Posts Tagged ‘business network’

EFP Brief No. 213: Material Efficiency and Resource Conservation (MaRess) Project

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

In order to successfully provide relevant groups with political support for implementing resource efficiency, one needs to know where to start best, thus, where the highest potentials are likely to be found. Addressing four key issues, MaRess identified potentials for increasing resource efficiency, developed target group-specific resource efficiency policies, gained new insights into the effects of policy instruments at the macro- and micro-economic level, provided scientific support for implementation activities, engaged in agenda setting and communicated findings to specific target groups. This paper presents the overall results of Work Package 1 (WP1) with regard to the potential analyses of the identified technologies, products and strategies. The results were gained from research conducted in the context of a graduate research programme, which was embedded in a network of experts who were involved in the analysis.

The Starting Point

The extraction and exploitation of resources, the associated emissions and the disposal of waste are polluting the environment. The increasing scarcity of resources and the high and fluctuating prices of raw materials can lead to major economic and social dislocations, combined with a growing risk of conflicts over raw materials. Competitive disadvantages arising from the inefficient use of resources endanger the development of businesses and jobs. A strategy for increasing resource efficiency can limit all these problems, which is why this subject is increasingly becoming a key issue in national and international politics. As yet, however, consistent strategies and approaches for a successful resource efficiency policy have been lacking.

Against this background, the German Federal Environment Ministry and the Federal Environment Agency commissioned thirty-one project partners, under the direction of the Wuppertal Institute, to carry out the research project Material Efficiency and Resource Conservation (MaRess, project number 3707 93 300, duration 2007 to 2010).

The project aimed at advancing knowledge with respect to central questions of resource conservation, especially the increase of resource efficiency with a focus on material efficiency. Therefore, the most interesting technologies, products and strategies for increasing resource efficiency were identified in a broad, multi-staged, expert-driven process. After that, their concrete saving potential was determined. The potential analyses were carried out as part of a graduate research programme in the wider context of an expert network and expert-based analytical process. After their finalisation, the results of the single potential analyses were analysed in an intense discourse and cross-evaluation process. Finally, issue-specific as well as overarching recommendations for action were concluded.

Identifying Topics with High Resource Efficiency for Germany

Selection of Topics

The process of topic selection aimed at identifying technologies, products and strategies that are expected to carry high resource efficiency potential in Germany. In this respect, a complex expert-based methodology for evaluation and selection was developed that included four steps:

Step 1 “Broad collection”: Identifying topics via desk research and surveys.

Step 2 “Pre-evaluation”: Evaluation of about 1,000 proposals by three criteria: resource input, resource efficiency potential and economic relevance to end up with a focussed topic list (“Top 250 topics”)

Step 3 “First evaluation”: Expert evaluation along seven criteria: resource input in terms of mass relevance, resource efficiency potential of the specific application, other environmental impacts, feasibility, economic relevance, communicability and transferability.

Step 4 “Selection”: The final selection of the “Top 20 topics” was carried out in cooperation with the German Federal Environment Agency.

Potential Analysis as Part of a Graduate Research Programme

Altogether, potential analyses were performed with reference to 20 relevant topics (“Top 20 topics“), which are expected to carry high resource efficiency potential. Methodologically, the resource efficiency potentials were quantified according to the concept “Material Input per Unit of Service (MIPS). Therefore, the potential analyses are based on resource use across the whole life cycle for up to five resource categories. They determine the concrete potential for increasing resource efficiency in each case. Besides the assessment along quantitative results, a qualitative evaluation was carried out to capture, among other things, possible rebound effects and constraints to the dissemination of the application. The qualitative evaluations are based on publications, statistics and expert opinions.

After the finalisation of the potential analyses carried out by the students, the advisors pre-evaluated the theses. Furthermore, an internal evaluation workshop was held to assess the pre-evaluated potential analyses of the WP1 partners according to the seven criteria outlined in Step 3 and the guidelines for potential analysis in an overarching frame. The results of each individual thesis were discussed and specific, overarching recommendations for action were concluded.

