focus on just one essential element in the work of an agency. It can address high-level strategic questions or simply the state of a specific research programme. While U.S. agencies now have a wide range of advisory bodies that they create and appoint for their own uses, it remains true that they sometimes need the independent view of a non-governmental NRC with both credibility and independence. For that reason, it is a special kind of foresight need where the assistance of the NRC is sought, whether to serve as a third party to deal with disagreements among agencies or to assist the executive branch in its relationships with the U.S. Congress or with the public. It should be noted as well that many of the requests for studies that come from Congress are focused on a given agency, as legislators attempt to have their oversight activities better informed by advice from the NRC.

Some recent examples include:

  • Incorporating Sustainability into the U.S. EPA
  • Setting Priorities for Large Research Facility Projects Supported by the National Science Foundation
  • Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey
  • Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts

These three areas of needs are not mutually exclusive, but the core approach of a foresight study does drive the type of expertise needed when appointing the committee to oversee the work. Each need also implies the kind of audience that will comprise the principal readers for the final report, and the authors need to keep them in mind as they deliberate. In the end, the authoring committees are only providing advice, not determinative decisions.

Capacity of the National Research Council

The NRC has built up a range of approaches to meeting the needs described above over many years, with the essential categories being consensus studies, convening activities and operational programmes.

Like no other organisation, the NRC can enlist the nation’s foremost scientists, engineers, health professionals and other experts to address S&T issues. Each year, more than 6,000 of these experts serve on hundreds of study committees that are convened to answer a specific set of questions. All serve without pay. Through a careful process of committee selection, gathering of information from many sources in public meetings, deliberation over the findings and recommendations, the NRC produces 200-300 reports each year.

Foresight studies require a special approach to deliberation, since the expert members are sometimes asked to go beyond the evidence of scientific proof. They are required to express their judgements with great care and with due conditions to avoid giving the impression they are “predicting” the future. Thus, the methodologies often utilise roadmaps, scenarios, decision trees, gaming and surveys.

Some of the foresight activities revolve around the organisation of workshops, which are more flexible in their participation and not always required to produce a consensus view among the organising committee. In cases where the problems are not as well defined, the best purpose of NRC involvement is in convening a sufficiently broad set of experts from multiple fields to simply establish a dialogue among experts. Here the report of the committee is meant to serve as informing the expert community as much as anyone about the shape, scope and size of the challenge so that the next iteration of study or convening activity can advance to the next plateau of understanding.

Carrying out effective foresight studies requires a judicious combination of continuity and change. The continuity comes from the carryover of experts from one study to the next, combined with a professional staff at the NRC (total 1,400) that has an ongoing dialogue with all elements of the S&T and policy communities. The change comes from younger researchers, continuously fed into the collegial process of research, consultation, participation and dissemination of foresight analysis at the NRC. In recent years, the NRC has particularly focused on the need to internationalise its foresight activities and increasingly sees them as “global endeavours”, in part to match the functional collaboration between researchers on all continents. The tendency of multinational corporations with research divisions has reinforced this perspective, and it now appears to be irreversible.

Audiences: From Governmental Agencies to Individual Users

The broadening of interest in all things scientific and technical in the US has spurred a need to expand the ability of the NRC to communicate its findings and recommendations to multiple audiences. The traditional targets have been agencies of government, and over time, the role of Congress in actively shaping policies and programmes has led it to be a prime consumer as well for foresight exercises that identify priorities and strategic direction. More recently, the research community itself has looked to NRC studies for not only sound judgement and the use of peer-reviewed evidence, but also for careful advocacy for the research enterprise in a political jousting ground. Broader audiences also have learned to use foresight studies for their own planning; for example, as students plan their careers, they may look to decadal studies to see if they find scientific prospects matching their interests.

Demonstrable outcomes from foresight studies are even more important for the NRC process, if only because the expertise that comes from participants of the research community is given on a volunteer basis. They need to know that their investment of time, knowledge and judgement is for a good and effective purpose. As a result, the NRC maintains nearly 100 standing bodies (usually committees with 15-30 members) that track both the state f their assigned fields and the impact of their studies. They observe a number of possible outcomes, but four stand out:

  • Changes in research investments, particularly in principal-investigator led programmes at federal science agencies
  • Patterns of government investment in research infrastructure
  • The scale and purpose of training programme investments, the life blood for graduate student and postdoctoral scholar programmes.
  • Maintenance of appropriate databases on the research enterprise and its various components

One overall measure of the impact of NRC foresight reports is the recent institutional decision to make all publications available at no cost as online PDFs. The demand had grown, both domestically and abroad, to the point that the obligation to make its work maximally available ensured taking that policy step.

NRC: Fact Producing, Priority Setting, Innovation-oriented and Disruption-sensitive Foresight Experience

A number of lessons have emerged in recent decades via the growth in foresight-type activities by the NRC. While there are many lessons in terms of implementation, this section will focus on the strategic level.

