Posts Tagged ‘social change’

EFP Brief No. 256: F212.org Online Platform. Imagining the Future through Social Media as a Tool for Social Innovation

Friday, December 6th, 2013

F212.org is a virtual think tank of university students interested in sharing ideas on how to face main future challenges. It describes the results of a comparative study about the images of the future found among young students from Haaga Helia University of Applied Science (Finland) Tamkang University (Taiwan); and University of Alicante (Spain).

The Study of Images of the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tool Set for the Future

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

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

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

Taking into account the 4 points mentioned above, a new study was designed which included three significant changes with respect to the previous one, all of them oriented to improve users’ experience within www.f212.org:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Images of the Future of Spanish, Taiwanese and Finnish Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Online Participatory Foresight Processes

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

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

As a general conclusion, it could be stated that improving interaction tools, designing better communication elements and opening the platform to an international university-student context have all had a strong positive impact on this study. Thus, the results collected in www.f212.org helped us achieve a better understanding of the mechanisms behind social media involvement.

 

 

Authors: Mario Guillo (PhD Candidate)    mario.guillo@ua.es

Dr. Enric Bas                           bas@ua.es

Sponsors: FUTURLAB – University of Alicante

FECYT – Spanish Foundation for Science & Technology

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

Download EFP Brief No. 256_F212.org Online Platform

Sources and References

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

EFP Brief No. 232: STRATCLU

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

STRATCLU, the ‘entrepreneurial’ strategy process of the German ‘spitzen’-cluster (leading-edge cluster) MicroTEC Südwest meets the needs of multi-actor, multi-governance-level and multi-sector research and innovation (R&I) policies. The forwardand outward-looking process exemplifies how a broad range of regional R&I actors can share and utilise strategic knowledge to identify joint priorities for longer-term, synergistic R&I investments and collective actions, and focus their diverse competences in microsystems as a general purpose technology to tackle societal challenges and enter future markets globally.

Research & Innovation Programmes Addressing Challenges of the 21st Century

In line with a more systemic understanding of research and innovation (R&I) policy (OECD 2005), the respective support programmes introduced the perspective of global, societal challenges to be tackled by scientific and technological breakthroughs. The German government, for instance, launched its High-Tech Strategy 2020 (HTS 2020) in 2006 with the aim to make Germany a leader when it comes to solving global challenges (climate/energy, health/nutrition, mobility, security, communication) and providing convincing answers to urgent questions of the 21st century. The German Strategy for Internationalisation of Science and Research stresses that, to realise optimised solutions to these challenges, it is necessary to leverage science and innovation potential worldwide. In the same vein, the Europe 2020 strategy and its flagship initiative “Innovation Union” aim at refocusing R&I policy on the challenges facing society, and the EU Cohesion Policy 2014-2020 asks the member states and regions to develop innovation strategies for smart specialisation. The ‘entrepreneurial process’ of developing regional innovation strategies for smart specialisation (RIS3) (Foray et al. 2009) focuses on unique regional assets with a view to developing competitive products and services in international markets. If the different RIS3 are developed in alignment with the European context, synergies can be leveraged to further develop the European Research Area.

Against this backdrop, clusters as local nodes of global knowledge flows and ‘innovative hot-spots’ in globalised value chains provide the base not only for developing technological answers to the urgent problems of the 21st century but also for producing adequate, strategic knowledge for cutting-edge (and trans-regionally aligned) R&I programming (Sautter/Clar 2008). In 2007, the German government launched the ‘spitzen’-cluster competition as the flagship of the HTS 2020 and cornerstone of the national Strategy for the Internationalisation of Science and Research to support the development and implementation of future-oriented R&I strategies. The overall objective is to tackle key societal challenges and thus position the ‘spitzen’-clusters in the global knowledge economy and make them attractive for talented, creative people as well as innovative companies and forward-looking investors. MicroTEC Südwest in Germany’s south-western state of Baden-Württemberg and one of the winners of the competition started a forward-looking cluster strategy process inspired by the Strategic Research Agenda of the European Technology Platform on Smart Systems Integration (EPoSS), and focused on the priority fields of the German HTS 2020: climate/energy, health, mobility, security, communication.

‘Spitzen’-Cluster Strategy on Smart Microsystems Technology (MST) Solutions to Global Challenges

The MicroTEC Südwest cluster, closely linked withneighbouring parts of France and Switzerland, covers the competences needed along the value chain of the GPT (General Purpose Technology) miniaturised systems: from basic research, for instance in nano-, micro- or bio-technologies, to the design and production of smart microsystems, to the integration of such systems in ‘intelligent’ products (e.g. driver assistance systems in cars or point-of-care diagnostic systems in the healthcare sector). Besides global players like Bosch and Roche Diagnostics, the 350 actors involved in the cluster include top universities and research centres, and many small and medium-sized enterprises.

In order to focus the different competences on synergistic R&I investments, a ‘spitzen’-cluster proposal was developed with two application-oriented priorities to generate breakthrough innovations in global lead markets (health and mobility) and two technology-related priorities to develop and produce next generation microsystems for future fields of application. The funds (50-50 public-private) for implementation amount to nearly 90 million EUR, from national and regional ministries, regional bodies and enterprises.

The MicroTEC Südwest proposal was highly evaluated in the competition not only for the quality of its research projects but also for its additional structural projects on innovation support, qualification and recruitment, internationalisation and the STRATCLU strategy process.

From Ad-hoc Strategy Building to Systematic Learning Cycles

The STRACLU project has been set up to advance the successful ‘spitzen’-cluster project and to broaden and consolidate the participative decision-making process in the cluster. Stakeholder groups (cluster board, strategy panel etc.) have been established and strategic policy intelligence (SPI) tools combined in a learning cycle with three main stages:

· Stock-taking (incl. outward-looking): Review of cluster position in the global context (major SPI tools: audit, evaluation, benchmarking)
· Forward-looking: Longer-term perspectives & priorities (foresight, impact assessment)
· Action-planning: Roadmaps with milestones and specific joint actions (roadmapping, GOPP)

An operational learning cycle has been put in place as well to monitor the implementation of the joint actions. With these learning cycles, STRATCLU both guides individual actors in their strategic decision-making and develops MicroTEC Südwest itself into a learning ‘smart innovation system’, which continuously

· identifies global challenges and promising future markets,
· formulates long-term and ‘open’ RTDI strategies for smart MST-based solutions,
· builds local competences and capacities, looks for strategic partners along global value chains,
· encourages key local and global actors to join forces in common strategies and thus
· ensures long-term success in global competition.

MicroTEC Südwest AGENDA 2020+

Related to the national priorities of the HTS 2020, and based on detailed science and market analyses, the investigation and discussion of global trends and an assessment of their specific impacts along the strategic learning cycle (fig. 1), the MicroTEC Südwest strategy panel prioritised a joint AGENDA 2020+ with the following five major crosscutting priority fields for R&I, and an additional focus on cross-industry innovation and education and training.

These five R&I-related priority fields for smart MSTbased solutions address and leverage synergies across all key application fields (in particular with regard to the national priorities of the HTS 2020).

This topic was assessed as the most relevant. The renaming of the microsystems technology (MST) division of the German Ministry of Education & Research into Demographic Change: Human-Technology Interaction in the context of the German BMBF Foresight Process (Cuhls 2010) underlines the relevance of this issue. The big challenge is to develop smart MSTbased solutions adapted to people’s needs and providing them with real value added.

Here, the focus is on the integration of smart systems in superior systems: from smart systems to smart things like cars to comprehensive systems such as the transportation system (cf. cyber-physical systems or Internet of Things). The big challenge is to handle the increasing complexity that comes with a higher degree of system integration.

Energy converters (e.g. important for energy harvesting) and storage along with self-sustaining systems are preconditions to realise the systems-of-systems approach and to develop mobile and functional intelligent devices.

In the future, the production of smart systems and things has to be closely related to mass-customisation in order to provide the users (consumers) with wellcustomised and cost-efficient solutions.

