Posts Tagged ‘long-term perspective’

EFP Brief No. 251: VERA – Forward Visions on the European Research Area

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

The VERA project provides relevant strategic intelligence for the future governance and priority-setting of the research, technology, development and innovation (RTDI) system in the EU and for better adapting science, technology and inno-vation policy to the shifting global environment and upcoming socio-economic challenges. For this purpose VERA carries out an in-depth stocktaking of RTDI related forward looking activities in Europe and internationally and a thorough review of trends and drivers of long-term change of European RTDI governance. On the base of these insights VERA develops scenarios on the evolution of the European Research Area, assesses the critical issues for the ERA’s future capabilities emerging from these scenarios, explores subsequent strategic options and ultimately generates a set of policy recommendations for responsive and future oriented multi-level, multi-domain RTDI policy strategies. As VERA will run until 2014 we will present some intermediary results of the first two work packages in this Brief.

Changes and Tensions within ERA

Recently, ERA has undergone many relevant changes from inside. First of all, research and development became a domain of shared competence between the member states and the EU as a result of the new Lisbon Treaty in 2009. The subsequent strategic processes, such as the Lund Declaration, the Ljubljana Process, the Europe2020 Strategy and the Europe 2020 Flagship Initiative Innovation Union, have provided a solid mandate for a strong and open European Research Area that is highly responsive to societal challenges and provides excellent research and innovation activities in open exchange with the international RTI landscape.

However, in order to realise this ambitious agenda, the share of integrated research expenditure needs to be significantly increased. Furthermore, new coordination mechanisms are required to allow for flexible identification of ERA priorities, mobilisation of the critical mass of funding, and governance of its implementation.

In the last few years, a number of integrative instruments have been developed and implemented, such as:

  • Knowledge and innovation communities (KICs) selected within the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)
  • ERA Net and ERA-Net Plus allowing for joint funding of EU and member states
  • Joint technology initiatives (JTIs article 187) developed through the European technology platforms (ETPs)
  • Joint programming in research (JPIs)
  • Public private partnerships (PPP)
  • Joint research programmes (article 185)
  • European research alliances
  • European innovation partnerships

Thus a number of opportunities and experiences for more integration and pre-allocating significant chunks of EU funding to joint priorities do exist. At the same time, there are many tensions associated with the implementation of these strategies.

A key challenge and opportunity for ERA development is its relation to and integration with the wider world. The production and composition of knowledge have become globalised. While science always has been international, the scope of actors and the need for coordination and cooperation across the globe has changed dramatically in the face of global challenges. At the same time, there is an increasing specialisation of knowledge production and exploitation. Global division of labour and connecting the global centres of excellence that have emerged is a key requirement of the future. In addition, many of the problems European societies face are either the same as for other societies (obesity, demographic change) or transnational in nature (climate change, pollution, security) while the EU is just one among many international players. The overarching challenge of decoupling economic growth from the depletion of the ecosphere and preserving natural capital demands an unprecedented alignment of efforts on a global scale.

There are a number of changes in the way research and innovation is being embedded in the societal context. Changing values and lifestyles are giving rise to new societal expectations of research and innovation. Changing economic and institutional contexts introduce new rationales into knowledge production. Established boundaries, such as basic and applied research or users and producers of innovation and knowledge, are blurring. New actors such as NGOs, citizens and user groups are increasingly playing relevant roles in the realm of research and innovation.

The need for research and innovation to address the grand challenges in realms such as health, food, security and sustainability is not only increasingly advocated but also poses new kinds of challenges. Transformative socio-technical pathways rather than isolated key technologies need to be explored. Social innovation, service organisation and organisational innovation need to be aligned with breakthrough technological innovation. Experimental approaches are gaining relevance for successful innovation trajectories, in particular when transitions are at stake. These changes make it imperative to situate ERA in the global context.

Identifying the Grand Challenges of the Future

In order to generate custom-made strategic intelligence for the future of ERA, the starting point was, first, to identify Grand Challenges (GC) and, secondly, to do so in relation to research sectors that are relevant to the ERA. The GC were identified based on existing EU documents and discussion papers that had been published in the context of pertinent foresight and horizon scanning projects. These GC were classified into relevant research sectors, for instance health, energy, environment and civil society. This approach allowed a thematic clustering of topics, which then served as a basis for broadening the scanning of FLAs. Ten sectors and more than 760 GC in total from a stock of 71 sources were identified.

The stocktaking was designed so as to collect information that would help reach the objective of the work package, i.e. to answer questions such as,

  • What Grand Challenges in the fields of economy, environment, geopolitics, society and ethics, technology and health are the documents and projects under consideration concerned with?
  • Do these documents and projects represent the discourse on Grand Challenges in the European Union and in other parts of the world?
  • What conclusions can we draw from these documents concerning the future governance needs of the ERA? And what do they tell us about the future requirements of RTI governance?

Sixteen Grand Challenges

The VERA team managed to identify 16 Grand Challenges from the analysis and clustering of 760 individual issues from the inventory and interviews with individual STI experts:

  1. Uncertainty is arising from a multipolar world

Increasing polarisation and regionalisation are driving towards a multipolar world. Possible evolutions and implications of or even solutions for this multi-aspect and multi-level challenge are still hardly understood.

  1. Values and attitudes are changing globally

Attitudes and values are changing globally; societies and particularly policy need to respond to these changes.

  1. The traditional role of the state is challenged

A number of developments require new models of governance that go beyond the traditional model of the state.

  1. The world is becoming more interconnected and thus more vulnerable

The more the world becomes interconnected and interdependent, the more new forms of crime and security threats are interlinked and have far-reaching consequences at all levels of society.

  1. Health concerns of an aging society are rising

The ageing of populations has diverse implications for science, technology, economy and society that are proliferated in the context of new health risks and ineffective health systems.

  1. A risk of financial system failure is emerging

In the financial sector the risk of systemic failures is increasing.

  1. Current non-sustainable economic models come under scrutiny

A growing unease with the current model of economic growth calls for alternative approaches to societal progress at the macro level. At the same time, environmentally sustainable business models are required in all sectors of economic activity.

