Posts Tagged ‘strategy’

EFP Brief No. 245: Trend Database Design for Effectively Managing Foresight Knowledge

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

In 2010, the German Federal Government launched one of its largest research initiatives in the area of logistics and supply chain management with the central aim to secure tomorrow’s individuality, in the sense of mobility and distribution, with 75% of today’s resources. One of the projects, the ‘Competitiveness Monitor’ (CoMo) develops an innovative, webbased foresight platform, which supports strategic decision-making and contingency planning as well as competitive and environmental intelligence.

Sophisticated Architecture to Support Foresight Processes

The development of an innovative Trend Database (TDB) is part of an extensive cluster initiative that was launched by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research in June 2010. The ‘Effizienz­Cluster LogistikRuhr’, synonym for leading-edge cluster in logistics and mobility in the German Ruhr area, aims to boost innovation and economic growth in Germany by bridging the gap between science and industry (BMBF 2010). The cluster involves 130 companies and research institutes that cooperate in a strategic partnership in order to shape a sustainable future for the region and beyond. The determined challenges of future logistics (e.g., urban supply) are currently being addressed in more than 30 joint research projects. In this way, the cluster contributes to finding new ways to growth and employment that gear not only Germany’s but the European Union’s economy towards greater sustainability (see, e.g., Schütte 2010).

One of the joint research projects is developing an innovative foresight tool, the Competitiveness Monitor (CoMo), which will contribute to the validity and robustness of foresight activities by digitally combining quantitative and qualitative forecasting methods. The CoMo aims to enhance cooperation in multi-stakeholder environments through a fully integrated web-based software solution that utilises existing knowledge and users’ conceptions. The tool links several applications for forward-looking activities as well as the development, processing and storage of foresight knowledge. The goal is to provide decision-makers from business, academia and government institutions with a valid knowledge base for future-robust decision-making.

 

The CoMo consists of three innovative foresight tools – Trend Database, Prediction Market app and a Future Workshop (“Zukunftswerkstatt”) app – which are implemented in an IT-based Futures Platform (Figure 1). The Futures Platform will serve as login portal in form of a dashboard and can be adapted by each user according to his or her individual interest. Within the TDB, future-oriented numbers, data, and facts on specific logistics-related topics or technologies can be stored or collaboratively developed by its users. Furthermore, the TDB shall not only include trend-related data but also handle weak signals, wildcards and disruptive events. The high practicability of the Trend Database is planned to ensure filtering of the query results through an intelligent algorithm.
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Figure 1: Conceptual framework of the Competitiveness Monitor

Development of Trend Database Requirements

In the beginning of the TDB development process, we analysed and evaluated eight relevant TDBs in order to identify the state of the art. After that, we conducted several creative workshops and interviews with more than 40 interdisciplinary cluster partners and futures researchers to identify further requirements.

First of all, we compiled an extensive list of requirements and constraints in several participatory workshop sessions, which are considered relevant to our TDB. After conducting a requirement analysis according to the ‘Volere Requirements Specification Template’ (Robertson and Robertson 2006), we derived four categories and adapted them to the CoMo project concerns: (1) functional requirements, (2) non-functional requirements, (3) design requirements and (4) constraints. Whereas functional requirements describe the fundamental functions and processing actions a product needs to have, non-functional requirements are the properties that they must have, such as performance and usability. We clustered the final long list of 160 collected requirements in 9 categories as presented in the following:
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In the next step of the TDB development process, we conducted a stakeholder analysis in order to generate possible use cases. Different use cases were defined according to the specific needs and organisational structures of the CoMo project partners and members of the EffizienzCluster involved. In doing so, we were able to conceptually test and complement the identi-fied requirements and constraints.
Finally, we revised the results of the trend database analysis and specification analysis and summarised our research results in a specification sheet, which now provides a clear and structured collection of TDB features for the programming process of a prototype.