From Water Filtration to Resource Efficiency Business Models

Seven fields of action were worked out in the course of the criteria-based cross-evaluation in which central results and recommendations for action for the individual potential analyses were merged. Each field of action summarises several closely interrelated topics from the potential analyses. The selective assignment of the topics is not always possible and there are complex interdependencies between the individual fields of action. Table 1 gives and overview of the fields of action and the potential analyses:

Fields of action and assigned potential analyses
Cross-sectional technologies and enabling technologies: “Door openers” for resource efficient applications

Assessment of resource efficiency in grey water filtration using membrane technologies

Resource-efficient energy storage: comparison of direct and indirect storage for electric vehicles

Resource efficiency potential of energy storage – resource-efficient heat storage

Resource efficiency potential of insulation material systems

Renewable energies facilitate substantial resource savings

Resource efficiency potential of wind and biomass power

Resource-efficient large-scale energy production: potentials of Desertec

Resource-efficient energy production by photovoltaics

The growing ICT market needs a careful resource management

Green IT: resource efficiency potential of server-based computing

Green IT: resource efficiency increase with ICT – comparison of displays

Resource efficiency potential of recycling small electric and electronic appliances by recoverage from household waste using radio frequency identification (RFID) labelling of primary products  

Food – both production and consumption need to be considered

Resource efficiency potential in food production – example: fish

Resource efficiency potential in food production – example: fruit

Resource efficiency potential in food production – example: vegetables

Resource efficiency potential of intelligent agricultural technologies in the example of the use of nitrogen sensors for fertilization

Traffic – infrastructure bears higher resource efficiency potential than drive systems

Assessment of resource efficiency potential in freight traffic

Resource efficiency potential of electric vehicles

Integrating resource efficiency into product development

Consideration of resource efficiency criteria in product development processes

Resource efficiency potential of implementing light-weight construction using new materials

Resource efficiency potential of high-strength steel

Resource efficiency-oriented business models: product-service systems require rethinking

Resource efficiency potentials of new forms of “using instead of possessing” in assembly facilities

Resource efficiency potential of production on demand

Tab. 1: Overview of fields of action and potential analyses

Stronger Networking among Potential Partners and Early Industry Involvement

The topics worked on (“Top 20“) ought to be understood as the beginning of a systematic and encompassing analysis of resource efficiency potentials concerning our social and economic activities. Even though representing central and resource intensive sectors, the topics analysed naturally represent only a small selection from the totality of relevant topics and those that were identified and pre-assessed by the experts during the first expert workshop. Furthermore, some questions remain open and new questions were raised with regard to the topics addressed. Moreover, those topics presented in the expert workshop but not chosen for further analysis and those chosen at the workshop (“Top 50“) bear promising potential, which ought to be analysed in the future. There is also a need to study focus areas based on further case studies (e.g. central fields such as construction, living or food and nutrition).

The analyses also demonstrate the need to make greater use of or develop suitable arrangements (such as networks) to involve industrial partners at an early stage. On the one hand, the existing network of the MaRess project needs to be strengthened; on the other hand, further forms and consortia need to be established (e.g. with a stronger focus on sector-specific topics). This aims at ensuring that the project stays in touch with matters of implementation and feasibility regarding the potentials analysed.

Due to the broad range of topics and the possibilities for increasing resource efficiency in diverse sectors, the network of universities integrating the paradigm of resource efficiency in research and training ought to be expanded considerably. It would also be desirable to extend the circle of participating universities.

The Virtual Resource University

So far, in university education, only few departments and specialist areas offer programmes (e.g., lectures, seminars, projects) in the field of resource efficiency. Therefore, there is much room for increasing the number of programmes offered while they also need to be better integrated into existing curricula. To foster the broad integration of resource efficiency into university training and research, activities for the establishment of a “Virtual Resource University” (from innovation to implementation research) need to be started.

The results of the project will be documented in a comprehensive form in a final report and the central results are planned to be published in a book. Besides, the results of WP1 will be made use of in other work packages of the MaRess project and in the Network Resource Efficiency.