  1. While the trend in requests for foresight activities is towards broad problem-solving with multiple disciplines involved, foresight exercises must be sure at the end of the day to emphasise the science of the issue. It is all too easy to want to become “relevant” when the statement of task is defined as a public policy challenge. The strength of the S&T community is the research base that produces facts rather than political opinions. Straying into the realm of opinion reduces the research community to just one more voice among many.
  2. The NRC is often asked to set priorities, and some expert committees shy away from such a challenge. So long as the committee has an objective basis for making the recommendation, it should respond positively rather than being scared away from a challenge that may imply a set of “winners” and “losers”. Over time, it will result in priority-setting being done in a more rational way than if left to the non-S&T community to make those choices.
  3. Foresight exercise participants are tempted to stick to the fundamental science rather than including the applications of science. If the findings of the committee are appropriately hedged for the uncertainties of applied science, there is a significant contribution to be made by the S&T community to a more complete understanding of the innovation process. The general public and policymakers often come from fields where they are not familiar with the difficulties that arise in moving from basic research through many steps to products on the shelf to benefit the public. It is particularly important to lay out the time required for that process – for example, stem cell research undertaken today is going to have a long gestation period for generalised benefits to accrue to the population tomorrow.
  4. Foresight analysis is always subject to low-probability, high-impact developments that derail our expectations based on past experience. These disruptive events can come from within science, in an unexpected discovery, or they can come from without in a massive challenge to societal and economic health. Examples come both from science fiction and from nature – whether the collapse of the Gulf Stream, geo-engineering, new zoonotic diseases or wireless power transmission. Some people attempt to build such developments into foresight – say, through “weak signal analysis” – and it probably has a specific but limited place, even if we have demonstrated our vulnerability to such events.
  5. The pursuit of foresight analysis needs consistent follow-up, perhaps on a continuing basis. The NRC finds that most of its foresight studies, often decadal projections, can use an update within about five years.
Authors: Richard E. Bissell        
Sponsors: U.S. National Academy of Sciences
Type: Experience with Foresight
Organizer: U.S. National Research Council
Duration: N/A Budget: N/A Time Horizon: N/A Date of Brief: June 2011  


Download EFP Brief No. 185_Foresight in the US

Sources and References

Project home page:

For reports cited above:

For further information about the study process:

The views expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Research Council or any of its constituent units.

EFP Brief No. 180: Emergence and Design in Foresight Methods

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

This paper focuses on an analysis of the Millennium Project’s “Futures Research Methodology – Version 3.0” report with the aim of making it more meaningful and useful particularly for foresight practitioners but also for users in general. The compilation of future methodologies is assessed in terms of the understanding of the nature of systems implied in the method and what it suggests as the best means of influencing systems. The analysis aims at improving our understand-ing of the wide range of knowledge, practices and assumptions these methods convey and enhancing our ability to learn about futures and expand our horizons of futures knowledge.

The Decision-making Landscape

The following analysis of the Millennium Project’s “Fu-tures Research Methodology – Version 3.0” starts from the claim that much of the sensitivity of an organisation derives from its members and their ability to flexibly apply different theories and methods. Practitioners need to pay more attention to theory and understand how the theory and the methods they use significantly influence the way they perceive their environment and the outcomes of strategic processes.

Figure 1 describes the landscape in which foresight methods are used. The figure identifies four distinct types of landscapes, two of which – engineering ap-proaches and systems thinking – have a long history, find widespread use and currently dominate thinking and practice in strategic management. The other two – mathematical complexity and social complexity – are not yet widely used and represent both a contrasting and a complementary view of how the future emerges.

Let me first clarify the differences in the basic assump-tions between these four approaches: The vertical di-mension looks at the nature of the possible ways of understanding systems and the horizontal one at the means of controlling or directing that system. In the vertical dimension, design is contrasted with emer-gence: engineering approaches and systems thinking represent design, and mathematical complexity and social complexity stand for more emergent processes.

How sense-making is accomplished and what kinds of solutions are provided in moving across time and space is at the heart of the model of analysis. By design, we mean the ability of a manager, expert or researcher to stand outside the system and design the system as a whole. In case of emergent systems, the system cannot be understood or managed as a whole by a manager, expert and researcher, or by anyone at all for that matter, because the system emerges through the interac-tion of actors who act on the basis of local knowledge and their own principles. In the horizontal dimension, we contrast rules that reduce ambiguity with heuristics that provide direction while allowing for a degree of ambiguity that can adapt to different and changing contexts. There is a design element to emergent sys-tems but not in the same way as in the case of designed systems. That is to say, there are various ways to influence the evolution of emergent systems, but they can-not be deliberately controlled or directed by any single actor or group of actors.

Communicating the Properties of the Methods

We can take the next step by placing the methods in the sense-making model (Figure 2 below). The model works as an effective communication tool capable of delivering a large amount of information about the methodology of Futures Research Methodology – Ver-sion 3.0, the properties of each method as well as the relationships between the methods. The analysis reveals that most of the methods pre-sented in Futures Research Methodology – Version 3.0 are designed to reduce ambiguity. They concentrate on knowing, or to be more precise, on providing more knowledge to a decision-making process. Most of the methods adopt a position outside the system in order to bring new information into the system. Other types of frequently used methods are those that seek to create an awareness of possible futures and what they con-vey. The embedded conception of causality, of how things happen, is that there is an actor capable of dis-covering the causalities and designing interventions that will lead to a desirable future.