  1. Migration requires responses

The challenge of migration takes many forms as a consequence of other challenges such as climate change, food and water shortages, natural disasters, pandemics etc., each of which requires a specialised and coordinated response at various levels of governance.

  1. Education is struggling to cope with new demands

The education and training systems in Europe need to be modernised. A more specific demand defines the need for education systems capable of promoting sustainability, innovation and solidarity values, and new professions require highly skilled craftsmanship.

  1. The health situation in deprived regions is deteriorating

Impoverished regions around the world are struggling with acute and virulent health issues.

  1. Climate change is causing new diseases

New health problems are arising globally due to climate change.

  1. Providing basic resources for increasing global demands becomes difficult

Without ecologically, economically and politically sustainable solutions, scarcities of basic resources may lead to extensive and serious social and political problems in some areas of the globe.

  1. Material resources are becoming increasingly scarce

Demand for metals and minerals is growing dramatically, especially due to the fast growth of emerging economies and increasing strategic demand for minerals in industrialised economies.

  1. Our modes of energy supply and use are threatening the survival of humankind

Adopting sustainable forms of energy production and consumption is one of the key means for mitigating climate change.

  1. Transportation systems are coming under strain

Environmental and health impacts from emissions, mitigation of climate change, urbanisation, the need for traffic safety and security, and avoidance of traffic jams are among the drivers pushing towards the reinvention of mobility and full-scale transition of existing transportation systems.

  1. EU competitiveness is endangered

The fragmentation of Europe, poor education and skills as well as rising costs and declining labour force participation caused by demographic change may prevent effective exploitation of Europe’s research and innovation potential.

Facing the Grand Challenges to the Future of Europe Means Facing the Global Ones First

From the analysis of a broad range of sources on Grand Challenges, it becomes clear that we cannot take a European perspective only. Especially not when attempting to identify ways of dealing with the Grand Challenges, or at least some of them. The most pressing challenges are globally interconnected and require global action. Topics like Our modes of energy supply (14), Providing basic resources for increasing global demands (12) and The world becoming more interconnected (4) are the ones most frequently discussed. They also show the need to accept shared responsibility on a global scale, which implies that the EU countries cannot lay back and point to other countries to take action. On the contrary, from a European perspective, European countries are among the major contributors to the drivers of the Grand Challenges and among the major countries affected as well, although the impacts of the Grand Challenges are more widespread globally than the drivers are.

The sixteen clusters identified and discussed above also seem to be the ones that call for policy action most immediately and represent the cases where such action could make a substantial difference if planned and executed in a systemic way.

To face the Grand Challenges to the future of Europe, most of all we need to cope with the global ones. If we make a major contribution to the global ones, we will be better equipped to cope with the challenges that lie ahead for Europe.

What we as Europeans have to face is that our lifestyle and the underlying economic model must be considered the root of fundamental problems with devastating global consequences. Many studies and independent resources have pointed this out before. It is of course not only the European lifestyle but also that of all developed economies. At the same time, the global interconnectedness that seems to make this lifestyle transferable to emerging, lagging and, in the long term, even to undeveloped economies also makes societies vulnerable to shocks in many respects.

Facing the Grand Challenges means to introduce fundamental changes in many areas of our lives and activities, thereby affecting global liaisons as well. Even if radical changes are unrealistic, the changes required in tackling the Grand Challenges will be felt by every European citizen. Policy-makers are in a crucial role as these changes will not occur without fundamental and coordinated policy measures in almost every policy area.

Furthermore, it becomes clear that the scope of these Grand Challenges is in essence societal. We need to take this into account when we talk about policy action, for example in the area of research, technology and innovation policy – in the respective work packages of the VERA project and beyond. We especially need to consider what the impact of that societal scope is with regard to the systemic character of handling the Grand Challenges.

Text Analysis and Discussion with “ERA Thinkers”

The second set of tasks performed was to synthesise the existing insights on trends, drivers and key dimensions of change in European RTDI governance. A computer-assisted analysis helped to characterise the body of discourse on ERA in a systematic and quantitative manner. The analysis of text data on ERA was expected to allow interpretations and descriptions of the attitudes, structures, values and norms that currently dominate STI governance. In view of the large quantities of data in textual form, text analysis provided an important means of discovering obscured meanings and unveiling hidden relationships. The computer-assisted analysis took as a point of reference a pre-understanding of ERA constituencies gained through literature review. Following the digitisation of the entire corpus, linguistic analysis software was used for cleaning and formatting, unitising and indexing. The development of categories and dictionaries, as well meaningful associations, relied on qualitative analysis techniques.

Quantitative text-analysis software allowed to produce an aggregation of unit-level coding. Statistical and network analysis software was used to highlight frequencies, trends, comparisons, networks and maps of relevant factors influencing STI governance.

Subsequent interviews with ERA “thinkers” served to obtain additional types of information (i.e. narratives, accounts, fronts, stories and myths).

Relevant factors identified by means of discourse and interview analysis provided the basis for a so-called key-factor workshop with key stakeholders. The insights on potential key factors were synthesised into a background document.

Based on these insights, VERA developed scenarios on the evolution of the European Research Area. VERA’s uniqueness is grounded in the systematic knowledge base it creates, for example, by stocktaking exercises such as the one on Grand Challenges described above. They are publicly accessible and intended to be used widely. At the same time, the results of these exercises feed the scenario process, the subsequent assessment of the scenarios, and the exploration of strategic options. Another distinct feature of VERA is that it pays particular attention to the assessment and policy implications of the scenarios, which will help to make scenario results useful for policy-making and thinking about the future of ERA.