Resource efficient production and consumption systems, total life cycle assessment (including the recycling stage) etc. are important issues in this priority field.

Roadmaps to Tackle Societal Challenges

Continuing along the strategy cycle, the AGENDA 2020+ provides the strategic framework for roadmapping exercises at multiple levels: Cluster actors develop R&I roadmaps towards market-focussed and MST-based breakthrough innovations to tackle societal challenges in prioritised joint action areas (e.g. in personalised medicine, factories of the future or green cars). These roadmaps will be aligned with other roadmaps, for instance of the European Technology Platforms EPoSS or MINAM, and integrated in the MicroTEC Südwest Cluster Roadmap 2020+, which involves also horizontal support measures like qualification, recruitment etc. and will be communicated to public and private investors (‘agenda setting’). Furthermore, the roadmaps will be transferred to SMEs in the cluster to support them in their own longer-term business development and R&I investment strategy.

Taking a Big Step Towards Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth

The participative forward- and outward-looking strategy process in the German ‘spitzen’-cluster MicroTEC Südwest shows successfully how regional R&I consortia can share and utilise strategic knowledge to identify joint priorities for longer-term, synergistic investments and collective actions. By enabling actors to systematically develop future strategies together, to asses them and develop actorspecific, synergistic approaches to successful implementation, the overall risk of longer-term R&I investments can be reduced significantly, for the current participants and for foreign direct investment.

The strategy approach of MicroTEC Südwest meets the needs of (new) future-oriented, multi-actor, multigovernance level and multi-sector R&I policies in manifold ways. First, it focuses local competences in a general purpose technology on tackling grand societal challenges with the aim of entering global markets. Second, it strives to attract complementary competences and foreign direct investment from other regions, and to work together with strategic partners along global value chains. Third, it combines ‘bottom-up’ with ‘topdown’ activities by taking up and assessing external inputs from a regional perspective: for instance, the German High-Tech Strategy or the BMBF Foresights, European and other R&I policies and strategy processes, such as Joint Programming Initiatives or the Japanese NISTEP Delphis, respectively. Against this backdrop, the MicroTEC Südwest approach can be seen as a test bed for an ‘entrepreneurial process’ suggested by the European Commission to develop regional smart specialisation strategies and to capitalise on them to advance the European Research Area.

To fully benefit from the regional assets across Europe, strategic capacity building has to be strengthened, not only in Europe’s world-class clusters. If more clusters such as MicroTEC Südwest develop and align their longer-term strategies in order to raise, structure and optimise overall private and public (EU, national, regional) investments, with one focus on pooling forces and jointly tackling common challenges, a big step could be taken towards smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Download: EFP Brief No. 232_STRATCLU.

Sources and References

Cuhls, K. (2010): The German BMBF Foresight Process, in European Foresight Platform, EFP Brief No. 174.

Foray, D., David, P.A. and Hall, B. (2009): “Smart specialisation: the concept”, in Knowledge for Growth: Prospects for science, technology and innovation, Report, EUR 24047, European Union.

OECD (2005): Governance of Innovation Systems: Volume 1: Synthesis Report, OECD Publishing.

Sautter, B., Clar, G. (2008): Strategic Capacity Building in Clusters to Enhance Future-oriented Open Innovation Processes, in The European Foresight Monitoring Network, Foresight Brief No. 150.

Web links for more information:

www.microtec-suedwest.de

www.smart-systems-integration.org

www.minamwebportal.eu

www.era.gv.at/space/11442/directory/11767.html

www.steinbeis-europa.de/rsi.html

www.steinbeis-europa.de/stratclu_en.html

EFP Brief No. 223: Analysing Long-term Trends of a Post-industrialised Society: The Case of Finland

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

This study contributes to building FTA capacities for systemic and structural transformations. Increasing scientific and societal concerns have been raised about the adequacy of current measures of economic performance, in particular that of GDP. Current de-growth discussion summarises the implications. We do not propose a concrete vision but emphasise the need to make it a topic of futures discussions in EU development strategy. An empirical Finnish case study attests to the vital need to revise the current statistical evaluations of European welfare and economic growth processes.

The De-growth Scenario:
Policy Implications for the EU

The Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress have been discussing new social welfare evaluation tools. European societies have been locked into socio-economic thought dominated by progressive growth economics. The hegemony of this kind of one-sided thinking has made imaginative thinking outside the box almost impossible. The de-growth topic has become a major international subject of debate, not just within the counter-globalisation movement but throughout the world. The big question is: What are the implications of ‘de-growth’ for the European Union and its policies? Do we need new sustainable macroeconomic policies that go beyond the Lisbon and Europe 2020 strategy?

In traditional mainstream economic policy, GDP (gross domestic product) and GDP per capita are often used as measures of national welfare. Although not originally designed for this task, they have become normative benchmarks of economic and social performance (Easterlein 1974). We have to acknowledge that relying on GDP can lead policymakers to draw wrong policy conclusions in the EU and in the EU member countries.

When Costs of Growth Exceed Benefits

For some time now, economists have been proposing a ‘threshold hypothesis’, the notion being that when macroeconomic systems expand beyond a certain size, the additional cost of economic growth exceeds the flow of additional welfare benefits (Daly & Cobb 1989). In order to support their findings, economists and scientists have developed a number of indexes to measure and compare the benefits and costs of growth (e.g., the index of sustainable economic welfare, ISEW and the genuine progress indicator GPI, etc.). In virtually every instance where an index of this type has been calculated for a particular country, the movement of the index appears to underline the validity of the threshold hypothesis. Philip Lawn (2003) has noted that by adopting a more inclusive concept of income and capital, these alternative new indexes are theoretically sound but require the continuous development of more robust valuation methods to be broadly accepted.

Making Indexes and Statistics Scientifically Sound

There is also ongoing scientific debate about the statistical correlations of gross domestic product (GDP), population, genuine progress indicator (GPI), index of sustainable economic welfare (ISEW), genuine saving (GS) and human development index (HDI) indicators. All these welfare indicators can be used in analysing the welfare and sustainability situation of the EU member countries. An interesting debate on the policy relevance of a set of indicators versus a single index has been going on for quite some time now. Both options have advantages and disadvantages:

  • A set of indicators is more appropriate for expert use, yet hard to communicate to the public and even more difficult to interpret because different indicators usually provide confusing signals.
  • A single index is a highly valuable instrument in political debates and setting targets as well as in communicating such targets to the public.

Nonetheless, the European Union’s macroeconomic planning and strategic decision-making requires active development of new relevant sustainability planning and evaluation tools and indexes. We cannot rely on just one index, GDP, in our welfare policy analyses.

New Approach in Statistical Analysis Needed

If the European Union wants to evaluate long-term sustainability of its macroeconomic development, new kinds of statistical analyses are needed. Our study is based on long-term statistics (years 1960-2009) for three key social welfare indicators; statistical analyses have been conducted for the same period for other variables (GS, HDI, and population) as well (Hoffrén 2001, Kekkonen 2010 and Lemmetyinen 2011). The long-term trends of key indicators have been analysed and a statistical correlation analysis between them has been carried out.

Our results support the validity of the threshold hypothesis, especially for the years following the oil crisis. Figure 1 demonstrates this in the case of Finland.
223_bild1
Figure 1

Novel Sustainability Evaluation Method to Improve Social Welfare Systems in the EU

The idea of the article is to propose a novel sustainability evaluation methodology for the European Commission and EU member countries. This statistical approach is evidence-based and gives new evaluation and planning information about critical sustainability trends in European Union. In our case study, the focus is on Finland and its sustainability trends. A similar kind of indicator-based sustainability evaluation should be done for all EU27 countries to improve the quality of European Union’s long-term sustainability policy and especially its social welfare policy.