There are methods that explicitly or implicitly rely on different causal assumptions about how things happen. The methods placed in the upper half of the model share the belief that things happen through the (local) interaction of agents. The movement towards a future is seen to depend on the other actors, the adaptive moves of a single actor influencing other actors’ strate-gies by creating new possibilities and constraints. Comparing the number of methods found in the upper part of the model to the number in the lower section, this approach would seem to be less popular among futurists than its design counterpart. However, some methods are constructed with the aim of reducing am-biguity and simulating emergent options. The smallest number of methods lies in the social complexity square indicating that there are few methods trying to provide direction in a not always orderly environment while allowing for some degree of ambiguity.

Next Steps towards More Conscious Strategies

We assume that the qualities of a method derive at least partly from assumptions about the basic nature of organisational life. The answers to these assumptions reveal three important properties of each method: how the method stands in respect to whether or how much managers are or should be in control, how ordered or chaotic the landscape where the actions take place is or will be, and finally what the means offered for shap-ing the future are.

It is perhaps correct to claim that methods presented in the lower left-hand square of Figure 1 are or have be-come well known and that they are also relatively easy to use. In the upper left-hand square, the methods are much more sophisticated; they often require some mathematical background and programming skills. Despite their sophistication, there exist some serious doubts concerning their capability of offering anything other than engineering approaches. In the lower right-hand square, systems approaches handle ambiguity better than more design-orientated approaches and offer more stability than emergent approaches but only work well in conditions where there are a limited number of interactions and the system can be designed. Finally, in the upper right-hand square, social complexity is presented as a field of possibility not yet fully utilized. It has not been widely adopted because its main strength is limited to dealing with poorly understood emergent, nonlinear phenomena and providing explanations and an understanding of a system’s direction in the absence of control of that system.

One more argument can be added to the ones pre-sented so far, namely that the business environment is becoming ever more complex. And one conclusion to be drawn from this should be that companies need to shift from ambiguity reducing strategies to ambiguity absorb-ing ones. All this calls for developing theoretical and methodological tools very different from those we use today. Such a shift would require incorporating emer-gence into our understanding of strategic processes and the possibility of a new kind of order arising from, or being found hidden within, complex phenomena, i.e. an order based on the tools and methods by which people make and unmake ordered and unordered worlds.

Download EFP Brief No. 180_Emergence and Design in Foresight Methods

Sources and References

Aaltonen, M. (2007) The Third Lens. Multi-ontology Sense-making and Strategic Decision-making. Ashgate Publishing Limited. Aldershot.

Aaltonen, M. (2009) “Multi-Ontology, Sense-making and the Emergence of the Future”. Futures 41, 279-283.

Aaltonen, M. (2010) Robustness – Anticipatory and Adaptive Human Systems. Emergent Publications. Litchfield Park, USA.

Aaltonen, M. & Sanders, T.I. (2006) “Identifying Systems’ New Initial Conditions as Influence Points for Future”. Foresight. Vol. 8, No. 3, 28-35.

Aaltonen, M. & Barth, T. (2005) “Making Sense of Future. Analysis of Futures Research Methodology V2.0”. Journal of Futures Studies. May 2005, 9(4), 45-60.

Aaltonen, M. (2005) Futures Research Methods as Boundary Objects. Futura 2-3/2005, 29-38.

Arbnor, I. & Bjerke, B. (1997) Methodology for Creating Business Knowledge. Sage. London.

Bogner, W. C. & Barr, P. S. (2000) “Making Sense in Hypercompetitive Environments: A Cognitive Explanation for the Persistence of High Velocity Competition”. Organization Science, Vol. 11, No. 2, March-April 2000, 212-226.

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Christensen, C. & Raynor, M. (2003) “Why Hard-Nosed Executives Should Care Abut Management Theory”. Harvard Business Review, September 2003, 67-74.

Dervin, B. & Foreman-Wernet, L. & Layterbach, E. (2002) Sense-Making Methodology. Reader. Hampton Press Inc. New Jersey.

Glenn, Jerome C. & Gordon, Theodore J. (2009) Futures Research Methodology. CD-ROM. Version 3.0, Washington, DC: The Millenium Project.

Mitleton-Kelly, E. (2003) Complex Systems and Evolutionary Perspectives on Organisations. The Ap-plication of Complexity Theory to Organisations. Pergamon. Amsterdam.

Sarr, R. A. & Fairhurst, G. T. (1996) The Art of Framing. Managing the Language of Leadership. Jossey-Bass. San Fransisco.

Schmidt, K. & Wagner, I. (2005) “Ordering Systems: Coordinative Practices and Artifacts in Archtec-tural Design and Planning”. In: Computer Supported Cooperative Work.

Shaw, P. (1997) “Intervening in the Shadow Systems of Organizations: Consulting from a Complexity Perspective.” Journal of Organizational Change Management 10 (3): 235-250.

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Stacey, R. D. & Griffin, D. & Shaw, P. (2000) Complexity Management. Fad or Radical Challenge to Systems Thinking? Routledge. London & New York.

EFP Brief No. 175: Innovation Futures: A Foresight Exercise on Emerging Patterns of Innovation

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The Innovation Futures (INFU) project deals with the emergence of new innovation patterns, such as open innovation, user innovation, community innovation, social innovation and design innovation. Based on a foresight exercise, the project examines different patterns of how innovation is organised and studies implications for business and policy making. For the first time, a foresight project is conducted for analysing and discussing systematically the emergence and diffusion of new innovation patterns and their implications for European policy.