Challenges and Differentiators

For the identification of the key challenges, we evaluated best practices and innovative features of existing TDB concepts regarding their applicability and efficiency. For this purpose, we focused on the surrounding conditions and primary objectives of the presented TDB, determined by its purpose within the CoMo and the cross-project objectives of the leading-edge cluster. We identified four main challenges of utilising a TDB, which we will discuss in the following: (1) extent and quality of trend information, (2) cooperation within the TDB community, (3) linking mechanisms and (4) creating incentives for users.

Extensiveness and Quality of Trend Information

Most of the TDBs analysed provide an extensive set of opportunities to describe and evaluate a certain trend or future signal. Since it is hardly possible to decide without further knowledge about the user’s purpose or what the right amount of information is, we continued to compare the ways in which future knowledge is contributed to the TDB. We see two main strategies within the examined sample of TDBs: (1) input from experts and futures researchers or (2) active participation of the user community. In the latter strategy, information is revised and complemented by the community, which more accurately meets the CoMo objectives of realising cluster potentials. However, in case of low interest in a certain trend, the information may remain fragmentary and lack reliability.

The combination of both strategies seems to be promising since it ensures certain quality standards as the information provided is subject to scrutiny from two sides: an expert review process, on the one hand, and user participation, on the other. Against the background of all our analyses, we propose that providing a certain amount of trend specifications (e.g., short description, key words, time horizon etc.) should be obligatory when entering a trend into the TDB. In addition, the CoMo TDB is planned to offer a regulator for the ‘level of aggregation’, which will enable users to constrain the trend search results regarding time, geography, economic scale and further aspects.

Cooperation within the TDB community

The so-called “wisdom of the crowds” is based on the logic that many people (a “crowd”) know more than single individuals (Surowiecki 2004). Consequently, the sharing of knowledge can improve the knowledge basis of different stakeholders as well. Therefore, it is useful – particularly in dealing with future-relevant knowledge – to motivate users to co-operate and to develop their knowledge further.

Regarding our TDB architecture, users shall therefore evaluate trends in terms of impact or likelihood, participate in surveys or add further evidence or aspects to existing future-oriented knowledge (Kane and Fichman 2009). Especially the stakeholders of the leading-edge cluster, who are aiming to improve their competitive situation through collaboration, are interested in sustaining topicality, validity and relevance of future-relevant knowledge in the trend database. Our TDB is expected to contribute to an improved quality of data and provide a more accurate basis for decision-making processes.

Linking Mechanisms

The CoMo TDB will be linked in three dimensions. First, the trends within the TDB will be linked among each other. This supports users by providing a more comprehensive causal picture of the future and allows decision-makers to identify early warnings and weak signals. Second, the trend database is linked to two other CoMo apps: the Prediction Market and the Future Workshop. Both apps require raw data from the TDB for purposes of evaluation (i.e. prediction markets) or analysis (i.e. future workshops). Furthermore, they define data sources by providing new or evolved future-oriented knowledge, which needs to be re-imported into the TDB. Third, the trend database will be linked to external data pools. Facilitating the idea of linked data, relevant external information can be included, increasing the basis to be drawn on in making future-relevant decisions (Auer and Lehmann 2010). Thereby, we aim to link our dataset intelligently by attaching metadata using the Semantic Web approach. This not only facilitates the process of finding relevant and recent data but also enables identifying related topics.

Motivation of Users

In contrast to the traditional World Wide Web, the application of a Semantic Web offers information that can be sorted by relevance, topicality and quality (Berners-Lee, Hendler et al. 2001). However, the Semantic Web requires the linkage of datasets first. Therefore, users have to be encouraged to tag, for instance, the trend information as good as possible, and the community needs to be motivated to edit and complete the tagging process.

In the process of developing the CoMo TDB, we discussed several concepts and ideas to address the challenges involved in motivating users. One concept that is planned to be applied in the CoMo is the lead users approach (Leimeister, Huber et al. 2009) in which users are incentivized by an awareness of the measurability of their contributions. Considering that most of the existing trend databases use an expert-based concept instead, we infer that this was thought to be the only efficient way of providing and processing future-oriented knowledge so far. However, current tendencies, such as the disclosure of previously protected data (i.e. open source/innovation) or the increasing activity in social networks, suggest that existing concepts need to be adapted to the new requirements forward-looking activities must meet.