Authors: Dr. Kora Kristof                       kora.kristof@wupperinst.org

Holger Rohn                            holger.rohn@trifolium.org

Nico Pastewski                       nico.pastewski@iao.fraunhofer.de

Sponsors: German Federal Environment Ministry

Federal Environment Agency

Type: National foresight exercise to increase resource efficiency and conserve resources.
Organizer: Dr. Kora Kristof, Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, D-42103 Wuppertal, Döppersberg 19, phone: +49 (0) 202 2492 -183, email:       kora.kristof@wupperinst.org

Holger Rohn, Trifolium – Beratungsgesellschaft mbH, D-61169 Friedberg, Alte Bahnhofstrasse 13, phone: +49 (0) 6031 68 754 63, fax: – 68, email: holger.rohn@trifolium.org

Nico Pastewski, Fraunhofer-Institut für Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation IAO, Nobelstr. 12, D-70569 Stuttgart, phone: +49 (0) 711 970 -2222, fax: -2287, email: nico.pastewski@iao.fraunhofer.de

Duration: 2007-2010 Budget: ca. 540,000€ Time Horizon: N/A Date of Brief: July 2011  

 

Download EFP Brief No. 213_Material Efficiency and Resource Conservation

Sources and References

For information and downloads on the MaRess project and its findings please visit: http://ressourcen.wupperinst.org

EFP Brief No. 169: Foresight Toolbox for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

“Foresight-Toolbox für den Mittelstand” is a research project to evaluate the specific needs of and identify suitable methodological approaches for strategic planning in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The project’s centrepiece is a web-based toolbox at www.zukunft-im-mittelstand.de, which participants may use to create foresight processes and which includes downloadable descriptions of methods and various tools. User habits and stored processes are the empirical base for the present research. Also, ten qualitative issue-focused interviews with various-sized SMEs from different industries completed the insights gained from SME-specific future-oriented work.

Meeting the Needs of SMEs

The present research aims to evaluate the specific needs of and identify adequate methods for foresight and strategic planning in the context of SMEs. According to an earlier research project implemented by Z_punkt The Foresight Company, “Corporate Foresight im Mittelstand” (2008), innovative and successful enterprises use systematic foresight and future-oriented work methodologies more often than less innovative and successful enterprises. Based on this empirical finding, the current project focuses on the perspective of SMEs to develop foresight instruments that match the requirements of SMEs. Our main hypothesis suggests that selection and combination of foresight methods differ according to the indicators enterprise size and industry. The procedure contains both quantitative analysis and qualitative analysis.

Quantitative and Qualitative Research Combined

The web-platform www.zukunft-im-mittelstand.de provides a set of 17 different foresight methods to create individual foresight processes. User habits are evaluated based on the main variables size (number of employees) and industry (manufacturing, service or retail). Individual methods and combined processes are analysed in two different steps. The quantitative data analysis focuses on the following questions:

  • What describes a typical SME foresight process?
  • What is the methodological preference?
  • Which methods or processes are used to reach specific aims?
  • What preferences can be determined based on size and branch?

Qualitative Research

The quantitative data analysis is supplemented by qualitative interviews with decision-makers of ten SMEs of different sizes and industries. Using the methodological approach of problem-centred interviews, a semi-narrative, guideline-based interview technique, the participants explain their practices of strategic planning, specific needs and requirements, and typical problems and solutions of foresight practice. The findings of the qualitative research are enriched by case studies and interpreted in a comparative study along the following lines:

  • What is the relevance of foresight and strategic planning in general?
  • Which methods or processes are used to reach specific aims?
  • How can foresight and strategic planning be integrated into an enterprise’s structure and decision-making process?
  • What approaches can be identified based on size and industry?
  • What would define an ideal process in the specific context of SMEs?

Web-based Foresight Toolbox

The Foresight Toolbox, as the centrepiece of the project, has been online at www.zukunft-im-mittelstand.de since July 2009. Access is free and enables individuals to design foresight processes using downloadable explanations and tools that support strategic practice. The toolbox concept includes 17 different foresight methods structured in five logical steps. For each method, simple and expert versions are available, which differ with regard to complexity and effort necessary. The offered selection of methods represents the state-of-the-art of science-based futurology and fulfils the requirements of strategic planning in the context of SMEs.

In principle, there are no restrictions regarding the combination of methods for foresight processes. All methods can be mixed with each other, however, participants are provided with information on the best possible combinations. In addition to full foresight processes, users may also download individual methods or tools that they find interesting and useful for their specific requirements.