De-growth Strategy for the European Union

For some authors, the very idea of sustainable development seems to be a contradiction in terms. It is not a big surprise that practice has shown unequivocally that it is not possible to reconcile economic growth with environmental sustainability. Some parts of the global scientific community, for instance those participating in the UNEP (see IPSRM-UNEP 2010), think that the Western lifestyle is damaging not only its own environment but also that of the poorer countries and the planet as a whole. In this context, the proposal of ‘sustainable de-growth’ has emerged as a strategy that aims to generate new social values and new policies capable of satisfying human requirements whilst reducing the consumption of resources. De-growth is a political, economic, and social movement based on environmentalist, anti-consumerist and anti-capitalist ideas. ‘Sustainable de-growth’ or ‘de-growth’ is not yet a formalised theory but rather a focal point for social movements, academia or politics to rally around (Latouche 2006).

Questioning the Consumption Paradigm

De-growth supporters have advocated the downscaling of production and consumption – the contraction of economies – as overconsumption lies at the root of long-term environmental issues and social inequalities. Key to the concept of de-growth is that reducing consumption does not require individual martyring and a decrease in well-being. Rather, ‘de-growthists’ aim to maximise happiness and well-being through non-consumptive means: sharing work, consuming less while devoting more time to art, music, family, culture and community. De-growth – in contrast to the idea of dematerialisation, which aims at a reduction of resource use while the economy continues to grow – goes further and means that significant reductions of resource use require fundamental changes in the production and consumption system.

The de-growth movement opposes economic growth, which has created many more poor people and has inevitably led to environmental degradation. From this perspective, the de-growth strategy opposes the Europe 2020 policy. In any case, the de-growth movement’s future success will depend on its capacity to generate coherent political responses and empirical results to shore up its proposals. This study contributes to tackling this challenge facing the de-growth movement.

The Finnish Case: Evidence for the Anti-Growth Strategy

In the case of Finland, we observe a negative correlation between GDP and GPI after the oil crisis years. Growth of GDP appears not to be connected with improved GPI development. GDP still correlates positively with GS and HDI. However, the correlation rates are much lower now than before the oil crisis.

When we discuss de-growth policy and its potential content, we must bear in mind that there are various aspects of welfare beyond economic growth alone. In the Finnish case, we can note that the linkage between GDP growth and welfare indicators is not as strong as it was before the oil-crisis period. Yet, we must also remember that the GDP indicator too includes immaterial and qualitative aspects of welfare. If we think of de-growth from this perspective, it is not a rational aim to radically minimise GDP growth. Probably we should try to find a “golden middle of the road solution”, which is a rather unadventurous or inoffensive path that does not go only one way or the other (neither de-growth nor growth mania).

Another policy conclusion from our empirical analysis is that GPI is a critical indicator for the de-growth movement because the GPI indicator provides empirical foundations for the anti-growth movement and its form of welfare thinking. In Figure 1, the trade-off curve of GDP and GPI is plotted for Finland for the years 1960-2009. The turning point of GDP and GNI  (Gross National Income) trends was in 1988. This year can be seen as a benchmark year because in 1988 Finland reached the peak level of welfare as measured by the GPI. Although GDP has grown in Finland, GPI has not increased since. Socially and politically the situation is most problematic.

Dynamics of Economic & Social Development Have Changed Dramatically

In the study, a long time series (years 1960-2009) was initially analysed by Pearson correlation analysis. Subsequently, the time periods before the oil crisis (years 1960-1972) and the time period after the oil crisis (1973-2009) were analysed in the same way. Six welfare indicators were correlated.

One key observation of this indicator study is that the dynamics of economic and social development in Finland have changed dramatically. We can expect similar structural changes to also have occurred elsewhere in the European Union. The GDP indicator was correlated in a different way before and after the oil crisis. The changes in the correlation tables are considerable, indicating substantial structural changes. We find support for the following analytical conclusions:

  • In the long run, the GDP correlates positively with five other indexes of the Finnish case study.
  • Before the oil crisis, positive correlations were strong between the GDP index and the other indices analysed.
  • After the oil crisis, however, our statistical analysis clearly supports the threshold hypothesis in the Finnish case. Especially the correlation between GDP and GPI has shifted dramatically in Finland after the peak year 1988.
  • A single aggregate index, such as GDP, is certainly a valuable means of communication for policy purposes. At the expert level, however, a set of indicators is a more appropriate toolbox, even though it may be harder to communicate and more difficult to interpret because of different and sometimes opposing signals. As this case study shows, a single aggregate index can lead to very problematic policy choices in the EU member countries.
  • There is a need to develop a sustainable de-growth strategy that goes beyond the Lisbon and Europe 2020 strategies. Many European governments may face a new situation where welfare indicators are developing in an undesirable direction although the GDP indicator shows economic growth and successful economic performance. This phenomenon was also observed in the Finnish case study.
  • Despite all theoretically and empirically motivated criticism of GDP as a social welfare and progress indicator, the GDP’s role in economics, public policy, politics and society seems to remain influential also in the future.

The European Union’s macroeconomic planning and strategic decision-making urgently calls for new sustainability planning and evaluation tools and indexes. We cannot rely on just one old and much criticised GDP index in our European welfare policy analyses. Relying on inadequate signals in coordinating common EU policies may very well lead member countries to make wrong policy decisions. We now need new macro-aggregates, such as ISEW and GPI, to foster our socio-economic performance and competitiveness.

In evidence-based policy making, the European Union should pay more attention to the underlying motivation of growth policy because what we understand as economic growth today does not necessarily contribute to welfare in any linear fashion. Our study is important because it shows that, if we evaluate welfare by the GPI index, this is precisely what has been happening in Finland: there is no longer any immediate link between economic growth and general social welfare. Especially under the Europe 2020 strategy process we need broader evidence that the political decisions taken are actually leading Europe toward improved welfare. The possibility that the threshold hypothesis adequately describes the reality in the European Union countries should be taken more seriously in various policy fields.

Confirming the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress

In a recent study, the Nobel prize-winning economists and professors Joseph E. Stiglitz, Amartya Sen and Jean-Paul Fitoussi (2009) (SSF report) urge the adoption of new assessment tools that incorporate a broader concern for human welfare than just economic growth. By their reckoning and insights, much of the contemporary economic disaster owes to the misbegotten assumption that policy makers simply had to focus on nurturing economic growth, trusting that this would maximise prosperity for all. The case study of Finland shows that this taken-for-granted assumption is too simplistic. In this light, the policy recommendations of SSF Report are highly policy relevant for the European Commission and EU member countries to achieve greater social welfare to actually improve the lives of their citizens.

Authors: Jukka Hoffrén            jukka.hoffren@stat.fi  Jari Kaivo-oja    jari.kaivo-oja@tse.fi   Samuli Aho            samuli.aho@tse.fi
Sponsors: Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC), University of Turku, Finland Statistics Finland, Finland
Type: National FTA exercise, Finland
Organizer: Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC), Electrocity, Tykistönkatu 4 D, 7th Floor, FIN-20520 TURKU
Duration: 2011
Budget: n.a.
Time Horizon: 2020
Date of Brief: October 2012

Download: EFP Brief No. 223: Analysing Long-term Trends of a Post-industrialised Society: The Case of Finland

Sources and References


Aldrich, J. (1995): Correlations genuine and spurious in Pearson and Yule. Statistical Science 10 (4), pp. 364–376.

Daly, H. & Cobb, J. (1989): For the Common Good. Beacon Press, Boston.

Easterlin, R. (1974): Does economic growth improve the human lot? In: David, P., Weber, R. (Eds.), Nations and Households in Economic Growth. Academic Press, New York.

Hoffrén, J. (2001): Measuring the Eco-efficiency of Welfare Generation in a National Economy. The Case of Finland. Statistics Finland Research Reports 233. Helsinki. And update by Hoffrén (2011).

Kekkonen, E. (2010): Hyvinvoinnin ja edistymisen kuvaaminen yhdistelmäindikaattorilla: Suomen kestävän yhteiskunnan indeksin laskenta. Master’s Thesis. University of Helsinki. Department of Economics. Helsinki.