Metadata Approach Using the Semantic Web

Future-oriented knowledge as a basis for decision-making is always critical due to its inherent uncertainty. Therefore, innovative concepts and tools need to be developed in order to provide users with the most valid, relevant and up-to-date information possible. With our new TDB concept, we try to acknowledge current challenges such as motivation and collaboration of users, usability of information and modern linkage methods. To meet these challenges, we aim to link our dataset intelligently by attaching metadata using the Semantic Web approach. This not only facilitates finding relevant and recent data but also enables identifying related topics. However, the linkage of the data has to be conducted manually. Thus, motivating users to share their knowledge within the community is essential to provide an accurate and comprehensive picture of the future reflecting the wisdom of the crowd. Finally, we will design our TDB to present future-oriented knowledge in a sufficiently comprehensive and detailed manner with an emphasis on clarity and thereby aim to contribute significantly to the robustness and quality of future decisions.

Authors: Christoph Markmann                christoph.markmann@ebs.edu

Stefanie Mauksch                     stefanie.mauksch@ebs.edu

Philipp Ecken                           philipp.ecken@ebs.edu

Dr. Heiko von der Gracht          heiko.vondergracht@ebs.edu

Gianluca De Lorenzis                G.DeLorenzis@dilotec.de

Eckard Foltin                           eckard.foltin@bayer.com

Michael Münnich                       M.Muennich@brainnet.com

Dr. Christopher Stillings                        christopher.stillings@bayer.com

Sponsors: German Federal Ministry of Education and Research
Type: National foresight project
Organizer: EBS Business School / Center for Futures Studies and Knowledge Management (CEFU)
Duration: 2010 – 2013
Budget: € 2,300,000
Time Horizon: Long-term
Date of Brief: October 2011

Download EFP Brief No. 245_Foresight Trend Database Design

Sources and References

Auer, S. and J. Lehmann (2010). “Creating Knowledge out of Interlinked Data.” Semantic Web Journal 1.

Berners-Lee, T., J. Hendler, et al. (2001). “The Semantic Web.” Scientific American 284(5): 34-43.

BMBF (2010). Germany’s Leading-Edge Clusters. Division for New Innovation Support Instruments and Programmes. Berlin, Bonn, Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung / Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Kane, G. and R. Fichman (2009). “The Shoemaker’s Children: Using Wikis for Information Systems Teaching, Research, and Publication.” Management Information Systems Quarterly 33(1): 1-22.

Leimeister, J. M., M. J. Huber, et al. (2009). “Leveraging Crowdsourcing: Activation-Supporting Components for IT-Based Ideas Competition.” Journal of Management Information Systems 26(10): 187-224.

Robertson, S. and J. Robertson (2006). Mastering the Requirements Process, second edition. Amsterdam, Addison-Wesley Professional

Schütte, G. (2010). Speech by. Germany’s Leading-Edge Cluster Competition – A contribution to raising Europe’s profile as a prime location for innovation. State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research framework of the European Cluster Conference. European Cluster Conference. Brussels.

Surowiecki, J. (2004). The Wisdom of Crowds, Random House.

Note: The content of this publication is based on the joint research project “Competitiveness Monitor”, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (project reference number: 01IC10L18 A). Joint research project partners are Bayer MaterialScience, BrainNet, dilotec, EBS Business School. Responsibility for the content is with the author(s).

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

Friday, December 21st, 2012

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

Transforming the Higher Education System

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

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

Creating a Shared Vision

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

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

Bucharest Dialogues

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

Mutual Learning Workshops

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

Large-scale Participative Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elphi Platform

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

Measures of Change

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

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

Personalisation, Diversification, and Transparency as New Values

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

Innovative Aspects

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

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

Reform Approaches Find Society’s Consent

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

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

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

 

Sources and References

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

Rusu, Greece, Alexandroupoli: Democritus University of Thrace.