Emerging Patterns: How Innovation May be Organised in the Future

There a number of indications that the way economic actors interact in order to transform knowledge into new products and services is currently undergoing substantial changes. The emergence of new innovation patterns with new actors, different roles and new modes of interaction implies re-configurations in European innovation systems with far reaching implications for European S&T in the long run.

While a few radical visions have been taking up these signals and are predicting disruptive change for economy and society there is little systematic exploration of possible future innovation landscapes and their implications for economy and society. However, in order for research and other policies to be prepared for challenges arising from these changes and to be able to benefit from them, a more solid understanding of possible innovation futures and their implications for society is needed. At the same time there is a need for debate among innovation actors creating awareness, shared visions and momentum for change.

Despite growing debates in academia, industry and policy, many questions remain to be addressed such as:

  • implications of new innovation schemes for production patterns (distribution and location of production),
  • environmental impact of new innovation patterns in particular user innovation,
  • implications of new innovation forms for regulatory framework conditions (both enabling and controlling these innovations),
  • the role of current innovation agents (companies, researchers, engineers, designers, architects… the so called “creative class” etc.) within new innovation patterns,
  • people’s attitudes towards innovation activities and their dependence on cultural context (e.g. Innovation fatigue and passive consumer mentality versus individualisation and experience economy).
  • the relation of new innovation models towards well-known global megatrends such as demographic change, environmental threats, urbanisation …

Within this context, the INFU project has defined the following objectives:

  • scanning of weak signals indicating changing innovation patterns with a potentially disruptive impact for European S&T in the long run,
  • systematic exploration of relevant and plausible future innovation landscapes through participative scenario building,
  • assessment of scenario implications for the content of academic and industrial research, and key policy goals such as sustainability,
  • deriving strategic options and guidelines for European research policy and relevant multipliers,
  • initiation of an interdisciplinary, boundary-spanning stakeholder and expert debate on new innovation patterns.

The project combines various foresight methods and builds on the existing academic literature on new innovation patterns. The INFU dialogue starts by identifying emerging signals of change in current innovation patterns and then progresses by increasingly integrating diverse perspectives and knowledge sources towards consolidated innovation futures scripts. These bottom-up visions are then confronted with different possible socio-economic framework conditions and global mega-trends to finally synthesize consistent scenarios which integrate micro, meso and macro elements of possible innovation futures with particular emphasis on changes in the nature and content of research. Finally, policy strategy options are developed to prepare for the identified changes in innovation patterns.

In the different stages a wide range of experts and stakeholders are involved, e.g. within panel discussions, interviews, scenario workshops and online-debates.

63 ‘Signals of Change’

Based on an analysis of various sources such as the academic literature, internet, newspapers and magazines signals for arising innovation patterns have been identified in the first year of the project. In total, 63 ‘signals of change’ were identified and structured information was collected for every signal of change. In our context, a weak signal indicates a change in an innovation pattern with a potential of disruptive impact, which is not established as a common way of doing innovation (in a sector).

The identified examples and cases often combine existing ideas, concepts and strategies (which are also described in the academic literature) in innovative ways, show new applications and thus expand our thinking about possible innovation futures.

New Innovation Pattern

Describing “new innovation patterns” requires a definition or at least an understanding of what is new. With “new innovation patterns” we mean novel emerging concepts, ideas and strategies of how innovation is organised, but also well-known trends such as open source software development, which are already of importance in specific industries or areas, but may have a larger impact or potential for other areas in the future. In this sense, specific concepts and strategies may be “new” for specific industries.

20 Innovation Visions

The set of identified weak signals served as base for the development of 20 innovation visions, which, in a creative way, amplify and combine some signals in order to develop coherent, plausible and sometimes provocative pictures of possible future forms of innovation. Thereby the team transferred an idea already applied to other sectors or generalised a signal considered to become a mainstream practice The visions have also been visualized by a video which can be seen on the project web page: In the next stage of the INFU project the various impacts, likelihood, opportunities and threats of selected innovation futures will be discussed and elaborated in more detail.

We will pick out seven of these visions which may have a potentially strong impact on socio-economic development to illustrate the possible future development and briefly introduce them:

The Open Source Society

This innovation vision assumes that open source development is no longer limited to software development but becomes an all compassing innovation pattern. Many products and services are provided by people contributing bits and pieces to various technological and social innovation projects. Open source business models and coordination mechanisms abound.

What are possible socio-economic impacts? Competition on the market could slowly be replaced by ‘strategic co-opetition’ between companies. The critical question of a balanced ‘co-opetition’ is to regulate that a certain level of competitiveness ensures constructive improvement between monopolistic inertia and market competition. In the long term, we may also see a stagnation of innovation activities within firms as everyone is waiting for the others to move, hence, companies might more evolve towards closed innovation, and open source may finally stimulate also closed innovation. From a social perspective, the democratisation of product knowledge might give benefit to poorer societal groups and societies, and the increase of ‘copy and paste’ might lead to less safe products and thus higher societal costs.


Imagine that innovation camps, where people gather for a few days to innovate together, become widely established as a means of problem solving. Innovation camps are used by companies, the public sector and civil society to solve problems ranging from high-tech challenges to innovative neighbourhood facilities. Certain groups of people regularly join innovation camps.

