Why do Foresight?
Foresight is undertaken when a country, region or organisation faces a specific challenge. It implements a process of systematic reasoning to develop “visions”, understood as possible future states of affairs that can be reached (or avoided) through action in the present. Each Foresight exercise will be based on its own specific premises and will have a number of objectives, functions, limitations, outcomes and benefits.
Typical reasons for starting a Foresight exercise
A foresight exercise is necessary in situations in which strategic decisions have to be made. Typically one of the following reasons that require the preperation of long-term decisions are given:
• Formulating longer term national and regional programmes
• Setting research priorities (matching opportunities for investment with needs)
• Planning science and technology funding
• Planning major public spending with long-term implications (e.g. infrastructure)
• Strategic decisions
• Defining the strategy of a company or industry
Coping with challenges
• Transition in the economic or political system
• Improving long-term competitiveness within a certain territory
• Changes to the socio-economic framework (new markets, new legislation etc.)
• Changes in the natural environment (e.g. coastal flooding, climate change)
• Demographic changes
Grand Societal Challenges
The emergence of grand societal challenges, such as climatic change or aging population, raises questions on how innovation systems should be organised and whether in their current structures and dynamics, they are suitable for such challenges. In their very nature, global challenges are boundary-spanning: they demand an interdisciplinary approach both in terms of research and governance, and require longer time-frames than normal planning activities. Furthermore, they require managing and embracing uncertainty rather than reducing it. As such, they cannot be addressed by current institutional setting.
In this context, whilst traditional planning tools may prove inadequate, FTAs and Foresight can actually play a critical role in preparing innovation systems to address global challenges.
Firstly, they can lead to the generation of new knowledge that can contribute to decision-making and priority-setting processes. Secondly, they can assist in managing the uncertainty associated with innovation activities (and with long-term policy decisions in general). Thirdly, they can provide spaces for both businesses and societies to come together to better appreciate their mutual positions vis-à-vis future innovation directions, as well as to build trust and to develop partnerships. This coordination potential extends to policy arenas, where Foresight and FTAs can enhance communication and understanding between policy ‘silos’ and thereby support the emergence of an effective policy mix for innovation.