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

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

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

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

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

 

EFP Brief No. 240: BMBF Foresight

Friday, December 21st, 2012

The aim of the BMBF Foresight process that ran from 2007-2009 was to identify long-term priorities for German research and innovation policy with an emphasis on crosscutting systemic perspectives. The foresight process was meant to complement the German High-Tech Strategy, which had defined mission-oriented priority fields with a medium-term horizon. After the finalisation of the foresight process in 2009, an implementation phase with several interacting activities was launched in order to feed the results into other strategic processes. As a next step, BMBF set up an embedded, continuously learning foresight system with dedicated phases that will be repeated by all subsequent processes. Within this framework, the second foresight cycle was launched in early 2012.

Complementing the High-Tech Strategy

Before the first cycle of BMBF Foresight started in 2007, the German High-Tech Strategy (BMBF 2012a) had established a number of priority fields for research and innovation policy with a time horizon of 5-10 years. The foresight process was launched by the BMBF strategy department with the following main objectives:

· complement the High-Tech Strategy with a longer-term perspective on emerging technologies and potential priorities,

· identify emerging issues across established research and innovation fields,

· explore in which areas strategic partnerships might be required.

At this point in time, BMBF had not carried out any overarching foresight process since the FUTUR process (Giesecke 2005), which had been finalised in 2005. As some actors within BMBF had a rather critical view of FUTUR, an important additional objective of the new foresight process was to (re-)establish trust and confidence in foresight within the ministry. Accordingly, high emphasis was placed on communication within the ministry and early-on involvement of all BMBF departments that were potentially affected by the foresight outcomes. The foresight process was accompanied by a process and impact evaluation carried out by the Institut für Technologie und Arbeit (ITA).

Adopting a Technology Push Approach

As described in detail by Kerstin Cuhls in the preceding brief No.174 and in recent publications (Cuhls et al. 2009a), the methodology of the foresight process combined several elements. The most prominent approaches were

· environmental scanning including a literature survey and bibliometric analysis and

· expert interaction through interviews, workshops and a national online survey.

In parallel, a monitoring panel composed of international top experts was interviewed twice in the course of the process.

As requested by the ministry, the foresight process adopted a ‘technology push’ approach. In the first phase in particular, the process concentrated on identifying emerging technologies with long-term relevance to the German economy and society within the established realms of research and innovation. The criteria to assess ‘relevance’ were established in interaction with the ministry.

In the second phase, the emphasis of the foresight process was placed on a second set of objectives: the identification of key issues emerging across these established technology fields. For this purpose, the results emerging from the technology push analysis were systematically reviewed and mirrored against major societal challenges such as sustainability and health. In this way, the seven ‘new future fields’ were developed as described in the previous brief. These fields are characterised by a highly dynamic development at the interface of emerging solutions and societal demand.

Sharpening the Research Dimensions

Participants

In line with the science and technology push orientation of the foresight process, the participants were mainly research and technology experts, however, from diverse organisational and professional backgrounds. Along with the numerous national experts, ca. 20 highly renowned international experts from the key science and technology fields under investigation were involved through the international monitoring panel. In one of the conferences that focused on innovation policy instruments, practitioners and researchers in the realm of innovation policy were gathered. In the final phase, when developing the ‘new future fields’, more and more social scientists were involved. So, for instance, in the case of ‘humantechnology interaction’, a workshop with philosophers and sociologists, on the one hand, and engineers and programmers, on the other, was carried out to sharpen the research dimensions (Beckert et al. 2011). Finally, there was intense interaction with actors from various BMBF
departments particularly in the later phases of the process in order to validate and enrich the foresight findings.

Intended Users

The first cycle of the BMBF Foresight process addressed two main user groups. First of all, the process sought to maximise its usefulness to the various departments within BMBF that are responsible for steering the BMBF support to research and innovation in their respective domains. The main benefits envisaged for the departments were the possibility to mirror their own perceptions against the foresight findings, gain an overview of each other’s activities, develop overarching perspectives, and identify potential linkages and possible blind spots. Secondly, the foresight was meant to serve the wider innovation system by providing long-term anticipatory intelligence for orienting strategy building within and among diverse organisations.