Latouche, S. (2006): Le Pari de la Décroissance. Fayard. Paris.

Lawn, P.A. (2003): A theoretical foundation to support the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), and other related indexes. Ecological Economics 44 (2003), pp. 105-118.

Lemmetyinen, I (2011): Genuine Savings – indikaattori Suomelle. Master Thesis. Aalto University. Helsinki School of Economics. Helsinki.

Rättö, H. (2008): Hyvinvointi ja hyvinvoinnin mittaamisen kehittäminen. Statistics Finland. Research Reports 250. And update version by Hoffrén (2011). Helsinki.

Stiglitz, J.E., Sen, A. & Fitoussi, J.-P. (2009): Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. France.

EFP Brief No. 211: Towards Transformative Innovation Priorities

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

This brief synthesises the findings of forward-looking activities that were recently carried out in different European countries with a focus on research and innovation. In order to structure the activities’ outcomes, a framework is used that distinguishes different types of outcomes. The findings of the activities are then presented along this framework. The last section suggests some conclusions for European-level, challenge-driven research and innovation priority setting. The study was conducted for the expert group Global Europe 2030-2050 http://ec.europa.eu/research/social-sciences/fwl-experts-groups_en.html and financed by the European Commission’s Social Science & Humanities Programme.

National Innovation Priorities Addressed

The countries in focus were France, UK, Germany, Spain, Poland, Finland, Ireland, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and the region of Flanders. All nine activities adopted forward-looking methods for a structured assessment of possible pathways for research and innovation. All activities were based on intense involvement of experts and stakeholders with diverse backgrounds. Some adopted very large-scale participation and reached out to broad publics (FORSK2015, NL Horizon Scan); others were more confined to core actors with specific expertise (UK TIF, T&I Flanders, BMBF Foresight). Moreover, some of the activities aimed at generating possible pathways of change within a certain time horizon or even pursued fully fledged country scenarios, as in the case of Poland and Ireland. Others were more interested in scanning signals pointing towards relevant changes (Foresight.fi, NL Horizon Scan), and again others sought to collect and assess a wide range of proposals for research and innovation (R&I) topics (FORSK2015, FNR, ClésTech).

While some of the activities focused on assessing technological trends (ENCYT2020, T&I Flanders, ClésTech) others adopted a very broad perspective on up-coming socio-economic change and its consequences for research and innovation (France 2025, Poland2020). Other activities put particular emphasis on linking established realms of research and innovation, on the one hand, and areas of need and problems in new future-oriented ways (BMBF-Foresight, NL Horizon Scan).

With this rich diversity of approaches, all selected activities have one ultimate goal in common: defining a research and innovation agenda that best addresses future needs. Most of the activities used a set of criteria for assessing RTI topics composed of global challenges, on the one hand, and national objectives, on the other. Thus, the synthesis may well provide valuable insights on the challenges ahead when orienting research and innovation towards the grand societal challenges of our times, as envisaged in the European Innovation Union Initiative.

Categorising Future Research & Innovation Priorities

In the synthesis the categories will be used as follows:

Research and innovation topics: Specific topics for research and innovation assessed as highly future relevant and therefore to be prioritised. Due to the nature of the activities, these topics usually stem from engineering and natural science realms. Example: Metamaterials (UK TIF).

Application domains: Domains and sectors where significant applications of the technology and innovation areas are expected. Example: Transport (ENCYT, UK TIF).

Socio-economic change signals: Changes in society and economy assessed as highly relevant for priority setting in research and technology innovation (RTI). Example: New forms of ownership (Foresight.fi, UK TIF)

“Grand Challenges”: Major challenges for society expected to drive the research and innovation agenda in the future. Example: Need for preservation of ecosystem services (FORSK2015, FNR)

Crosscutting priority areas: Proposed RTI focus areas linking several elements out of the four previous aspects. Example: Manufacturing on demand (UK), ProductionConsumption2.0 (Germany)

Some activities contribute in depth to one of the categories; others address two or more aspects as illustrated in Figure 1.

Converging Topics

Despite national specificities and differences among the countries, a certain convergence of R&I priorities can be observed. Topics related to energy transition as well as sustainable patterns of production and consumption are high on the agenda of several countries followed by health related topics and information and communication technologies.

Signals of Socio-economic Change

A number of the activities emphasise socio-economic change as a key element of the innovation arenas. In particular, several activities point out the need to explore new forms of identity-forming, cultural diversification and community building to understand successful innovation pathways.

The Foresight.fi blog specifically considers changes in socio-economic patterns as a core part of research and innovation futures. Issues such as changing attitudes towards product ownership, identity formation, self-expression, changing innovation patterns, new concepts of work, new types of jobs, new work and communication attitudes, open data, open science, new growth models, information owner-ship/control are discussed at some length and seen as relevant drivers not only for society overall but also for the direction of technological innovation. Another study that considers socio-economic innovation in depth is the NL Horizon scan. Some of the proposed priority topics explicitly address socio-cultural research, focusing for example on the socio-cultural meaning of an aging population. Another cluster is dedicated to new forms of work and education. Two other topics deal with global political and economic changes. The UK TIF study deals in depth with intellectual property rights as an area of innovation in its own right.

Furthermore, the following areas of socio-economic change are mentioned as relevant for the research and innovation fields in at least three activities:

  • Values, lifestyles, behaviours, determinants of choices, in particular of coming generations
  • Social fabric (age, culture)
  • Patterns of consumption/use
  • Value creation patterns, business models
  • Conception of humanness
  • Economic patterns, growth models
  • Work/life patterns
  • Modes of governance
  • Public sector, transparency, open data
  • Science-society interaction, citizen participation
  • Modes of communication and trust building
  • Leadership challenges

Application Domains

The domains where the innovations are expected to be applied are similar in all activities. Across activities, there is a striking emphasis on food and agriculture, both in terms of security and safety and as a key aspect of environmental sustainability and culture. The other two top innovation target areas are energy and transport followed by health, housing, communication, education, public administration and security.

Some national differences can be clearly identified. France, for instance, is putting strong emphasis on agriculture whereas Luxembourg is focusing on multimedia and service innovation. Germany is innovating along traditional production paradigms whereas the UK is pushing innovative manufacturing technologies in combination with new service and business concepts. Finland is especially concerned with the future of the countryside.

“Grand Challenges”

Most of the activities did not explicitly attempt to define the grand challenges driving research and innovation activities but rather adopted them from well-known documents such as the Millennium goals. In one case (Ireland), competitiveness of national industry was used as the only relevant criterion, but also several other national activities chose technology and innovation areas with a strong emphasis on securing advantages over competing economies.

However, most activities saw the need to address global challenges as an important rationale for RTI priority setting and adopted a mix of selection criteria combining competitiveness and challenge-oriented criteria.

The following societal challenges are explicitly mentioned as drivers for RTI priority setting:

  • Energy (securing energy supply and decarbonising energy production through new sources and efficient use)
  • Counteracting climate change
  • Preserving biodiversity
  • Food safety and security
  • Preserving ecosystems services/securing a clean environment
  • Adapting to climate change
  • Securing water supply
  • Combating chronic and infectious diseases
  • Handling global conflicts
  • Understanding and dealing with changes in social fabric, in particular demographic change but also diversity
  • Ensuring well-being and quality of life
  • Ensuring resource security

Towards Socio-technical Breakthrough

None of the activities highlights one particular technology area as likely to yield radical breakthrough innovations in the near or mid-term future. However, most activities aim towards breakthrough transformations in key innovation arenas through alignment of innovations from technological and socio-economic realms in order to achieve change in addressing societal challenges. By definition, such transformative priorities require research across engineering, natural and social sciences as well as the humanities, as they target aligned social and technological breakthrough innovation rather than just isolated technological change.

The synthesis offered here focuses on the most striking convergences within the national foresight activities. Accordingly, the transformative priority arenas outlined below are far from covering all relevant topics for research and innovation identified by the activities.