Authors: Susanne Giesecke         Susanne.Giesecke@ait.ac.at

Philine Warnke             Philine.Warnke@ait.ac.at

Effie Amanatidou           effie.amanatidou@mbs.ac.uk

Sponsors: European Commission, DG Research, Social Sciences and Humanities Programme
Type: Multiple issue brief
Organizer: Fraunhofer Gesellschaft – ISI, Karlsruhe Germany, Stephanie Daimer, Stephanie.Daimer@isi.fraunhofer.de
Duration: 2012-2014
Budget: € 1,940,000
Time Horizon: 2030
Date of Brief: Decemeber 2012

Download EFP Brief No 251_VERA

Sources and References

References

The Lund Declaration (incl. its addendum), July 2009; available for download at

http://www.vr.se/download/18.7dac901212646d84fd38000336/ Lund_Declaration.pdf

Links to further results of the VERA project at http://www.eravisions.eu

The inventory contains 726 individual Grand Challenges named by the 67 screened FLAs. It has been submitted in an independent report and can be downloaded at http://vera.dev.zsi.at/stocktaking/list

EFP Brief No. 247: Delphi-based Foresight for a Strategic Research Agenda on the Future of European Manufacturing

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

This follow-up brief recapitulates the foresight exercise of the “Manufacturing Visions – Integrating Diverse Perspectives into Pan-European Foresight (ManVis)” project. Six years after the project was concluded, we look back with the purpose of extracting key lessons learned. We ask what the mid-term and long-term implications of this foresight exercise are, specifically how effectively the Delphi method was deployed to examine a wide spectrum of aspects underpinning the future trajectory of European manufacturing with a particular emphasis on the elaboration of scenarios that provide a broad basis for public discussion on the future of European manufacturing. This follow-up brief draws particularly on the lessons learnt from the organisers’ perspective.

Creating a Vision of the Future of European Manufacturing

The central purpose of the ManVis project was to inform a continuous process of policy development to enhance the competitiveness of the European manufacturing industries through a structured foresight exercise. In particular, the ManVis project was expected to contribute to completing the picture of the socio-economic dimensions that shape the technology dynamics in European manufacturing industries.

The policy relevance of the ManVis project was essentially linked to its role as one of the central strategic foresight studies in which the preparation of a more detailed Strategic Research Agenda (SRA), aimed at paving the way for the definition of research priorities to be implemented via the EU’s future RTD Framework Programmes, was anchored. The ManVis foresight was launched in response and complementary to the results obtained from previous foresight exercises and empirical surveys indicating that manufacturing in Europe needed to strengthen its innovation capacity in an environment where manufacturing is increasingly being relocated to locations outside Europe. Together with the FuTMaN (“Future of Manufacturing in Europe 2015-2020 – The Challenge for Sustainable Development”) project, the ManVis project was a central pillar of the Manufuture European Technology Platform, composed of high-ranking representatives of European industry and the scientific community, that was initiated in December 2004 with the explicit purpose of elaborating specific technology roadmaps, both horizontal and sectoral, to define the priorities for the first calls for proposals of EU’s Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).

In sum, the ManVis project addressed the following questions:

(a) Which technologies will be relevant to European manufacturing?

(b) What role will European manufacturing play in a more competitive world?

(c) Is European manufacturing prepared to meet the challenges of knowledge-based manufacturing?

(d) Which visions and challenges emerge for European manufacturing?

The ManVis Foresight Approach:
Delphi and Demand-side Scenarios

Delphi is a long-established methodology to create consensus among a wide range of opinions as a basis for developing an informed view on visions and alternatives in the setting of priorities in controversial or complex fields of science and technology policy. The ManVis Delphi survey collected the views of more than 3,000 manufacturing experts in 22 European countries as well as those of stakeholders and overseas experts that were collected during workshops and through interviews.

The Delphi survey covered developments of all relevant aspects of manufacturing from technological dynamics to organisational concerns and issues related to sector-specific developments. In parallel to the survey, scenarios on the future development of the demand side of manufacturing were elaborated.

Flexible Automation Instead of Unmanned Factory

The following key messages on technological dynamics in European manufacturing were derived from the ManVis Delphi survey:

(a) Micro-electromechanical devices, smart materials and products using nano-coatings represent long-term developments of new types of products with the potential to disrupt markets.

(b) New manufacturing technology principles, such as bottom-up manufacturing technologies are only expected in the long run. Manufacturing technologies using biotechnologies to create and manipulate inorganic material and products, such as nano-manufacturing, should be on the long-term “radar” of RTD policy.

(c) Micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) as well as flexible organisation and automation strategies combined in reconfigurable manufacturing systems supporting flexible business strategies are important topics on the short-term research agenda. However, as a particular aspect, the experts surveyed viewed the unmanned factory with skepticism. Instead, they forecast that humans working with flexible automation solutions will play an important role in creating flexibility.

(d) Only long-term automation visions comprise human-machine interfaces such as man-machine speech recognition, self-learning systems and co-bots.

From these key messages the following implications were derived for the role of manufacturing research in combining the long-term horizon in technology trajectories with the short-term needs of firms to innovate successfully: Basic manufacturing research needs to prepare for new challenges, whereas applied manufacturing research should focus on the adaptation and transformation of existing technologies and organisational processes. Considering the functions of manufacturing research, it has been suggested that these key messages on future technology dynamics be discussed using the concept of the combined science-technology cycle of innovation (see Figure 1).
bild1

Figure 1: Manufacturing-related technologies on the sci-ence-technology cycle for macro innovations (Source: ManVis Report No. 3, Delphi interpretation report)

Integrating Non-technological Aspects

The ManVis Delphi survey covered many aspects of knowledge-based manufacturing related to the working environment. In particular, organisational concerns as they are linked to new challenges of product development were examined. In one of the interviews conducted for this follow-up, however, one of the organisers of the foresight process highlighted that – although the ManVis project was considered a “creative pool” for the construction of the Manufuture platform – contributors to the platform were skeptical concerning several of the organisational challenges. This was explained by a lack of interest in issues of work organisation at the company level, in particular on part of the predominantly larger industrial firms represented on the platform (SMEs were not represented). In addition, the organisers stated that the ManVis foresight contributed greatly to the integration of non-technological aspects in the debate on the future drivers shaping technological dynamics and on the demand for skills and competencies.

Furthermore, the interviewee argued that the Delphi results had the intended wide-ranging impact because the survey did not focus on sector issues alone. Although this impact was important in consolidating the field of manufacturing research, the foresight results were not followed up by more in-depth indicator-based (e.g. patents) research with a greater focus on sectoral issues. This was, however, not considered a methodological constraint but rather a weakness in following up on the Delphi results.