Crosscutting New Future Fields

The tangible output of the foresight process consisted of two core reports (Cuhls et al. 2009b and c). One report listed the selected themes with high long-term relevance in fourteen established research and innovation fields. The other report spelled out the seven crosscutting ‘new future fields’ and provided an analysis of key actors in the German innovation system as well as recommendations for policy action within these fields.

Dissemination

The reports were first disseminated within the BMBF and later widely throughout the innovation system starting with a large public conference. Within the ministry, the uptake of the findings was actively supported through dedicated workshops where the project team members presented the findings and discussed the implications with the departments.

Implementing Strategic Dialogues

In order to further facilitate the uptake, two follow-up projects were launched: The first was the ‘strategic dialogues’ where innovation system actors who had been identified in the foresight report jointly discussed options for implementing the findings. In one case (Production-Consumption 2.0), several other ministries, such as the ones dealing with the environment or food and agriculture, were involved in this debate. In a one-day workshop with more than 30 participants, diverse stakeholders debated the transdisciplinary research around the transition towards sustainable production and consumption that had been proposed by the foresight process. Secondly, the ‘monitoring system’ was set up in order to keep track of the evolution of the new future fields and inform the ministry in case further action was needed.

Direct Impact

Within the ministry, the uptake of the foresight results differed according to the type of outcome. In case of the future topics in the established fields, there was initial reluctance within the ministry’s departments as these findings seemed to trespass on their own domains of activity. In several cases, however, the departments perceived the availability of findings from an independent process as a mirror for their own strategic thinking as useful. Several of the topics proposed by the foresight
process were taken up by subsequent BMBF funding initiatives.

In the case of the ‘new future fields’, there was a general appreciation of the ‘bird’s eye view’ across established domains of ministerial activity that the process provided. Several attempts were made to take up the proposed perspectives. As the new fields did not match the existing organisational structures of BMBF, the implementation was not straightforward. This, however, was seen as an asset rather than a problem by the strategic department as the crosscutting perspectives were viewed as long-term guidance for strategic thinking within the ministry rather than an agenda for immediate implementation.

In case of the future field ‘human-machine cooperation’, a new department was created in order to pursue the transdisciplinary perspective proposed by the foresight process. For ‘ProductionConsumption 2.0’, a few smaller seed projects were launched to explore some of the core issues. In both cases, several aspects inspired the BMBF programmes in domains such as production,
environment, security and ICT. Finally, several of the core findings of the foresight process were fed into the strategic debate around the renewal of the High-Tech Strategy, which was taking place in parallel.

In addition, several of the foresight’s suggestions entered the strategic debates in the wider German innovation system. The project team received numerous requests from the governments of the Länder (German states), research institutes and companies to discuss the implications of the ‘new future fields’ on their own strategies.

At the European level, the ‘new future fields’ were recognised with interest as well. At the time, the European Union was seeking to orient its research and innovation activities towards the grand challenges of our time in a systemic manner. In a special event that was organised by the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) foresight group, findings from several foresight processes that sought to connect key technologies and grand challenges in a systemic manner were reviewed, among them the German case (EC 2011). In the context of an EU expert group on the future of Europe 2030/2050, suggestions for such systemic priorities from several countries were compared (Warnke 2012). The review revealed that the German ‘new future fields’ were among the most far-reaching suggestions for integrating technological and societal dynamics into systemic ‘transformative priorities’. At the same time, it was noted that exercises in other countries, such as the ‘Netherlands Horizon
Scan’, had defined some areas that were well in line with some of the ‘new future fields’, such as sustainable living spaces and human-technology cooperation. Nevertheless, the analysis suggested that there are no ‘onesize-fits-all’ systemic priorities as each cultural contextrequires its own specific framing of the issues at stake.

Furthermore, the foresight process attracted considerable international attention, partly due to the fact that there had been substantial involvement of international experts through the monitoring panel and two conferences with international participation. After the process was finished, several countries around the world expressed their interest in both content and methodology.