What are possible socio-economic effects? Innovation camps are an established format to collect ideas of young talented people. They are systematically integrated in the education system as a new means to foster innovation culture and to increase interest in science and research in order to meet the demand from knowledge-based industry. The participation is organised as a reward for young people that have participating in contests before. The camps also give way to future perspectives and personal development (careers, grants, jobs, education, etc.) chances.

Innovation marketplace

What if companies no longer innovated themselves but fully externalised innovation to an open innovation marketplace? Nomadic innovators bid on innovation tenders and contests in constantly changing teams. They gather in co-working spaces some of which are top-favourite employers for creative people.

What are possible socio-economic impacts? Companies may be able to draw on a much broader range of ideas and perspectives. They can manage their innovation processes more flexibly and efficiently. Co-working spaces provide an interesting alternative to nomadic isolated worklives of self-employed knowledge workers. They may also become seeds of social entrepreneurship and help integrate marginalised groups.

Relocated Innovation

This innovation vision can be sketched by asking the following question: What if the bulk of successful and disruptive innovations came from today’s emerging markets? Thus, in this vision, the West adopts the role of a follower and has to face products primarily designed for a different cultural context. Western companies wishfully look to Asia, often with the help of industrial espionage. Creative people migrate to the new innovation hot spots in Asia and send back their money home to the US and Europe.

What are possible socio-economic impacts? Western companies would lose market shares and significance in international markets. There is a need for restructuring of Western markets: economies focus on local needs and local products with a high quality standard and no longer on front running products. The current tendencies of “globalisation of wisdom”, and “technological convergence” would be limited by specialised regional innovation clusters. In addition, Western Nations would lose wealth while people in the Middle East and Asia would benefit. Social welfare systems in the West would no longer be fundable due to tax losses and a rise of “unproductive” shares of people in society (ageing population and unemployment). The migration of highly educated people as well as industrial workers to new markets would increase. European societies would age even more rapidly than projected. Thus, social tensions and crime could increase, as the West suffers economically.

Innovation Imperative

What if the current emphasis on innovation and creativity among designers, programmers and engineers spread to all workplaces? Hence, all employees, from the janitor to top management are constantly involved in innovation activities. Creativity is part of any daily job routine and is a key in performance measurements.

If more and more people suffer from the constant innovation pressure, innovation could become something undesirable and negative. Increasingly, people may feel compelled to use their spare time to meet the innovation demands – which could have negative effects on people’s health. Creativity drugs could become common and a loss of orientation due to the continuous change might be a consequence. Designers and engineers may feel threatened by the distributed innovation approach. At the same time, a counter trend may be that innovation fatigue takes over and “No-Innovation” is en-vogue in certain areas. Thus, managing that we end up with a “balanced innovation culture” is a challenge in this scenario context.

Waste-based Innovation

Think about the following: What if the principle of “Waste equals Food” (cradle-to-cradle) was widely adopted? Raw material databases with used components and materials serve as a starting point for innovations. The whole world becomes one eternal circle. Everything that is made of something is part of making something.

A change towards waste-based innovation would lead to a highly environmentally friendly economy. However, if recycling makes sense depends on the specific product, as in some cases recycling or reuse may have higher environmental costs. Some products might have to be banned entirely. Waste-based innovation would probably lead to a radicalisation of material awareness and could open the door for the advancement of recycling technologies and production. Trading of waste would become an even more highly profitable business.

City-driven systemic innovation

In 2009, the city of Munich launched an idea contest to animate as many people as possible to generate and advance innovation concepts on energy efficiency in the fields of mobility and habitation. We could ask: What if cities became stronger actors in the field of innovation by proactively pushing for needed and demanded solutions? Cities could take on the investment risks for the development and implementation of needed innovations and use these as a new economic factor by patenting and marketing their solutions to other cities.

Possible impacts: City-driven innovation initiatives could increase the probability for people to find solutions for social and environmental problems which are beneficial for all. They could also lead to ideas which otherwise would have never been realised by private actors. At the same time, as a public customer, they can also open new market opportunities for suppliers and therefore help to reduce market risks.

Future Drivers of Innovation

The innovation visions presented span a wide field of possible innovation patterns, and, as briefly illustrated, lead to various effects in the social, economic and environmental dimension.

An analysis of the innovation patterns reveals that a significant driver in the economic dimension is the increasing global competition. The pressure to innovate is rising due to ever-shorter product life cycles, growing product piracy, and the transition of industrialised societies into knowledge economies. The key question is: How can we develop better ideas, implement them faster and spend less money while doing so? Another economic driver of changing innovation patterns are changes in the work world: Flexible working patterns, outsourcing and the increasing number of professional freelancers foster and enable the emergence of new innovation concepts. Moreover, companies have started to realize the direct (money) and indirect (reputation) economic value of social and environmental innovations, so there is a growing interest in both of these areas. Geographical changes in innovation patterns, in particular the shift of innovativeness to developing countries, is driven by cost advantages and the rapid economic catch-up in those countries.

In the social dimension, many innovation futures are driven by people’s growing ability and willingness to deal with social media and collaboration tools. This driver is closely connected to the repeatedly mentioned aspect that the younger generation is about to enter the business world, bringing with them new ways of thinking about (free) knowledge sharing, collaborating and inventing. Another trend is the spread of individualisation, which, as one effect among others, increases people’s ambitions to express themselves by influencing the design of products and / or to change the functionality of solutions and services according to their individual needs. Finally, there is also evidence that there is a change in the way innovators and being innovative is regarded socially: Being innovative is becoming more and more socially desirable for a growing number of people.