Conclusions for the Innovation Union

The transformative priorities emerging from the national forward-looking activities outlined in the previous section directly link with the “grand societal challenges” addressed in the Lund declaration and the Innovation Union initiative. Moreover, they are perfectly in line with the Innovation Partnerships proposed by the Innovation Union Flagship, both in terms of set-up and content. In particular, the areas Smart Cities and Smart Mobility as well as Agricultural Sustainability outlined by the Commission Communication fit well into the framework presented in this paper. But also the challenge-driven approach, the strong role of social innovation and the need to go beyond the “technology focus of the existing instruments” fit with the Innovation Union approach.

Transition Arenas Must Not Be Isolated

Several of the societal challenges are closely interlinked. It is obvious that the evolution of living spaces is closely tied to the underlying infrastructures and energy sources, which again co-evolve with the patterns of production and consumption. Therefore, the transition arenas cannot be easily separated. Optimising one aspect without taking into account the other is bound to fail, as several activities point out using the example of potential conflicts of biodiversity and bio-resource use.

Cultural Diversity Matters

Although several activities converge around certain socio-technical breakthrough arenas, the meaning is still different in each cultural context. This is obvious in the case of the living spaces of the future. Even though some countries have proposed almost identical priorities, the main concerns behind these propositions differ: The Fins are very much concerned with life in the countryside as a key element of their culture; the Dutch in turn expect to free space by changes in agricultural use and think of new possibilities for making good use of scarce space; the French focus is on the future of agriculture and food quality whereas the Germans, with their recent experience of shrinking cities in Eastern Germany, are considering flexible spaces to adapt to changing life-styles. Similar observations hold for all other transition arenas. Accordingly, when acting at the European level, “normalising” national diversity into one-size-fits-all approaches is bound to fail. The rich diversity needs to be kept as a particular strength.

Defining and Implementing Transformative Priorities Requires Participatory Processes

Transformative breakthrough priorities, as suggested here, are not a purely a matter of science and technology but involve substantial social and cultural innovation. Accordingly, they cannot be addressed through research alone but require aligned social and technological experimentation. This again cannot be enforced by top-down priority setting in the realm of science and technology. Participatory processes involving not only researchers and engineers but also European citizens are needed to define the adequate designs for these experimental spaces. The activities investigated here give some indications how this could be done, also at the European level. In particular, the Netherlands Horizon Scan and the Danish Forsk2025 seem to offer feasible routes for orienting research and innovation in society and technology towards shared goals by a creative and participatory linking of problems and solutions.

Authors: Philine Warnke                               Philine.Warnke@isi.fraunhofer.de
Sponsors: European Commission, DG Research
Type: Overview Brief
Organizer: Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (FhG-ISI)
Duration: 2011 Budget: N/A Time Horizon: 2020-2025 Date of Brief: Feb 2012

Download EFP Brief No. 211_Towards Transformative Innovation Priorities

Sources and References

National forward-looking activities covered:

France: France2025 http://www.strategie.gouv.fr/article.php3?id_article=811

Germany: BMBF-Foresight http://www.bmbf.de/en/12673.php

UK: UK TIF Technology and Innovation Futures UK Growth Opportunities for the 2020s

Spain: ENCYT2020 Estrategia Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (ENCYT) 2020. Ejercicio de Prospectiva a 2020

Poland: Poland2020 Edwin Bendyk: Poland 2020. A Look from the Future. Alternative Visions of Poland’s Development Based on the National Foresight Programme Poland 2020 Scenarios

Flanders: T&I Flanders Technology and Innovation in Flanders: Priorities. Summary Report and Recommendations. http://www.vrwi.be/en/publications/study-18a

Finland: Foresight.fi http://www.foresight.fi/

Ireland: Ireland2025 Sharing Our Future: Ireland 2025 – Strategic Policy Requirements for Enterprise Development

France: ClésTech Étude Technologies clés 2010 http://www.industrie.gouv.fr/techno_cles_2010/html/sommaire.php

Luxemburg: FNR FNR FORESIGHT – THINKING FOR THE FUTURE TODAY. http://www.fnrforesight.lu/

Netherlands: NL Horizon Scan: Horizon Scan Report 2007: Towards a Future Oriented Policy and Knowledge Agenda

EFP Brief No. 172: Future Scenarios for the Spanish Sustainable Development Model

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

This brief report describes a scenario design exercise undertaken to study the future evolution of the sustainable development paradigm and its possible implications for the Spanish development model. For this purpose, three scenarios were built for a time horizon extending to 2025, displaying possible alternative economic, energetic, technological and environmental contexts. Finally, scenario implications were determined for the social, economic, territorial and governance models in the Spanish context.

Is Spain Ready for a Sustainable Lifestyle?

Since the Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development (SD) as “the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987), this concept has gained universal acceptance among the general public. Moreover, a growing number of socio-economic and political agents are said to be conscious about the need of pursuing more sustainable urban development. However, the relative novelty of this concept and the fact that it has only recently gained widespread social acceptance have not yet permitted to assess with rigour the reciprocal relations that might develop between the sustainable development paradigm and general behaviour in society.

Although nowadays many public administrations and private companies are assessing the implications of sustainable development in their daily activities with more or less intensity, there is not much relevant research about future citizen behaviour toward the SD concept. The lack of studies on this issue may be explained by two major difficulties: unmanageable complexity and high uncertainty.

The first difficulty is due to the diverse and complex behaviour of social groups toward sustainable development in their daily or sporadic vital activities. This level of complexity is aggravated by the fact that the sustainability paradigm also influences and transforms patterns of social behaviour. In other words, we are faced with a circular relation where social attitudes affect sustainable development while the paradigm in turn induces certain types of social behaviour. We must therefore recognise the unquestionable difficulty of assessing the impact of the concept of sustainability on our development models.

The second difficulty refers to the existing high level of uncertainty whenever the future evolution of social behaviour is to be predicted with regard to the sustainable development issue in advanced and prosperous societies. Even if we know the principles and values that presently guide the vital functions of social groups in a certain territory, they can fairly easily change in a short period of time, breaking with historical patterns. Additionally, there is a tendency to ignore the future evolution of environmental factors such as climate change or the availability of energy resources, which surely will significantly influence social behaviour. Therefore, any attempt at anticipating a single and officially accepted scenario of the future of socio-cultural behaviour patterns, economic systems, governance models, and land use patterns in contemporary societies suffers from a lack of plausibility.

What Business Opportunities Can Sustainability Bring?

The study pursued three major objectives:

(1) to design global scenarios for the future evolution of social behaviour toward the sustainable development paradigm in a 15-20 year horizon;

(2) to determine the implications of the scenarios for Spain’s development; and

(3) to identify new business opportunities involved in providing goods and services related to the concept of sustainability.

Constructing Future Scenarios

From the existing foresight tools, scenario design was chosen to carry out this research project because it most adequately allowed taking the complexity and uncertainty of social behaviour toward sustainable development into consideration while it at the same time enabled unfolding alternative futures. A scenario may be defined as a tool for arranging perceptions of the future, thus helping to shape an outlook with a wide perspective in a world of great uncertainty. This foresight technique is eminently qualitative; it combines intuition and rational analysis, and it usually requires the collaboration of a group of experts.

The chosen method for this foresight exercise was organised sequentially in four stages (see Figure 1): (1) characterise the sustainable development concept; (2) identify and assess the most relevant change trends that may affect sustainable development; (3) design future scenarios for the evolution of sustainable development; (4) determine scenario implications for development models. This approach rested on an ongoing and systematic process of participation and evaluation by experts in areas related to sustainable development.

Engagement of Experts

In the course of the study, more than 30 experts from private companies and public organizations participated in assessing trends and determining the implications of scenarios for the sustainable development model. Expert involvement either took the form of personal interviews or participation in focus groups.