Finally, within the academic community concerned with the governance of research and innovation and forward-looking activities, the German foresight experience was widely published and presented. In particular, the challenge of generating truly systemic sociotechnical perspectives and feeding such perspectives into governance structures, which are organised according
to their own rationale, created wide interest and debate (cf. e.g. Warnke 2010).

Indirect Impact

As outlined above, paving the ground for embedding foresight into BMBF strategy building was an important objective of the process. The evaluation report confirmed the substantial progress made in this respect. Several actors in the ministry felt that they had benefitted from the foresight process and expressed their renewed openness and positive attitude towards foresight approaches.

Follow-up: Embedding Foresight

As a consequence of the perceived success of the first foresight process and in following up on the recommendations of the evaluation team, the ministry decided to establish foresight within the ministry as a continuous anticipatory learning process.
For this purpose, a ‘foresight system’ was designed and implemented (BMBF 2012 c). This system cyclically evolves through the following phases: scanning, analysis, implementation and preparation of the next cycle. The previous foresight process was considered a pilot for the first cycle.

Furthermore, it was decided that the second cycle should focus on the demand side of research and innovation and therefore primarily explore relevant societal changes that could then be linked to the technological trajectories suggested by the first cycle.

Based on this framework, a call for proposals for the second foresight cycle was launched. A consortium of the VDI Technologiezentrum and Fraunhofer ISI was selected to carry out the project, which started in May 2012 with a new ‘search phase’. Again, the project is being accompanied by an evaluation process conducted by ITA to keep track of lessons learned and to optimise the communication processes. This time, a board comprised of actors from key organisations of the German
innovation system has been set up to accompany the foresight process. From the beginning, the approach and findings are discussed with the BMBF departments on a regular basis. A separate EFP brief will be issued in order to describe this new process in detail.

Download EFP Brief No. 240_BMBF Foresight.

Sources and References

Beckert, Bernd; Gransche, Bruno; Warnke, Philine and Blümel, Clemens (2011): Mensch-Technik-Grenzverschiebung Perspektiven für ein neues Forschungsfeld. Ergebnisse des Workshops am 27. Mai 2009 in Karlsruhe im Rahmen des BMBF-Foresight Prozesses ISI-Schriftenreihe Innovationspotenziale. Karlsruhe

BMBF (2012a) http://www.hightech-strategie.de/en/350.php (accessed 15 November 2012)

BMBF (2012b) http://www.bmbf.de/en/18384.php (Foresight Cycle 1) (accessed 15 November 2012)

BMBF (2012c) http://www.bmbf.de/en/18378.php (Foresight System) (accessed 15 November 2012)

BMBF (2012d) http://www.bmbf.de/en/18380.php (Foresight Cycle 2) (accessed 15 November 2012)

Cuhls, Kerstin; Beyer-Kutzner, Amina; Bode, Otto; Ganz, Walter and Warnke, Philine (2009a): The BMBF Foresight Process, in Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 76, p. 1187–1197

Cuhls, Kerstin; Ganz, Walter and Warnke, Philine (eds.) (2009b): Foresight-Prozess im Auftrag des BMBF. Zukunftsfelder neuen Zuschnitts, IRB Verlag, Karlsruhe/ Stuttgart. http://www.bmbf.de/en/18384.php

Cuhls, Kerstin; Ganz, Walter and Warnke, Philine (eds.) (2009c): Foresight-Prozess im Auftrag des BMBF. Etablierte Zukunftsfelder und ihre Zukunftsthemen, IRB Verlag, Karlsruhe/ Stuttgart.

European Commission (2011): EUR 24796–European forward-looking activities: Building the future of ‘Innovation Union’ and ERA. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union http://ec.europa.eu/research/socialsciences/books50_en.html

Giesecke, Susanne (2005) Futur – The German Research Dialogue. EFMN Foresight Brief No. 1.