From an environmental point of view, the growing awareness of climate change, social grievances and the inefficient use of resources are driving forces for emerging innovation patterns. However, new innovation concepts could fail for precisely these reasons if they turn out to be resource-inefficient or to produce tons of new waste. From a technological perspective, especially new Web 2.0 applications are bringing about changes in innovation patterns, as they make knowledge sharing and collaborating easier and more affordable, also on a global scale. Furthermore, many new innovation concepts are expected to result from the upcoming technology wave (sustainability technology), and general technological progress, i.e. cheaper, more powerful and usable devices.

In the final stage of the INFU project, the various impacts, likelihood, opportunities and threats of selected innovation futures will be discussed and policy implications will be elaborated in more detail.

Authors: Karl-Heinz Leitner     
Sponsors: European Commission, FP7 SSH Programme
Type: European Foresight Exercise
Organizer: Austrian Institute of Technology (Project coordinator),
Duration: 06/09-01/10 Budget: 0.5 Mill. € Time Horizon: 2020 Date of Brief: Aug. 2010


Download EFP Brief No. 175_INFU

Sources and References


De Jong, J., Vanhaverbeke, W., Kalvet, T., Chesbrough, H. (2008): Policies for Open Innovation: Theory, Framework and Cases, Research project funded by VISION Era-Net, Helsinki.

Stamm, B. von, Trifilova, A. (2009) (Eds.): The Future of Innovation, Gower, Surrey.

Project home page

More web links


EFP Brief No. 144: US Families 2025: Trends and Alternative Futures

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

In response to a call for papers on the future of feminism from Futures, the international scholarly journal of Futures Studies, an informal workshop was organized to explore changes to US families and how the roles of men, women and children might be influenced by such forces. The ‘US Families 2025’ workshop was conducted entirely on a volunteer basis and provided opportunity for both newcomers and experts in the field of futures studies to engage in foresight and futures methodology. The outcomes of the workshop were analysed from the perspective of futures literature and feminist theory to arrive at the article ‘US Families 2025: In Search of Future Families’ published in Futures issue number 40 (2008) for the purpose of broadening the insights to and interpretations of the future with particular regard for gender as it relates to roles within marriage, reproduction, childhood and parenting.

Gender, ‘Family Values’ and the Future of the American Nuclear Family

In Janurary of 2005, George W. Bush was inaugurated to his second term as President of the United States. The red state (conservative) vs. blue state (liberal) divide seemed to influence a prevailing mood of culture wars, a contentious environment of leadership wielding power (and threatening to use it) over matters such as women’s reproductive freedom, children’s access to public education and a ‘marriage amendment’ legislating the rights to wed – or not wed – to spouse of one’s choice. To outlaw abortion, ban gay marriage, cut off funding for children’s healthcare and starve social spending on education seemed an assault on the American family, not ac hampioning of it. The sense that the US family had been exhaustively exploited as a pawn for political gain contributed to the idea behind US Families 2025: that an organized effort to explore fundamental changes impacting the family unit provided an opportunity to work on implications for the future of gender and offer social critique, as well as offer recommendations toward addressing various challanges of social inequality in the US

Project Background

There are tow parts to the project: a workshop and a research/writing endeavour. The workshop US Families 2025 set out to achieve two objectives. The first was to provide an event for interested participants to explore the future of families. An open invitation was extended to a futurist community via university listserv. All who wished to attend were welcomed as voluntary participants. In this sense, the objective was to engage any and all individuals in the local futurist community who felt the topic was of importance. THe workshop was designed to collect and organize information about trends and emerging issues as they relate to US families.

There was an informal guiding process, but the exercise was mainly an opend-ended exploration of family- including marriage, childbirth, divorce, cohabitation, caretaking, domestic life and cltural norms – as reflective of wider social patterns,and the driving forces shaping the future of the US family unit. Families were defined as households with or without children, including single parents, ‘traditional’ two-parent households, same-sex partners, unmarried cohabitating couples, and arrangements of anything other than a single person living alone. Lists of trends, emerging issues and four briefly outlined alternative futures were the output of the workshop. The workshop was held with the intent of publishing the results and workshop participants were invited to contribute to the writing.

The second part involved analysis of the workshop outcomes with special attention to the implications for the future of feminism. The scenarios were interpreted with the role of gender in mind, supported with feminist theory and relevant futures literature. The desired end result was a publishable submission for the journal Futures in a special issue on gender.

Workshop: US Families 2025

Workshop attendees were all from the Houston, Texas area, associated in some manner with the University of HoustonClear Lake (UHCL) graduate program offering a Master of Science degree in Studies of the Future. Participants in the workshop were drawn from the student population, alumni and faculty.  The workshop followed a simple format of brainstorming, trend identification, and discussion of emerging issues and led up to a follow up session for outlining four future scenarios based on a Global Business Network (GBN) methodology. The workshop was facilitated informally, eliciting responses from the participants based on a worksheet called ‘Big Questions about the Future’ designed by Dr. Peter Bishop of UHCL. A second meeting consisted of group collaboration on a GBN scenario exercise. Important uncertainties about the future of US families were identified; discussion of driving forces and four scenarios emerged.