In addition, the organisers mentioned two methodological aspects as particularly important in shaping the results of the Delphi survey:

(a) The organisers’ interventions during several workshops at the national level, held to prepare the Delphi survey, played a central role in condensing the themes and elaborating the Delphi statements. As in any Delphi survey, the heterogeneity of the participants assured the validity of the results. In particular, the responses to the survey highlighted the facilitator’s role in coordinating the pool of heterogeneous expertise coming from a great diversity of technological and non-technological fields during the initial workshop, at which a list of 100 statements on a wide range of manufacturing topics was generated, as very important for the final outcome of the Delphi process.

(b) With regard to the stability of the responses to obtain a consensus among the participating experts, the summary feedback of aggregated responses of the second round did not generate any significant new changes. Under efficiency considerations, it could therefore be argued that the survey administration could have used statistical methods to analyse the data from the first round to assess whether any subsequent rounds were needed and, if not, terminate data collection after the first round.

Direct and Indirect Achievements of the ManVis Foresight

The ManVis Delphi survey results provided a broad basis for public discussion on the future of manufacturing in Europe. In particular, by complementing previous foresight studies intended to improve the self-understanding of the European manufacturing industry, it constituted an important pillar in the development of a strategic manufacturing research agenda at the European level. Several of the issues that were highlighted by ManVis, such as the need to explore the implications of user-driven innovation for manufacturing systems, were taken up in FP6.

Beyond its intended effects, the ManVis foresight also had some important unintended effects such as making a central contribution to the definition of research needs of the new member states that joined the European Union during the 2004 enlargement. Another central achievement of the ManVis foresight process was also an unintended side effect, namely to involve these new member states in the development of a Strategic Research Agenda on manufacturing in Europe.

Effective Dissemination of the Results under Budget Constraints

Since the financial budget for dissemination activities was cut significantly during the negotiation phase with the European Commission, the ManVis dissemination approach was under strain from the beginning of the project. Nevertheless, the project reported the results of the foresight to a wide audience of industry and governmental stakeholders at the Bled Conference in October 2005. This conference, which would not have been realised without the national resources of the Slovenian ManVis partner, provided a strong signal of interest in and relevance of identifying the manufacturing research needs in the new eastern member states.

Reaching the Policy Level

The ManVis key messages have been disseminated at the policy level to a wide set of stakeholders and actors of the European Commission, the member states, and industry. During the interviews for this follow-up brief, the communication with European policymakers was described as very good and the interaction with the EC as very supportive, in particular with regard to the central goal of feeding the results of the foresight exercise into key European initiatives such as the Manufuture European Technology Platform.

In sum, the outcomes of the Manvis project served to bring manufacturing experts with different national and professional backgrounds together to discuss the visions and the possible paths for securing the future of manufacturing in Europe. The results of the ManVis project have been fed into the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme.

Learning about the Manufacturing Research Needs of the New Member States

It was reported during one interview with the organisers of the foresight that a central achievement of the ManVis project was to involve the new member states in the development of a Strategic Manufacturing Research Agenda at this particular time. While the EC only had partial knowledge about key institutions and actors shaping policy development processes in areas related to manufacturing, it was an important indirect achievement of the ManVis foresight initiative to involve many experts and policy stakeholders from the new member states in defining and assessing the manufacturing research needs at the European level. In this sense, the networking effect, particularly during the Delphi preparation workshops, was highly appreciated by European policy stakeholders because they provided a unique opportunity to get acquainted and build strong relationships with key experts from these countries and to use the foresight initiative to define priorities for the first calls for proposals for the upcoming Seventh Framework Programme.

In this sense, the direct involvement of the new member states in the definition of research topics to be supported was stated as one of the most important, yet unplanned and indirect, contributions of the ManVis foresight process. The research topics thus identified are considered to have real industrial relevance and the potential to produce measurable impacts in terms of marketable products and services or more efficient manufacturing methods in the context of the catch-up process that these countries are undergoing.

Contributions to EU Enlargement

The ManVis foresight process made an important contribution to completing the picture of technology dynamics in manufacturing. At the particular time of realisation, i.e. in the aftermath of the 2004 EU enlargement, the Delphi survey not only set out several possible trajectories for developments of future manufacturing processes and policy scenarios, but it also helped to define the R&D position of 22 EU countries. In the context of the shifting comparative advantages due to the salary increases to be expected particularly in the new member states, the ManVis foresight provided an important platform to learn about manufacturing research priority topics and the adaptations needed at the level of companies and innovation systems. Beyond the identification of research needs, a concrete achievement of the ManVis foresight lies in the strong integration of key stakeholders from both public policy and industry of the new member states in the long-term planning of European research funding for manufacturing.

Authors: Dirk Johann             dirk.johann.fl@ait.ac.at

Elisabetta Marinelli   elisabetta.marinelli@ec.europa.eu

Sponsors: European Commission (Directorate General Research)
Type: International foresight activity (Specific Support Action) covering the enlarged European Union, focusing on the thematic area of manufacturing
Geographic coverage: Europe
Organizer: Fraunhofer ISI Karlsruhe, OPTI,  JRC-IPTS, Cambridge University, IVF Sweden and national correspondents in 22 European countries
Duration: 2003 – 2006
Budget: € 1,500,000
Time Horizon: 2020
Date of Brief: July 2012

Download EPF Brief No. 247_ManVis_Follow-up

Sources and References

Dreher, C. et al. (2005), ManVis Report No. 3 – Delphi Interpretation Report, Deliverable D15, Contract No. NMP2-CT-2003-507139-MANVIS

Dreher, C. et al. (2005), ManVis Report No. 6 – Manufacturing Visions – Policy Summary and Recommendations, Deliverable D17, Contract No NMP2-CT-2003-507139-MANVIS

European Commission (2006), Manufuture Strategic Research Agenda – Assuring the Future of Manufacturing in Europe – Report of the High-level Group, European Commission, Directorate-General for Research: Brussels