Warnke, Philine (2012): EFP Brief No. 211: Towards Transformative Innovation Priorities, http://www.foresightplatform.eu/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/EFP-Brief-No.-211_Towards-Transformative-Innovation-Priorities.pdf (accessed 15 November 2012)

Warnke, Philine (2010): Foresight as tentative governance instrument-evidence from Germany. In: International Conference ‘Tentative Governance in Emerging Science and Technology – Actor Constellations, Institutional Arrangements & Strategies’, 28/29 October 2010, Conference Booklet, p. 113.

EFP Brief No. 239: Corporate Foresight – A Delphi Study

Friday, December 21st, 2012

The purpose of this paper is to provide new impetus to the design of strategy and innovation processes in companies. Its intention is to contribute to the discussion of methods of future studies and thereby to increase the practical relevance of future research in businesses. To this end, the specific requirements that these methods have to meet in order to be applicable in companies are presented and recommendations given both for companies and the profession of future research.

 

Looking into the Future: Methods of Future Studies

In every business, there is the need to gain insight into future trends to be able to respond to forthcoming challenges, but it is impossible to identify such trends without attempting to look into the future. As fantastic as it may seem, the application of the methods of future studies actually makes this look into the future possible. However, the use of the methods is often perceived as incompatible with the current workflow. Therefore, this study is primarily concerned with the question of how the methods of future studies can be best applied in business environments.

 

Making Strategy Processes More Profitable

The paper intends to give impetus to the discussion about methods both in the discipline of future studies and in businesses considering the specifics of future studies when applied to the business context. The main goal is to set the stage for improvements of the methodological quality of future studies when applied to businesses and to increase the relevance of future studies to businesses. It aims to supplement the discussion of methods in future research and thereby increase the practical relevance of future research in business. These requirements can serve decision-makers in companies and research to plan and evaluate the methods used to make strategy processes more profitable and efficient.

 

Methodological Background of Delphi

The methodology of this study consisted of a literature analysis, an empirical study and the deduction of theoretical and practical implications. The first step to answer the research questions was to examine the theoretical and conceptual background by means of a literature review. Subsequently, an empirical survey in the form of a preliminary and a main study was carried out. The preliminary study consisted of 15 expert interviews. Then a Delphi study was conducted in two rounds. The results of the empirical survey served to derive the requirements that the methods of future studies would have to meet in companies. Recommendations, both for the discipline of future studies and for companies, on how the methods can be modified so as to meet those requirements were described. The research project was based on the mixed-methods approach with an emphasis on qualitative research. In the preliminary and the main study, different qualitative methods were used. In the main study, quantitative data and qualitative data were triangulated.

 

Participants of the Study

A total of 204 experts were invited to participate in the study. Of those invitees, 58 took part in the first round of the consultation and 35 in the second round; 32 participants completed the entire survey. The experts chosen to participate in the survey were required to have wide experience in the use of methods of future studies in businesses. The goal was to involve experts with diverse professional backgrounds. Some experts had an academic background in areas of future studies and innovation management, some came from strategy and innovation departments of both SMEs and global corporations, and others from a background in management consulting and research and development departments.

Problems and Requirements in Applying Methods

The empirical results show that there are specific challenges in applying the methods of future studies in businesses. The methodological design and the implementation of the methods often prove to be difficult. Among the reasons for these problems are lack of knowledge, processes that take too long, limited human and financial resources as well as difficulties in communicating the results. The identification of these problem areas made it possible to derive a set of requirements that the methods of future studies have to meet so as to be applicable to businesses: they have to be easily learnable, transparent, motivational and easily communicable. Further, measurability, the capability to tie in with other methods, the scalability of the method and possibilities for collaboration are important.

Learnability, Transparency and Transferability

The methods have to be learnable with reasonable effort at different skill levels because there is often a lack of methodological knowledge in business settings and a knowledge gap between different hierarchical levels. The results of this study also show that there is not only a lack of knowledge about the necessary methodological steps but also uncertainty about the potential insight to be gained by applying the methods. Therefore, both the concepts of the methods applied and the ways in which they can be implemented have to be transparent. It is further necessary that the methods can be transferred both to and from other fields of application. This need arises from the ever-expanding range of methods, from limited human resources and from the diverse intentions that can motivate the use of the methods.