Based on the Foresight Toolbox, decision-makers should be able to perform a professional process of strategic planning in pursuit of various business aims. The Foresight Toolbox conveys both methodological knowledge and competence for implementing and communicating future strategies.

First Step: Defining Aims and Focus of the Foresight Process

In technology foresight practice, foresight processes begin with the definition of specific goals and aims. This first step designates and limits observation scope and structures the following process. The toolbox offers a set of four different objectives that comprise the different fields of strategic relevance, including the level of products or services and organisational development or market dispositions:

  • Find future strategies
  • Develop ideas for innovations
  • Open new markets / target groups
  • Early detection of changes in markets

Furthermore, the platform provides a checklist with guiding questions to create the framework conditions for a successful foresight process.

Second Step: Research

In the second step, relevant empirical data on the future has to be researched. Different observation scopes focused on various aspects of the organisational environment are offered. Methods include observation techniques, for instance the STEEP observation scheme, and use a large number of data sources ranging from online and media research to Delphi surveys. The obtained data is the basis for the next process steps. The Foresight Toolbox contains four research methods:

  • Environmental Scanning: Examine environmental frameworks and drivers
  • Market Scanning: Examine customer needs and market trends
  • Context Scanning: Examine the immediate context of product use
  • Competition Scanning: Examine strategies and changes concerning competitors

Third Step: Analysis

The analysis stage aims to transform the obtained data into future-relevant information. The interpretation process is framed by four different business-related categories. Analysis aims to achieve a basic understanding of trends, drivers and shaping factors concerning future business development. It also gives an insight into potential impacts and uncertainties as well as into the constellation of relevant actors that have an influence on future development. The Foresight Toolbox offers the following analysis methods:

  • Impact Analysis: Identify the most powerful factors
  • Uncertainty Analysis: Recognise incalculable future developments
  • Stakeholder Analysis: Detect the most influential actors and their strategies
  • Trend Analysis: Understand the signs and drivers of change

Fourth Step: Projection

Projections are used to transform analysis results into concrete constructions of the future. The proposed methods vary in their level of concretisation, from practice-oriented to more abstract approaches to different futures. Being aware that the projection step is at the methodological heart of scientific foresight practice, the Foresight Toolbox has been designed to translate science-based approaches and make them relevant and understandable for SMEs. According to the specific application context, the methods refer to normative or descriptive aspects of future construction. The Foresight Toolbox contains five projection methods:

  • Scenario Technique: Develop alternative visions of the future
  • Roadmapping: Map milestones of future developments
  • Trend Extrapolation: Describe predictable future developments
  • Visioning: Develop desirable futures and define objectives
  • Backcasting: Retrace the path to a desirable future

Fifth Step: Implication

The final process stage is (ideally) closely linked to the first step of defining aims and closes the circle. Here, the results and gathered findings have to be applied, implemented and translated into strategic decisions, innovations or organisational change processes. The four implication methods include practical tools for decision-making and the internal communication of results:

  • Strategy Development: Identify options and determine the best strategy
  • Development of Product Ideas: Create and select innovative ideas
  • Portfolio Development: Make own areas of business future-proof
  • Assessment of Market Potentials: Describe future markets and assess their volume

State of Research

The research project is still in progress. This brief is only able to provide a short overview of the interim results of our quantitative and qualitative research.

800 Participants So Far

Between July 2009 (when the platform went online) and February 2010, some 800 participants used the Foresight Toolbox. A majority downloaded selected individual methods. In addition, some 180 completed foresight processes were saved.

An evaluation and analysis of user habits, stored processes, popularity of individual methods and tools and focus group-related priorities will follow in February or March 2010.

Comparative Study Based on Qualitative Interviews and Case Studies

The ten qualitative interviews were conducted between November 2009 and January 2010. In addition to the case studies of each participating SME, typical features, characteristics and significant variations were analysed in a comparative study based on the factors size and industry. Please find below a brief outline of the comparative study.

Size and Industry Matter

In the following, we present preliminary results from the study. To put it most concisely, the organisational features ‘business size’ and ‘type of industry’ make a difference. We have organized our brief summary of how size and industry affect foresight activities along six factors: foresight relevance, time horizon, objectives and perspective, knowledge sources, securing strategic decisions and implementation of foresight results.