Three Scenarios for Spain

In an initial step toward scenario design, various critical uncertainties were grouped around two axes:

  • The vertical axis represents possible alternative responses of society to the concept of sustainable development in the future. This axis encompasses all future uncertainties related to social behaviour, economic models and public policies toward SD.
  • The horizontal axis shows the availability of resources to achieve the goals of sustainable development in the future. This axis includes all critical uncertainties regarding the abundance or scarcity of technological, economic, human, institutional and natural resources.

In the space defined by those axes, we can identify three distinct scenarios, which pose a number of challenges to the Spanish development model (see Figure 2).

Scenario A: Green Paradigm (circa 2025). This scenario can be expected when, on the one hand, there is a proactive and favourable response from public and private agents toward SD and, on the other, there are abundant resources of all types to achieve sustainable development. “Green Paradigm” assumes an environmentally conscious society in which most citizens participate in public decision-making.

Spanish society would have to meet a number of challenges in order to prosper in this scenario. First, an education system capable of promoting sustainability, innovation and solidarity values is required. Second, a diversity of new social demands of a very heterogeneous population have to be satisfied but without risking sustainability principles. Third, an economic model based on respect for the environment and supported by responsible consumption must be developed. Fourth, measures promoting cooperation between business and government must be implemented in order to make an easier transition toward less polluting and more eco-efficient technologies. Fifth, mobility patterns have to be transformed by applying technological innovations to transport systems. Sixth, an advanced and transparent governance model is required favouring citizen participation, co-ordination among different administrative levels and public-private co-operation. Seventh, planning and implementing advanced territorial policies are needed that support Spanish society in developing toward more sustainable arrangements. Eighth, management of companies and public bodies must be improved so that they internalise environmental costs by applying sophisticated environmental evaluation tools.

Scenario B: Predator Development (circa 2025). This scenario unfolds in a context in which resources of all types are abundant, but at the same time public and private agents are either slow or passive in reacting to sustainability challenges. “Predator Development” represents a society that disregards environmental issues as not critical compared to its economic and consumption needs. The successive emergence of technological innovations seems to conjure away environmental threats and tends to relax a society indulging in exuberant consumerism.

Scenario B challenges underline the need to correct the strong environmental and social impacts generated by an economic model based on a philosophy of growth. First, formulas need to be established for satisfying social needs in an environment where individualism and intolerance prevail. Second, an ample array of products and services must be provided to facilitate day-to-day tasks in a society geared toward a culture of rapid change and instant satisfaction. Third, Spanish companies must be competitive enough to successfully operate in global markets. Fourth, the Spanish economy’s dynamism has to be fed by providing abundant and inexpensive energy sources. Fifth, effective technological innovations have to be developed to take full advantage of nuclear energy and to exploit coal reserves. Sixth, strong demand for passenger and goods mobility must be accommodated by construction of new transport infrastructures with low environmental impact. Seventh, public administrations need to make widespread use of new technologies to guarantee transparent decision-making, streamline administrative procedures and facilitate citizens’ access to public services. Eighth, effective legislation in the field of urban development is required in order to counterbalance real estate excesses.

Scenario C: Back to Basics (circa 2025). According to this scenario, there is a significant shortage of all types of resources due to a prolonged recession, but, at the same time, Spanish society as a whole is inclined to support sustainable development models. “Back to Basics” elaborates a scenario of failure of the current development model that leads to social tension and frustration.

Scenario C confronts Spanish society with a number of challenges that call for a radical transformation of the old development model. First, new initiatives must be launched to restrain immigration flows by promoting development in third world countries. Second, family structures and other social networks have to be reinforced to counterbalance the negative effects of the economic crisis. Third, a new education system must be set up to foster new social and environmental values. Fourth, commercial marketing has to be aligned with new social and environmental values. Fifth, strong structural measures have to be adopted to get the economic system on track toward a more sustainable paradigm. Sixth, energy consumption per capita needs to be reduced by changing patterns of demand. Seventh, a clear and strict normative framework needs to be established forcing companies and public bodies to internalise environmental costs. Eighth, a strong government with broad public backing must be formed to implement effective policies against the economic and environmental crisis. Ninth, citizen participation and co-ordination among public administrations must be required by law and be additionally supported by public pressure. Tenth, joint action by public administrations, the third sector and the private sector are needed to cover growing social needs provoked by a systemic crisis.

Bringing Change to Social and Cultural Behaviour

This foresight exercise on the future evolution of the Spanish sustainable development model has produced some interesting findings from the point of view of development policies.

Irrespective of whatever scenario materialises in the near future, whether the sustainability paradigm in Spain will be achieved to lesser or greater degree depends on the fulfilment of a number of prerequisites:

  • Climate scenarios must be designed to anticipate and discuss the possible impacts of climatic change on the country’s key economic activities, such as tourism, construction or the automotive industry.
  • Technology’s capabilities of solving future environmental and energy problems must be assessed with rigour and realism.
  • Strategically comprehensive and multi-sectoral territorial plans must be elaborated for achieving sustainability with a wide scope.
  • All public administrations – European, national, regional or local – must assume responsibility and make a profound commitment to implementing sustainable development at their level of authority.
  • Social consciousness and collective intelligence toward sustainability must significantly increase if social-cultural and consumption behaviour is to be changed in the desired direction.

In brief, Spain faces a big challenge to change social and cultural behaviour toward sustainable development, which involves improving citizen education and providing more information on the issue. Meeting this challenge implies significant changes in our day-to-day habits as in our governance and business models. Nevertheless, these changes will create new economic, social and environmental opportunities for Spanish society as a whole.

Author: José Miguel Fernández-Güell        josemiguel.fernandez@upm.es
            Sponsors: VALORA Consultores
Type: Scenario design on socio-environmental issues
Organizer: Fundación OPTI, Ana Morato, anamorato@opti.org
Duration: 06–12/2006 Budget: 57,000 Euros Time Horizon: 2025 Date of Brief: May 2010

 

Download EFP Brief No. 172: Sustainable Development Scenarios Spain

Sources and References

Fernández Güell, José Miguel (2006). Planificación estratégica de ciudades: Nuevos instrumentos y procesos. Barcelona: Editorial Reverté.

Fernández Güell, José Miguel (2004). El diseño de escenarios en el ámbito empresarial. Madrid: Editorial Pirámide.

Fundación OPTI y Valora Consultores (2007). Estudio de prospectiva sobre el comportamiento social ante el desarrollo sostenible. Madrid: Ministerio de Industria, Turismo y Comercio.

EFP Brief No. 167: The World in 2025

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

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

The World to Come – Global Trends & Disruptions

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

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

Group of Experts & Scenario Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Europe to Face Marginalization

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

Shift towards Asia

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

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

Scarcity of Natural Resources

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

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

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

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

Potential Conflicts, Threats and Wild Cards

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

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

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

What Experts Recommend to EU Policy Makers

Key RTD Areas

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

Europe Must Not Fall Behind in R&D

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

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

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

Effective Governance

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

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

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

Will the Looming Crisis Be Averted in Time?

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

Outlook: Socio-economics & Humanities Re-considered

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

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

Authors: Anette Braun                 braun_a@vdi.de

Axel Zweck                   zweck@vdi.de

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

 

Download EFP Brief No. 167_The World in 2025

Sources and References

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

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

http://ec.europa.eu/research/social-sciences/pdf/report-the-world-in-2025_en.pdf and

http://ec.europa.eu/research/social-sciences/pdf/the-world-in-2025-report_en.pdf

EFP Brief No. 149: EU-Africa Energy Partnership: Implications for Biofuel Use

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

This brief intends to provide an overview of the rationale underlying the EU-Africa Energy Partnership, in addition to an analysis of the potential implications of this policy on the development of sub-Saharan African nations. It is posited that the partnership could have potentially negative repercussions if critical uncertainties are not sufficiently taken into account, and that it is in the EU’s best interest to ensure that outcomes are genuinely equitable. The research also has implications for other developing nations around the world seeking to further their economies and raise living standards by means of engaging in the global biofuels industry.