Jung-Erceg, P. K. Pandza, H. Armbruster, C. Dreher (2007), “Absorptive Capacity in European Manufacturing: A Delphi Study”, Industrial Management & Data Systems, Vol. 107, 1, 37-51

Link to the original Foresight Brief No. 53 “European Manufacturing Visions – ManVis 2020”: http://www.foresight-platform.eu/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/EFMN-Brief-No.-53-European-Manufacturing-Visions-ManVis-2020.pdf

EPF Brief No. 242: Quality and Leadership for Romanian Higher Education

Friday, December 21st, 2012

The project “Quality and Leadership for Romanian Higher Education” (QLHE) aimed to elaborate a vision of Romanian higher education in 2025 and a strategy consisting of specific policy guidelines to achieve it. Based on a large participatory foresight exercise, the project sought to contribute to improving the strategic management of universities and achieving a wide national consensus on the development of the Romanian higher education system.

Transforming the Higher Education System

The project was to help transform the framework of Romanian higher education, as it has been repeatedly stated that the system lacks a vision and long-term strategy. The Presidential Commission on Education issued a report claiming that “education in Romania is ineffective, irrelevant, and low in quality”. The whole reform process has been incoherent, ineffective and has lacked a long-term, shared vision of the future. Therefore, the education system was in urgent need of change. The transformation had to be endorsed by the academic community, policymakers, stakeholders and public opinion. In order to achieve broad consensus, the project carried out a foresight exercise – a large participatory exercise involving a substantial number of people from various target groups and a wide range of ideas, possible future scenarios, solutions, policy options etc.

The higher education system has been repeatedly evaluated as homogeneous, lacking diversity, outdated and out of tune with the realities of the dynamic and interconnected world around it. Prior to developing and achieving the final results, the project carried out activities to analyse the context and identify the major challenges and drivers of change in order to generate a clear and encompassing view of the environment, its needs, the existing obstacles and the potential opportunities. Panels of experts elaborated a series of studies concerning the analysis of the current state of Romania’s universities in relation to various aspects of society, the existing challenges, and the drivers of change in light of the main features of the Romanian social system. The resulting documents served as a point of reference for the subsequent activities.

Creating a Shared Vision

The goals of the project were to create a shared vision and a set of strategic recommendations for Romanian higher education and, in doing so, to develop the prospective analysis and leadership capacities of key actors through a series of workshops and training sessions on various topics of interest.

Another challenging objective was to develop and sustain a foresight community by creating an environment that would enable the emerging community to interact and exchange opinions. Thus, the project designed a web-based collaborative platform, The Foresight Wiki. The name indicates that the platform uses the wiki technology for developing collaborative websites and Web 2.0 technologies. This allows members of the future studies and foresight communities to write articles that any other member can edit. The platform represents an innovative tool providing a user-friendly interactive setting.

Bucharest Dialogues

The platform was not the only step to advance the development of the foresight community; a series of ten international debates, the Bucharest Dialogues, provided the platform with information and knowledge and gave the participants the opportunity to gain experience in the foresight process. These mutual learning workshops were designed as variations on the Bohm dialogues where experts can get together and discuss fundamental aspects of foresight. The Bucharest Dialogues invited foresight practitioners, managers and policymakers in a setup following David Bohm’s principles of dialogue. During a Bucharest Dialogue, key speakers would represent distinct voices within the foresight community, speaking on a broad, preestablished topic.

Mutual Learning Workshops

Both the Mutual Learning Workshops and the Bucharest Dialogues offered a great opportunity for knowledge, skills transfer and learning by allowing the Romanian experts to closely collaborate with more than one hundred international experts. Among the international experts that participated in the Romanian foresight exercise were representatives of institutions such as Fraunhofer ISI, The Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS), European Universities Association or UNESCO-CEPES (the European Centre for Higher Education), which acted as partner institutions, different international institutions, such as SAMI Consulting, UNIDO, and well-known individual experts, such as Murray Turoff, Roxanne Hiltz, Riel Miller, Peter Bishop, Ozcan Saritas, Denis Loveridge, Ziauddin Sardar, Wendy Schulz and others (for a full list of participants, see the ForWiki platform).

Large-scale Participative Approach

The context and the challenges addressed by this project and the objectives pursued were suited for a large-scale, participative, systemic foresight exercise. As mentioned above, such an approach was necessary since the lack of a systemic approach to change in higher education has not only generated a mélange of reforms but, more importantly, has also resulted in the absence of a clear vision of the future bearings of Romanian higher education.

The exercise started with a nomination/co-nomination process to identify the key stakeholders. It went on to combine panel work, workshops and online interaction. All these activities involved hundreds of participants who provided knowledge, feedback and recommendations during every step of the project.

A series of workshops and trainings were organised for the stakeholders. They focused on various topics of interest, such as foresight and strategic planning, public policy elaboration in higher education, public policy analysis, introduction to the Delphi method or critical thinking and helped to develop skills and abilities so that the whole transformation would actually occur from within the system and would represent a sustainable process, accepted and widely supported by the stakeholders. All these events were chaired by outstanding international experts.

The whole process highlighted interactivity and focused on sharing experience and new knowledge in an international context. One of the key features of the process was empowering stakeholders to contribute to a shared vision. There were two International Advisory Board meetings, international surveys, and various workshops and trainings facilitated by foresight experts. All the outputs were widely disseminated and constantly tested beyond the initial groups with the help of focus groups and a number of online surveys. At the same time, all results were presented to all participants and stakeholders in an appealing way, using films, attractive websites and platforms.

Following a bottom-up approach, the process started with expert panel analyses, which served as a starting point for the creation of four success scenarios on Romanian higher education in 2025. They were used as frameworks for the transformation of the system and expressed the most relevant and desired changes: University of Life and Jobs, Knowledge Constellation, Atheneum and Blue Ocean.