Size Makes a Difference

Strategic Planning vs. Ad Hoc Decision-making

Foresight relevance – Regardless of business size, all decision-makers consider strategic planning to be very relevant. Exact definitions of strategy, however, differ. Larger enterprises may specify objectives and goals for strategic work, smaller firms more often act under the requirements of the situation.

Time horizon – The time horizon of foresight and strategic planning increases in line with organisation size.

Consideration of Non-economic Factors Grows with Size

Objectives and perspective – All businesses focus on the economic aspects of their environment. Larger enterprises are more likely to also include more secondary aspects in their observation scheme. Social development, demographic change and political and legal frameworks acquire special relevance for enterprises that participate in transnational business networks.

Internal Sources and Social Networks

Most Important Knowledge Sources

Knowledge sources – Independent of size, all participants use internal knowledge from all hierarchy levels as the most important knowledge source for their future-oriented work. Some of the larger firms already have experience with bringing in different forms of external consulting.

For all participants, the most important data comes from publicly available sources (general or business media) and formal or informal social networks.

Decision-making Based on Personal Experience

Securing Strategic Decisions – Only some larger SMEs have a developed monitoring system or access to continuous foresight updates. Most of the participating decision-makers rely on personal experience or even intuition or “gut feeling”. Only a minority of SMEs systematically have alternative options in place in the event of strategic failure.

Foresight Characterised by Conserving

Resources and Short-term Implementation

Implementation of foresight results – Foresight in the context of SMEs is mainly characterised by conserving financial and personal resources and short-term implementation. Short decision-making processes make it possible to transform strategic positions efficiently into action. However, smaller enterprises are greatly limited with regard to changing management processes.

Manufacturing Has an Edge over Service and Retail Industry in Use of Foresight

Foresight More Advanced

Foresight relevance – SMEs have a large variety of foresight approaches. In general, businesses in the manufacturing sector have a longer tradition and a more advanced approach to systematic future-oriented work than service or retail enterprises.

Time horizon – Machine building companies, in particular, show a higher tendency for long-term strategic planning. Service enterprises often set time perspectives according to their projects’ time horizon. Due to the SMEs’ specific short-term strategies, most decision-makers emphasise the importance of anticipating disruptive events or breaks in long-term market developments.

Broader Scope of Factors Considered

Objectives and perspective – Businesses show a comparable level of systematisation across all sectors. That said, manufacturing companies tend to see themselves as active parts of the entire value chain. Hence, their observation patterns differ in that more secondary factors are included.

More Systematic in Utilizing Internal Knowledge Sources

Knowledge sources – Here, manufacturing companies also show a more systematic approach to using internal knowledge sources. Some have developed pay and incentive systems for product innovations or innovative technological solutions. In the service and retail sector, where problem-solving skills are used in personal interaction, knowledge is limited to individuals.

Coping with Uncertainty Easier for Manufacturing

Securing Strategic Decisions – Securing is defined as the key problem of foresight-based decision-making. Foresight methods in the SME context aim to reduce uncertainty to manageable levels. Small firms in the service sector argue that strategic work has to be measured by future reality and consider this a criticism of foresight efficiency. Decision-makers from manufacturing enterprises find it easier to accept the fact of an unknown future.

Implementation Varies with Corporate Culture

Implementation of foresight results – Regardless of industry, structures and routines for implementation and internal communication vary according to corporate culture.

Authors: Beate Schulz-Montag                  schulz@z-punkt.de

Kai Jannek                                jannek@z-punkt.de

Tim Volkmann                          volkmann@z-punkt.de    

            Sponsors: Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)

Project management: VDI/VDE Innovation + Technik GmbH

Type: Publicly funded project within the framework of “Innovations- und Technikanalyse”
Organizer: Z_punkt GmbH The Foresight Company
Duration: 08/2008 – 03/2010 Budget: ca. 140,000 € Time Horizon: N/A Date of Brief: Dec. 2010

 

Download EFP Brief No. 169: Foresight Toolbox for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

Sources and References

www.zukunft-im-mittelstand.de