Europe, Energy Security and Biofuels

It is widely acknowledged that the energy security of the EU, as a whole, is deficient with respect to meeting future energy requirements. At the same time, the EU has resolved to de-crease its carbon footprint and wean itself off from environ-mentally damaging fossil fuels. A further concern is that even if the developed world manages to arrest the proliferation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions the developing world will still continue to pollute.
To address these important issues, the EU has developed the EU-Africa Energy Partnership. The rationale, broadly speak-ing, is twofold:

  • Secure the EU’s energy supply and allow its member states to meet challenging emissions reduction targets.
  • Provide sub-Saharan African economies with a further export market, in addition to allowing these nations to leapfrog to lower-emissions technologies.

Although the partnership deals with renewable energy in its broadest sense, there appears to be great emphasis on the cul-tivation of biomass used in the production of renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, for which there is increasing demand within the EU. Despite the ostensibly sound intentions of the policy, it remains to be seen whether the energy partner-ship will truly be mutually beneficial.
The aim of this brief is to examine the critical uncertainties that could potentially damage the workability and equitability of the energy partnership. A key consideration, here, is that the partnership has seemingly been formulated under ceteris pari-bus conditions. Thus, the partnership’s success is predicated on the continuation of existing trends, such as growth in bio-fuel demand and the ability to cultivate biomass at market-friendly prices in the future. Yet, the increasing complexity of technological systems, the advent and potential adoption of new technologies, in addition to climate change, means that it cannot be assumed that all things will indeed remain equal.

EU Biofuel Policy

The EU has set targets for biofuel usage within the member states. Policy measures designed to stimulate biofuel use were introduced in 1992. The overall aim has been to reduce the cost of biofuels in comparison with conventional petroleum products, which otherwise would be higher given the produc-tion costs and economic risk associated with fluctuations in oil price and the value of biomass-derived by-products (Cadenas and Cabezudo, 1998).
The EU Commission set a political target of substituting 20 percent of conventional biofuels by 2020 (European Commis-sion, 2001, p. 45). The even more ambitious COM(2006)845 proposed that biofuel targets for transport fuel should be 20 percent for the same year. The EU Biofuels Directive (2003/30/EEC) requires member states to ensure that a mini-mum proportion of fuels sold are biofuels (see Faaij, 2006). The aim is to ensure that 5.75% of conventional fuels are re-placed by biofuels, although the Biomass Action Plan (BAP) has concluded that these targets will not be reached (Commis-sion of the European Communities, 2006, p. 6).
There is thus a growing requirement for biofuel production within the EU and indeed a growing demand for biofuels (es-pecially biodiesel). Since the EU member states do not have the capacity to increase biomass cultivation without causing an increase in food prices (a politically unpalatable outcome), it has been deemed necessary to look for alternative ways to satisfy this demand.

Energy Partnership

In this context, the EU-Africa Energy Partnership emerges as an important component of the EU’s aim to increase the use of bio-fuels for transport within the member states, thereby allowing the EU to meet challenging biofuel targets, contribute to global GHG mitigation strategies (such as Kyoto), and address concerns regarding energy security. The partnership is argued to be mutually beneficial, since it will also promote economic and social improvement in sub-Saharan African countries and allow such nations to switch to more environmentally friendly patterns of energy use.
The partnership is intended to promote greater interconnectiv-ity between energy systems and ensure a diversity of energy options (Commission of the European Communities, 2006, p. 15). Although there is reference to alternative energy sources, such as hydropower (ibid.), there is clearly an emphasis on greater biomass cultivation and biofuel production, perhaps to the detriment of other energy solutions.
Energy security is obviously an important component of the partnership. Sub-Saharan Africa thus has the ability to sup-plement volatile supplies (and pricing) of OPEC oil with bio-mass cultivated in the region. Although the sub-Saharan re-gion is also clearly not especially stable, it at least has the ca-pacity to offset some of the risk associated with dealing with OPEC countries.

Production Processes

Given the current high cost of second-generation biofuel pro-duction processes (which use the whole organic matter as a feedstock), it can be assumed that the bulk of the biofuel feed-stocks grown in sub-Saharan Africa would be used in arguably inefficient first-generation production processes. Here, only the sugars and starches (rather than the whole plant) are used for ethanol production, while only the extracted vegetable oil is used in biodiesel production (Charles et al., 2007).

Critical Uncertainties

It is necessary to look at the critical uncertainties that could impact on the success of the EU-Africa Energy Partnership.

Climate Change

The energy partnership, in as much as it relates to promoting sub-Saharan Africa as a source of biofuel feedstock, assumes that current climatic conditions will prevail. Yet climate change could mean that climatic conditions in areas currently suitable for agricultural endeavour might militate against prof-itable biomass cultivation.
There are a number of critical factors associated with climate change that need to be taken into account:

  • Increased uncertainty with regard to rainfall patterns: This will problematize when to plant and place pressure on water use, with potential social repercussions.
  • Increased and more severe meteorological phenomena: Floods could wipe out entire fields; storms could damage or destroy harvests, while uncontrolled fires (resulting from co-factors of drought, thunderstorm activity or hu-man action) could do likewise.
  • Increased incidence and severity of pestilence: Changed climatic conditions could make crops more susceptible to pests, thereby increasing the need to employ pesticides (with cost penalties and potential impact on the local envi-ronment and human health).

These factors, when taken together, suggest that it will be more difficult to plan for weather-related phenomena into the future. Thus, claims of increased energy security within the EU resulting from the partnership need to be tempered with the realization that traditional agricultural techniques do not guarantee constant and predictable harvests, while climate change may exacerbate uncertainty.

Environmental Impacts

Agriculture has brought about widespread environmental deg-radation around the world. Thus, it is important to bear in mind the potentially negative impacts that intensified farming practices will have on ecosystems in sub-Saharan nations, in addition to the region as a whole.
The possible factors that could lead to negative environmental impacts are as follows:

  • Increased use of fertilizers: Run-off from fertilizers in-creases the incidence of algal bloom in aquatic environ-ments; fertilizers lead to an increased level of atmospheric N2O harmful to the ozone layer; and fertilizer production and distribution is energy inefficient and contributes to greenhouse gas proliferation.
  • Increased use of pesticides: Pesticide run-off pollutes local watercourses, results in a loss of biodiversity when food supplies for higher organisms are reduced, can flow throughout food-chains, thereby leading to chemical build-up in higher organisms, especially avian fauna; pro-duction processes and distribution incur GHG penalties, can be harmful to human life and can contaminate water supplies (of particular importance in developing nations).
  • Increased threat of deforestation: Expanding biofuel mar-kets may prompt changes in land-use, potentially leading to deforestation, entailing significant biodiversity and CO2 penalties.

These factors could be aggravated if a greater demand for bio-fuels in the EU member states is occasioned and if changing weather patterns result in a need to ‘make hay while the sun shines’. Such a demand could effectively see the EU exporting local environmental degradation from its member states to sub-Saharan Africa. Environmental degradation could also lead to opportunity costs resulting from a loss of potential eco-tourism income.

Technological Change

Biofuels, at best, will be an important component in a future energy mix. There are no indications that biofuels will ever replace petroleum-derived products on a one-for-one basis (Di Lucia and Nilsson, 2007). Biofuels enjoy a clear advantage over other potential energy solutions, especially since they take advantage of existing infrastructural systems (Foresight Vehicle, 2004). This ensures that switching costs are reduced.
On the other hand, there is the threat that biofuels will be ren-dered redundant by other technologies. There is much evi-dence throughout history to suggest that over-reliance on a single natural resource for a nation’s prosperity is not sustain-able over the long-term. For example, Chile, which prospered on the basis of its export of sodium nitrate (saltpetre), lost this advantage when scientists developed a synthetic alternative.
Some threats to the increasing importance of biofuels are as follows:

  • Increase in use of nuclear energy (and thus ‘clean’ elec-tricity).
  • Switch to cleaner second- (and third-) generation biofuel production processes.
  • Development of a hydrogen economy (predicated on the availability of clean, renewable energy, such as from the sources listed below).
  • Other energy paradigms, for instance, geothermal, hy-droelectric, photovoltaic, wind etc.