Although the workshop was not largely publicized, the stakeholders may be defined as the entire US society at large. The topics of family and gender equality have impacts at personal and political levels. The ideas explored in the study might be of interest to policy makers, market researchers, family counsellors, activists and individuals making conscious decisions about family organizations. Religious, political and educational leaders may find the topic relevant to their audiences. As a contribution to the futures literature on the study of women and society, the subject is relevant to students and practitioners of futures studies with an interest in social change.

Four Alternative Futures

Four future scenarios resulted from the US Families 2025 Workshop, resulting from a GBN-inspired scenario exercise where the two main uncertainties (economic conditions and culture wars) are represented in the axes. The horizontal axis describes two extremes regarding future financial conditions: scarcity and long-boom economics. The vertical axis reflects the two camps in the culture wars: progressive and orthodox, which may also be seen as liberal vs. conservative or so-called ‘traditional family values’. The table below illustrates the scenario quadrants and their characteristics:


The scenarios each represent a quadrant of the GBN matrix in which two uncertainties were compared: economic conditions and the status of the Culture Wars. Each scenario reflects an extreme interaction of the two major uncertainties, a tactic that helps intensify the scenarios and generate urgency about the role of gender equality in terms of social/family structure.

Each of the scenarios also addresses a set of trends and emerging issues about the future of families. The trends are interspersed throughout the alternative future storylines and gain direction from the plot of the scenario. A conscious effort was made to cover economic, social/demographic and technological changes with the potential to impact the future of US families, and likewise be impacted. Emerging issues, such as the matter of workplace policies on employee absenteeism due to caretaker responsibilities, were addressed in terms of how resolution of the issue in one direction or another would impact social patterns.

Selected Trends and Emerging Issues

  • Smaller families having fewer children.
  • Workplaces appealing to need for work-family balance.
  • Number of single parent households, both male and female, increasing.
  • Increasing status of fatherhood.
  • Gender selection of offspring technology being utilized.
  • Growing perception of demonstrable skills required for marriage and parenting.
  • Merging/blending of office and home spaces.
  • Increased use of government-funded financial incentives for marriage between men and women.
  • Workplace absences due to caretaker responsibilities gaining attention as policy matter.
  • Increased number of households located in exurbs and edge cities.
  • Continued late age of parenting and marriage.
  • Highly educated women participating in child-rearing rather than careers.

Scenario Descriptions and Implications

The intent of the scenario analysis is to offer insights along the lines of the future of the nuclear family, marriage, childbearing, child-rearing, nurturing and care-giving, and the relationship between domestic/household arrangements and the status of women in society.

1. Mr. And Mrs. Right Now

Transient relationships and equal economic partnerships between spouses amidst a backdrop of socially recognized nonkin emotional bonds characterize the scenario. There is an emergence of sharing economic and emotional resources to meet familial needs, particularly those of children.

Implications: In this future, adults beyond biological parents are permitted greater and more intimate access to children’s lives. The implications of the dissolving of nuclear households could be either negative or positive for children, but it could balance the domestic responsibilities between men and women. Men gain appreciation for nurturing and care-giving with children and the elderly, which improves the empathy between men and women.

2. Marriage Marketplace

Arguably a ‘baseline’ scenario in which contracts, resumes and proven competencies determine partnerships formed for the purpose of reproduction, cohabitation, marriage and childrearing.

Implications: Marriage Marketplace hints at the potential for children to become valued only as material possessions, while men and women exist solely as commodities of the marketplace. The exaggeration of masculine and feminine is possible. Genetic trait selection, breeding and strict technological control over reproduction and offspring are possible.

3.The New Waltons for the 21st Century

Named for a popular 1970s television programme celebrating the ‘traditional’ American family, this scenario observes the extinction of dual-income families and the nuclear household.

4. Desperate Housewives

Women’s rights to reproductive freedom, employment and divorce are challenged in this future. Men obtain elevated status based on the number of offspring they claim. Financial incentives for marriage and childbearing are distributed as government stipends; the US childbirth rate explodes.

Implications: The elimination of extended family ties amidst overt patriarchy fractures contemporary women’s liberation. For men, a large number of children bolsters one’s social status; for women, they represent their lost access to birth control. Both women and men who deviate from the sociallyprescribed gender norms are alienated.

Trends, critical uncertainties and emerging issues were taken to extremes to develop unexpected ideas about the future. For example, arranged marriages emerge in the New Waltons scenario as an expression of economic scarcity combined with stridently orthodox cultural values. Evoking such an unlikely event challenges the audience. The strategy of introducing seemingly implausible connections between gender and social equality to alternative methods of family and domestic social organization has the capacity to generate change in the present.

Important cultural differences exist between the US and the rest of the world in terms of families and relationships. At the onset of outlining the scenarios it was clear that many of the family forms we could project into the future probably already exist in other cultures. For example, while extended family is a norm in many cultures, it is all but obsolete in the US. However, immigrants from Latin America challenge the nuclear family with their extended households. Meanwhile many young children today are being raised by aunts, uncles and grandparents in the absence of biological parents. So the study avoids trying to identify anything ‘new’ about families. In fact, it may be impossible to construct anything new at all about families. The value of foresight to raise awareness about the present – for instance, conduct social critique – while imparting a sense of change, is strengthened by the potential to increase cultural sensitivity.