The scenario building was a vast process that combined three renowned and thoroughly tested methods: World Café, Cards and Integral Matrix Analysis. The scenario workshop was designed as a collaborative process in which the members of the expert panels and the invited stakeholders worked in a World Café setting with more than 70 participants. The participants and stakeholders “played” with the main concepts provided by the previously elaborated documents. They used cards and extracted
the most creative ideas. The goal was to outline a final vision for the higher education system, which was tested and altered in order to meet the requirements and desires of the community.

Elphi Platform

The project was innovative not only in carrying out the first foresight exercise on higher education in Romania but also in creating an adapted version of a Delphi questionnaire tailored to the needs of the Romanian higher education context. The questionnaire was provided on the online platform Elphi, which gave the stakeholders the opportunity to actively participate and in the shaping of the Romanian higher education strategy. A large number of respondents from academic, business, social
and policymaking environments participated. They analysed a series of policy proposals that had previously been drafted by nine different panels of experts in relevant areas. Experts were invited to provide arguments and dynamic rankings; their feedback was essential to improving the initial proposals in order to yield the most desirable policy proposals, adapted to the realities of Romanian higher education, while at the same time being future-oriented and bold enough to spur transformation.
The online platform was innovative in introducing a system of dynamically ranking arguments, providing respondents with an opportunity to refine their views and reach a final consensus. The involvement of a large number of experts also legitimised the recommended policies. Later on, these policies formed the core of the White Paper on Romanian Higher Education in 2015, the strategy document whose recommendations charted the first steps to be made towards the 2025 vision.

Measures of Change

The White Paper was to support the vision by suggesting concrete measures and policy proposals for change, designed for the medium term (2011-2015) and for immediate implementation. The first step in formulating the White Paper was to elaborate a series of policies that were tested and initially integrated into a Green Paper on Romanian Higher Education in 2015 by a group of experts – an intermediate step in developing the White Paper. The Green Paper proposed an approach in waves, in which the interest expressed by individual universities constituted the premise of transformations. According to this proposal, the process of transformation should be supported by financial assistance throughout a transition phase and strongly oriented towards autonomy, leadership and responsibility. Romanian higher education is currently perceived as an administrative service, with the state having the right to intervene in the universities’ internal affairs. Thus, university autonomy is weak and subject to administrative, fiscal and financial restrictions. As a potentially significant opportunity, participating universities should be offered the option to change their legal status. Universities must maintain their public interest status, but, at the same time, enjoy economic and fiscal freedoms specific to educational and research services.

The Green Paper was a consultative document; a large online consultation was opened around the key statements, and several university rectors and vice-rectors were interviewed. The integration of the opinions and comments expressed during this process by over 300 respondents supported the development of the White Paper.

Personalisation, Diversification, and Transparency as New Values

The vision and the White Paper were the products of a broad and complex process whose first stages were described in the sections above. Reflecting the success scenario elaborated by stakeholders, the 2025 vision document describes a future of Romanian higher education based on the values of personalisation, diversification and transparency. In short, the three principles describe the desired changes the system should undergo. Personalisation means more options for students in terms of flexible educational pathways that can be fit to their individual plans for the future. Diversity means institutional structures and a systemic configuration that allow for distinct trajectories for institutions with different missions and goals. Transparency highlights the importance of comprehensive, relevant and easily accessible information about the education system while working towards a reputation system for universities.

Innovative Aspects

In Romania, using the foresight methodology to build a vision of the higher education system and develop strategic recommendations (White Paper) represented an innovative approach. The Romanian higher education foresight exercise was the second national foresight process in this country. Such a toolkit had never been used in higher education before and, as such, it represented a major challenge to the team implementing it.

The foresight exercise was the preferred methodology because the project strove to go beyond the limits of common expertise and the traditional policymaking process in Romania, which had led to inconsistent higher education strategies. Moreover, the need for a systemic approach was implicit in the complexity of an education system that engages a variety of actors and their relationships and eventually influences the life of every citizen. Another innovative aspect was the use and adaptation of the online roundless Delphi, which was adjusted to the specific needs of the project and led to the creation of the Elphi platform.

Reform Approaches Find Society’s Consent

The process and the results were designed to raise awareness about the fact that the Romanian higher education system needs to be changed and that Romanian society supports this transformation. By participating in the process, a variety of actors and stakeholders legitimised the vision document and the strategy-setting White Paper. These two documents, together with the
workshops, training sessions, dialogues and debates organised throughout the three years of the project, set out an appropriate framework for the transformation of higher education. They supported a long-term vision designed to draw the picture of a desirable future, generate and stimulate forward-looking thinking about future challenges, provide the basis for decision-making in the present, and mobilise individual and collective action.

Although these ideas, solutions and policies were embraced by the key actors and stakeholders in the education system, the actual transformation of course requires more than visionary documents or the will of the actors involved. While, to date, there has been no official commitment to carry through with the proposed changes in law, a number of follow-up projects are currently empowering the universities in accordance with the principles set out in the vision (improving the system’s transparency, encouraging the collaboration of universities, and capacity-building for differentiation).

Download EPF Brief No. 242_Quality and Leadership for Romanian Higher Education.

 

Sources and References

Andreescu, L., Curaj, A., Gheorghiu, R. (2011): Unleashing individualization. Challenges for Personalization in Tertiary Education, Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on the Management of Technological Changes, ed. C.

Rusu, Greece, Alexandroupoli: Democritus University of Thrace.

Andreescu, L., Gheorghiu, R., Proteasa, V., Curaj, A. (2012): Institutional Diversification and Homogeneity in Romanian Higher Education: The Larger Picture, in Curaj, A. et al. (eds.): European Higher Education at the Crossroads, Dordrecht, Heidelberg, New York, London: Springer, pp. 863-885

Andreescu, L., Gheorghiu, R., Zulean, M., Curaj, A. (2012): Systemic Foresight for Romanian Higher Education, in Curaj, A. et al. (eds.): European Higher Education at the Crossroads, Dordrecht, Heidelberg, New York, London: Springer, pp. 995-1017

Andreescu, L., Gheorghiu, R., Zulean, M., Curaj, A. (2012): Understanding Normative Foresight Outcomes: Scenario
Development and the ‘Veil of Ignorance’ Effect, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, available online 26 October
2012 ISSN 0040-1625, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2012.09.013. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0040162512002399)

www.edu2025.ro, last accessed 17 September 2012.

www.forwiki.eu, last accessed 17 September 2012.