Thus, over-capitalization in biomass cultivation for first-generation production processes (in particular) may lead to un-sustainable increases in foreign debt, in addition to severe job losses and resultant social upheaval. In a worst case scenario, more efficient technologies, if they become widely adopted around the globe, could lead to the biofuel industry’s collapse.

Opportunity Costs

Even if the biofuel industry remains important, over-emphasis on biomass cultivation could result in a failure to develop in-dustries that have the potential to contribute greater value added to sub-Saharan African economies. This would espe-cially be the case if insufficient attention were paid to process-ing the feedstock in sub-Saharan Africa, as could occur in na-tions traditionally focussed on exporting natural resources.
Biomass cultivation, in the event of an ever-increasing de-mand for biofuels, would not merely translate into sub-Saharan African countries gaining an OPEC-like significance on the world stage. This is especially the case given a) the potentially wide dispersal of biomass cultivation and b) the high likelihood that biofuels would remain one of several al-ternative energy solutions. African biomass would also have to compete with that cultivated in North and South America, and also in South-East Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Given that these regions are already more highly industrialized than most sub-Saharan African nations, it is plausible that greater value added would occur in these regions.
There is also a danger that biomass cultivation in sub-Saharan Africa could engender an increased dependency on multi-national corporations involved in agribusiness. There are al-ready substantial links to agriculture in developing nations and the research-intensive products, including seeds, support sys-tems and expertise, being offered by multinational agribusi-ness entities.

Export Commodity Dependency

Sub-Saharan Africa has a long history of supplying European nations with raw materials to be used in value-adding produc-tion processes. There is thus the potential for this situation to continue if Europe resolves to view the region merely as source of inexpensive feedstock for biofuel production, rather than as a knowledge-intensive producer in its own right.
Many of the economic and social problems faced today in sub-Saharan Africa are deeply rooted in history. When the Euro-pean colonial powers partitioned Africa, they viewed the colo-nies as suppliers of raw materials for their factories. Farmland traditionally used for food cultivation, even after the inde-pendence of the former colonies, was turned over to cash crops such as cocoa, cotton, coffee and rubber. The result was that Africa exported what it did not need, and imported what it did, thereby leading to substantial trade deficits and continued indebtedness (Carmody, 1998). This is because the low price obtained for cash crops rarely if ever matches the relatively high price paid for imported food, in addition to luxury goods and hardware desired by affluent members of society.
It is important to be awake to the potential for ongoing com-modity dependence to occur, especially if the EU pays insuffi-cient attention to developing sub-Saharan Africa as an energy producer rather than merely an agricultural supplier.

Investing in Sub-Saharan Future

It is possible to formulate a number of potential policy impli-cations that would add rigour to the energy partnership.

  • Moving away from first-generation biofuels: A continued emphasis on first-generation biofuel production processes reinforces sub-Saharan Africa as a supplier of cash crops.There are inherent problems with first-generation biofuel production processes. A failure to address these and move demand towards more efficient second-generation proc-esses could lead to a global undermining of confidence in biofuels as a source of renewable energy.
  • Ensuring environmental sustainability: This is tied closely to the previous consideration, but also with the necessity of preventing local and regional environmental degrada-tion as a result of poor farming practices or indeed wide-spread change in land-use. There is a need to develop mechanisms to ensure that increasing demand for biofuels within the EU does not lead to catastrophic environmental impacts in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Investing in sub-Saharan Africa’s future: The energy partnership should be used as a component in an overall strategy to enhance economic development in the region. A failure to do so will result in greater amounts of envi-ronmental degradation (including greenhouse gas emis-sions) over the long-term.

In short, the nations of the region need to acquire their own energy security and processing infrastructure. The EU-Africa Energy Partnership must serve as a vehicle to promote these ends. To achieve this end, sufficient political will over the long-term to propagate cleaner biofuel production processes is required. If not, the biofuels market could be irreparably com-promised and the partnership with it, with grave implications for not only the EU and sub-Saharan Africa, but also the planet as a whole.

 

Authors: Michael Charles michael.charles@scu.edu.au
Sponsors: Southern Cross University, Australia
Type: Single issue, energy policy
Organizer: n.a.
Duration: n.a.
Budget: n.a.
Time Horizon: 2018
Date of Brief: July 2008

Download: EFMN Brief No. 149_EU-Africa Energy Partnership

Sources and References

  •  Cadenas, A., and Cabezudo, S., 1998. Biofuels as sustain-able technologies: perspectives for less developed coun-tries. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 58(1–2), 83–103.
  • Carmody, P., 1998. Constructing alternatives to structural adjustment in Africa. Review of African Political Econ-omy 25(75), 25–46.
  • Charles, M.B., Ryan, R., Ryan, N., and Oloruntoba, R., 2007. Public policy and biofuels: the way forward? En-ergy Policy 35(11), 5737–5746.
  • Di Lucia, L., and Nilsson, L.J., 2007. Transport biofuels in the European Union: the state of play. Transport Policy 14(6), 533–543.
  • European Commision, 2001. Green Paper: Towards a European Strategy for Security of Supply. Directorate-General for Transport and Energy.
    http://ec.europa.eu/energy/green-paper-energy-supply/doc/green_paper_energy_supply_en.pdf
  • European Commission, 2006. Communication from the Commission: An EU strategy for Biofuels—Impact As-sessment. Commission Staff Working Document COOM (2006) 34 final.
    http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/biomass/biofuel/sec2006_142_en.pdf
  • Faaij, A.P.C., 2006. Bio-energy in Europe: changing technology choices. Energy Policy 34(3), 322–342.
  • Foresight Vehicle, 2004. Foresight Vehicle Technology Roadmap: Technology and Research Directions for Fu-ture Road Vehicles, Version 2.0.
    http://www.foresightvehicle.org.uk/public/info_/FV/TRMV2.pdf

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

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

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

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

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

Project Background

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

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

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

Workshop: US Families 2025

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

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

Four Alternative Futures

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

144_bild1

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

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

Selected Trends and Emerging Issues

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

Scenario Descriptions and Implications

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

1. Mr. And Mrs. Right Now

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

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

2. Marriage Marketplace

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

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

3.The New Waltons for the 21st Century

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

4. Desperate Housewives

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

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

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

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

Feminist Theory:
Alternative Family Futures  and Visions of Gender Equality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Search of Feminism in Public Discourse

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

 

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

Download: EFMN Brief No. 144_US Families 2025

Sources and References

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

EFP Brief No. 111: Horizons 2020 – Mapping the Future of Society, Economy & Government

Friday, May 20th, 2011

The report “Horizon 2020 – A thought-provoking look at the future” is a dialogue invitation rather than an attempt to provide another “traditional” strategic scenario very often aiming to lay out a roadmap for a predetermined outcome. The report in question differs from this approach in three respects. First, it aims at creating a basis for dialogue with the public at large. Second, it addresses a broad range of topics covering political, social, economical, environmental and technological issues. Third, the report offers two scenarios on the basis of an expert survey.

EFMN Brief No. 111 – Horizons 2020

EFP Brief No. 106: City 2030 – Shaping the City of the Future Guiding Principles, Scenarios and Concepts

Friday, May 20th, 2011

In the year 2000 the German Ministry of Education and Research initiated a programme inviting German cities to create principles and models for their long-term development. In cooperation with scientific institutions and experts, the cities were not only supposed to envisage possible or likely future scenarios, but also were asked to think about the goals they wanted to accomplish and criteria to evaluate their progress. All in all, the research network functioned as a research and learning laboratory. Not only cities participating in the exercises were able to profit from Cities 2030, but also cities and regions not participating in the programme benefited from the exchange of ideas and concepts.

EFMN Brief No. 106 – Cities 2030