Feminist Theory:
Alternative Family Futures  and Visions of Gender Equality

Feminist social critique of the US has often identified the family and women’s role in it as central to women’s disenfranchisement. This analysis of the US Families 2025 scenarios, in terms of the future of gender equality, acknowledges mainly just one feminist premise: women’s reproductive, marital and domestic roles define her social status. Multiple theories for the advancement of female equality exist, thus there are multiple frames of interpretation applicable to the scenarios. Each particular theory may be viewed as representing a utopian ‘vision’ for the future of female equality. New social implications are drawn out of each alternative future under the theoretical ‘lens’ lent by a given ‘feminism’. Furthermore, this approach offers the suggestion that new theories of gender equality will continue to emerge and challenge women’s roles in society.

Liberal feminism can be defined as legal equality for women. From this view, the Marriage Marketplace scenario may be most preferable, since men and women have equal access to the marriage and family life of their choice. Family roles are flexible and impermanent, unlike the New Waltons future where matrimony suggests females are the property of men. Similarly, the Desperate Housewives alternative strips women of their right to divorce at will. The harsh economic conditions of Mr. & Mrs.

Right Now offer the opportunity to cooperate with male (or female) partners, although there is also the threat of highly competitive conditions emerging.

Utopian feminism maintains that women’s unique characteristics are a form of social power. The potential for all women to express their autonomy is erased by the patriarchal slant of New Waltons and Desperate Housewives. A celebration of feminine qualities is observed in Mr. & Mrs. Right Now, since men and women alike take on child-rearing as a valuable and essential task. The value of nurturing activity, meanwhile, becomes more complicated in the Marriage Marketplace.

Marriage and child-rearing are separate roles with different qualifications and neither may be entered without consent and understanding of the terms under which these roles will be enacted.

Marxist feminism looks upon the US capitalist system as a hindrance to female equality. Mr.& Mrs. Right Now demonstrates a future where capitalism largely suffers, suggesting this as a preferred future for Marxist feminism. Marriage Marketplace is a capitalist haven where women’s authority over their own fate is respected and equal access to capital is the norm. Marxist feminists may not condone the free-market approach to gender equality, though. Desperate Housewives and The New Waltons commit women’s fate to reproductive and domestic slavery, thus a far cry from the Marxist school of thought concerning women’s rights.

Postmodern feminism interprets the marginalization of women as a by-product of the worldview where man is ‘self’ and woman is ‘other’. Only the Mr. & Mrs. Right Now scenario pulls away from this duality by the introduction of communal households and childrearing. In the Marriage Marketplace, women can slip into commodity status, while the New Waltons and Desperate Housewives futures portray women as little more than baby-

making servants. The New Waltons in particular emphasizes the role of fathers in objectifying women by strategically marrying-off daughters to ensure their own social status.

Radical feminism takes the position that women are universally oppressed by virtue of their sex. There is little to be optimistic about in all four alternative futures in light of this view. Radical feminists might highlight the opportunities in the Marriage Marketplace and Mr. & Mrs. Right Now to avoid men altogether by entering all-female domestic arrangements. There is also the potential to enact a revolution in the face of blatant patriarchy evident in the Desperate Housewives future scenario. Women’s complete subservience to men under the New Waltons conditions may also work to emphasize the importance of gender equality.

In Search of Feminism in Public Discourse

The premise that female equality was secured by the women’s movement of the 1960s and 70s contributes to the dismissal of gender equality in mainstream public discourse. There is a tendency to overlook the interaction between family and women’s status and emphasize educational and employment opportunities as demonstrative of the advancement of female status. However, the rights of women are routinely challenged by efforts to restrict reproductive freedom, workplace policies that minimize women’s labour through unequal pay compared to men and by fringe social movements toward returning women to their ‘rightful’ place as second-class citizens under the control of husbands and fathers. A more deliberate articulation and understanding of theories of feminism can correct the misconception that women’s equality has already been achieved. Furthermore, with a concerted effort to bring women’s rights to the table, it is possible that new theories of feminism will emerge. The application of genuine, practical and purposeful thinking about women and their social status will empower not just women but men and children as well.


Authors: Alexandra Montgomery                               
Sponsors: None
Type: Workshop, research and writing project
Organizer: Alexandra Montgomery
Duration: 2005-2006
Budget: n.a.
Time Horizon: 2025
Date of Brief: August 2008

Download: EFMN Brief No. 144_US Families 2025

Sources and References

US Families 2025: In Search of Future Families, Futures, Volume 40, Issue 4, May 2008, Pages 377-387

EFP Brief No. 58: The Household Horizon 2012

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Based on in-depth research on selected domains the Institute for the Future predicts major changes in household behaviour. These changes will, for example, materialize in new ways how we will adequately manage: information work, social networking, mobile life, and identity creation. The change of these and other daily routines and practices of a household will trigger innovations in products and services thus creating new markets and opportunities for companies. The report The Household Horizon: A Guide to Technology and Daily Life in 2012 presents major findings of the study and introduces a framework for analyzing technological shifts and their impact on household behaviour.

EFMN Brief No. 58 – The Household Horizon 2012