 

EPF Brief No. 241: Embedding Futures Thinking in Environmental Policymaking

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Many of society’s most pressing problems are long-term policy challenges, lasting a generation or more. Policymakers and business leaders often face strategic decisions with uncertain future outcomes. Despite numerous unpredictable factors, decision-makers need to be confident that they can achieve specific outcomes. Failing to do so could result in systemic failures with major consequences for society. The European Environment Agency (EEA) undertook analyses through the BLOSSOM project (Bridging long-term scenario and strategy analysis: organisation and methods) to identify a ‘toolbox’ of approaches to institutionalise long-term futures thinking in government; to explore which countries have introduced respective approaches and tools, and to identify the pioneers as well as which methods have become commonplace and which have not; to look for commonalities and differences and identify the factors that can explain the success or failure of efforts to embed a long-term perspective in policymaking.

Why Bring Foresight to Environmental Policymaking?

While academic literature has thoroughly assessed the pros and cons of different methodological approaches, systematic analysis of the use, impacts and effectiveness in environmental policymaking is still superficial or absent. It is evident that the institutional and governance aspects of foresight work need to be given more attention. We also need new structures that break with single forecast models, which miss the complexity and uncertainty in future developments, and different institutional arrangements to implement them. For future studies to gain greater relevance in policymaking, there are also two science-policy challenges that have to be tackled: policymakers often perceive future studies to be evidence-based and the time scale of future studies differs from that of policymaking.

The characteristics of the problem-solving context make it very hard to introduce the long-term perspective needed to analyse environmental problems. However, futures thinking and foresight is increasingly being used to inform policy, through the use of techniques such as expert panels, workshops and scenario planning. Explorative or normative scenarios are often used for long-term futures thinking whereas for more short-term purposes predictive techniques such as forecasts and outlooks are more common.

Analysis of Success Factors and Barriers

The analyses proceeded in two stages. In the first stage in 2008, the EEA started to analyse the success factors and barriers to a long-term perspective in public policymaking with particular reference to environmental planning. The EEA report Looking Back on Looking Forward (EEA, 2009) — a precursor to this study — reviewed the available evaluative scenario literature. The research found that only a few studies evaluated the actual impact of scenarios. Most of those studies found that scenarios were indeed useful in preparing corporate strategies and public policy, although most focused on the business sector. Moreover, the public sector presented several difficulties, including the varied set of goals and interests that public agencies face. The research concluded that more empirical evidence is needed particularly on what types of scenarios work in different contexts and the institutional arrangements that enable scenarios to be used more effectively in order to demonstrate that scenarios can deliver on their promises.

The second stage focused on analysing the role and relevance of futures analysis and the practical experiences with adapting institutional arrangements to embed a longterm perspective in government in EEA member countries. Country case studies were developed for eight EEA member countries based on interviews with practitioners in government, administration and policy advisory bodies along with a review of relevant academic and nonacademic literature. During 2010, four additional case
studies were included following the same approach. The project involved consultations on draft case study country reports and the comparative analysis report with the interviewees and other stakeholders in all the countries studied. In the later stage, additional consultations took place with the EIONET network of experts. Upon completion of the case studies, the crosscutting report analysed the key findings and presented a crosscountry comparison (available at http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/blossom/).

Focus on Institutional and Governance Structures

The research did not seek to evaluate the quality of individual futures studies or to explore the whole range of futures work (such as research or technology foresight). It only addressed the aspects most relevant to environmental policymaking, notably the institutional and governance structures.

Design and Analysis of the Country Case Studies

The BLOSSOM country case studies were developed following a common approach. Each started by identifying several important aspects:

Institutions
· Central body for futures thinking vs. diffuse structures across departments
· Internal vs. external advisory bodies
· Formal vs. informal networks
· Role of parliament/parliamentary bodies
· Maturity of formal futures work

Mechanisms
· Permanent vs. ad hoc arrangements
· Degree of independence of futures/foresight bodies
· Formal vs. informal reporting

Process
· Stakeholder vs. expert led futures work
· Use of specific futures techniques, e.g. scenarios, horizon scanning
· Thematic range (cross-sectoral vs. sectoral)

In addition, at least two external factors are crucial for embedding futures thinking:
· Level of political support
· National administrative culture

The case study countries were selected to provide a range of cultural, geographical, institutional and administrative approaches, including countries that were at very different stages of implementing futures thinking. Detailed case studies were compiled and informed by interviews with senior officials in the respective member states. Following the production of individual country case study reports, SWOT analyses were undertaken for each country, providing the analytical framework for understanding which factors facilitated knowledge exchange from futures studies or research into practical policymaking in each country. These were then presented for each country as SWOT-tail diagrams. SWOT-tail© diagrams combine fishbone (Ishikawa) diagrams with SWOT analyses to provide a visual and concise summary analysis for each country. Clearly, there is no ‘one-sizefits-all’ solution; context and path dependency matter.

Development of Futures Thinking over Time

The country case studies revealed very different histories of futures thinking across the countries studied. Taking the introduction of a central foresight body as an example, the analysis showed that some countries (e.g. Portugal, Sweden) had long-standing central foresight bodies (since 1950s/60s) while most countries have established such bodies only since the 1990s. Some countries did not have a central foresight body at the time of the study (i.e. Hungary and Slovenia).

Commonalities and Diversity among Approaches

As noted, the country case studies analysed institutions, mechanisms and processes, and facilitated comparison between country approaches. This showed which approaches and structures were most and least common. A central foresight body, thematic studies and some use of scenarios in policymaking were all seen in 10 out of the 12 countries studied. However, less common were formalised foresight reporting requirements (5 countries), routine stakeholder involvement (5 countries) and horizon scanning formally in place (3 countries).

‘Maturity’ of Futures Work

Futures work and how it relates to environmental policy was classified by its ‘maturity’ into the categories mature, developing and nascent (see Figure 1). Futures work was considered most mature where it could mostly draw on permanent and formalised systems, diverse networks across levels of government and departments, and where experience of futures studies had a clear influence on policy. The category developing was applied where some features of futures work had been introduced and futures arrangements show evidence of lasting structures and influence. Futures work was considered nascent where futures arrangements were in their infancy, i.e. mainly ad hoc or fragmented, or where institutional structures or governance arrangements to facilitate futures thinking in policy at the level of national government has only recently been introduced.

Parliamentary body/role of parliament: Some of the case studies, notably Finland, have shown that parliaments can play an important role in supporting futures thinking.

Internal body: In most countries, some form of futures work is performed in government departments (whether regularly or ad hoc) although not all have a central body that coordinates or advises across all areas of government.

External body: In the Netherlands and United Kingdom, no single centralised body deals with foresight. There are a number of external bodies/agencies that engage in futures work. In Slovenia, the Bled Strategic Forum, which works on long-term thinking at national and European levels, has sponsored debates about long-term futures, drawing thinkers from politics, industry and academia from all over Europe.

Process

Routine stakeholder involvement: The degree of consultation varies between countries, with Finland and Austria at one end of the scale with a high degree of participation and France on the other with comparatively little. Generally, the foresight topics are determined through consultations with expert stakeholders. Stakeholder participation is widespread among most futures programmes across the member states studied and driven by policy needs.

Thematic or sectoral: Cross-sectoral studies appear to be more common in the environmental sphere, even in countries that undertake both types.

Horizon-scanning system in place: Only a few countries have formally established horizon-scanning systems either centrally or within, for example, environmental agencies.

Mechanisms

Formally independent body/degree of independence: Trade-offs between access and independence are dealt with in different ways across countries. In most countries, this is somehow related to how the governmental institutions work.

Permanent or ad hoc arrangements: In general, the most effective bodies for futures studies have had a permanent role and structure within government. Some countries have created ad hoc groups for specific studies.

Governance Culture and Political Support

Governance culture and tradition of futures thinking: A long-standing tradition of futures thinking does not in itself facilitate the embedding of futures thinking in policymaking. Those with the most mature systems tended to have either a strong participatory, consensus-building governance culture (Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands) or a strong external advocacy tradition, as well as strong centralised government and policymaking (the United Kingdom).

Interdisciplinarity and interdisciplinary approaches: The increasing importance of interdisciplinarity and interdisciplinary approaches can be observed among the many environment-related futures studies considered.

Evidence versus strategy: It is apparent that in a few countries futures studies are used to develop or contribute to the evidence base upon which policies are built (and therefore often strongly associated with ‘science’ and science ministries), but they are also used to identify potential strategic priorities and ensure that the strategies developed have a view to the long term. The distinction between evidence and strategy is not absolute but, based on the individual country reports, it does appear that futures work is generally used for two sometimes distinct purposes: to inform strategic priorities or contribute to the evidence base upon which policies are built, using different methods.

Political support and policy needs: A further element that can shape the approach to futures thinking is the specific need in the policy sector (Netherlands, Poland, United Kingdom, Germany) or influenced by work in other countries (France inspired by Finland, Hungary by the United Kingdom). In all four countries with nascent futures systems — Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Spain — advanced technology foresight work in other countries has been prominent. Another important criterion for embedding futures work in policymaking is a government policy calling for the use of futures studies.

Follow-up: The use of follow-up and feedback to futures studies seems to support the successful implementation of futures thinking in policymaking.

Key Success Factors for Embedding Futures Thinking in Environmental Policymaking

Policy demand and political support would appear to be overwhelmingly the most significant factor.

Need for policy-led futures thinking: policy interest and support may be key, and high-level ambassadors or ‘champions’ can help promote and influence the inclusion of futures studies in policymaking. High quality of studies helps to provide credibility and convince policymakers.

Resources: skills and capacity are required for a successful forward-looking programme.

Timeliness and relevance: to be taken up by policymakers, a futures study must be relevant to needs and available when needed.

Stakeholder engagement and participation: broad participation is an important success factor as it increases legitimacy and helps establish familiarity and understanding.

Potential role for parliament: Although parliamentary involvement is not necessarily a success factor, it may be important for facilitating democratic engagement in longterm environmental policymaking as well as a shift of futures work beyond a largely expert-driven process.

Barriers to Success

A major barrier, alluded to above, is the fundamental challenge for futures thinking in the science-policy debate and the dominant focus of government administration on electoral, legislative and budgetary cycles. Other barriers are:
· Departmental upheaval and reorganisation in the wake of establishing institutional arrangements for futures thinking
· Departmental silo mentality
· Lack of futures skills and awareness amongst officials and politicians
· Problems of scale: large futures studies can be unwieldy and miss their window of opportunity
· If not policy-driven, then futures thinking is unlikely to influence policy
· Cultural barriers (administrative traditions)

Recommendations for Action

Rather than rely on a trickle-down effect, there are active efforts governments can make to improve the integration of futures thinking into policymaking. These actions should include:

· capacity building,
· knowledge brokerage through networks,
· coordination of futures work through networks across government: to avoid duplication, to facilitate crosssectoral (thematic) studies,
· institutional arrangements that create policy demand, for instance formalised requirements for futures thinking, building futures thinking into long-term strategy development, formalised reporting requirements on government policy and a parliamentary role for futures thinking,
· techniques for prioritising futures studies (from systematic horizon scanning to top-down and bottom-up stakeholder, public and parliamentary involvement in the prioritisation process),
· clarity on the distinction between policy-relevant futures work and more blue-skies academic futures work (the former responding to policy demand, the latter pushing the boundaries and development of tools, techniques and approaches);
· sufficient resources to build capacity, networks and institutional arrangements;
· increasing participation, including the broad public: new technologies and innovative methods could be used to bring in a wider and more diverse range of opinions and ideas, as well as to disseminate study results and their implications.

Download EPF Brief No. 241_Embedding Futures Thinking in Environmental Policymaking.

Sources and References

EEA, 2009, Looking Back on Looking Forward: A Review of Evaluative Scenario Literature, EEA Technical Report No. 3/2009.