Motivational Potential, Communicability and Evaluation

The empirical data point to difficulties in motivating the people involved. Since it is crucial to produce and maintain motivation, the methods should satisfy the criteria of being motivational. The communicability of methods is also central in the corporate context. The study shows that there is scepticism about the discipline of future studies and its methods that needs to be addressed. Successful communication can also help to avoid false expectations, which otherwise are often perceived as serious obstacles. Another requirement is the measurability of the process and the outcome. The need arises because many experts believe that it is impossible to verify the outcome of the methods based on “hard data”. The results of the study show that many experts for this reason emphasise the value of the process itself.

Scalability, Flexibility and Collaboration

The empirical data show that the period for the implementation and evaluation of the methods is often perceived as being too long. This suggests that there is a need for temporal scalability. The length of the implementation period, and thus the costs, must be adaptable to the actual situation of the companies. Further, the methods should allow for joint implementation since knowledge from within the company has to be extracted and made explicit. The study reveals hurdles in this process; the involvement of all stakeholders is perceived to be difficult. An essential point of concern is the complexity of the research object, which requires that the chosen methods can be combined. The empirical evidence suggests that stakeholder participation is already used by many, but the potential is not yet exhausted in some places.

 

Overcoming Hurdles through a Joint Process of Methods Development

The study revealed a number of problem areas in the use of the methods. These problems can only be solved through a joint effort on part of the profession of future research and the companies. Focusing on methods only may prevent us from perceiving the limitations but also the opportunities in applying them in certain settings or situations. Therefore, the use of the methods can only be improved if we consider the specific requirements of the companies in question. On the other hand, looking at the operational procedures in a company only may in turn prevent the emergence of new perspectives. Concentration on daily routines may lead to ignorance of the world outside the company and therefore to missing new opportunities.

A joint process of developing and adapting methodology could result in devising methods capable of transferring and integrating knowledge and research results about the future instead of creating an abstract “methodology of future research”. The study allowed to derive suggestions for a potentially successful joint working process.

 

How Can the Hurdles Be Overcome?

The members of the profession need both strong methodological and excellent teaching skills to facilitate the learning of the methods. The methods of future research should be taught in different contexts: in higher education as well as in vocational training and further education programs at various skill levels. Companies should identify the knowledge gaps of their employees in order to address these specifically. In order to achieve transparency, it is necessary to disclose the processes involved and the criteria used for choosing a particular method. To satisfy this requirement in a company, it is possible to focus on internal transparency so that internal company knowledge does not have to be exposed to outsiders.

Practitioners of future studies need to be proficient in interdisciplinary and interface skills to promote the transfer of methods both from and to other fields of application. In addition, an intensive exchange between future studies, related disciplines and companies is very important. Expert knowledge about motivation is needed to motivate those involved in the use of future studies methods. Both the profession of future studies and the companies have to recognise the importance of motivation for the methodological process. Further, companies should enhance social and career-enhancing incentives to motivate employees involved in foresight processes.

The basis for the successful communication of the methods is a high level of expertise and communication skills of the practitioners of future studies. This includes both verbal communication itself and communication about communication formats. In addition, the professional management of expectations and individual communication concepts are important in dealing with stakeholders in the company.

Knowledge about evaluation concepts as used in the profession of future studies is necessary to be able to assess and measure the outcome. Reviewing the steps taken should be a natural part of every project. To be able to do so, businesses need to make structural adjustments such as define responsibilities and plan a budget for foresight processes. To make sure that methods can tie in with each other, it is necessary to be open to experimentation, extend the combination of methods and also to evaluate systematically.

For the profession of future studies this means that methodological approaches have to be extended with a focus on both internal and external methods of triangulation to create meaningful combinations of methods. In order to make sure that the methods can be implemented collaboratively, existing methodological concepts have to be expanded. Possibilities to collaborate
should be integrated in methods that have been unsuitable for collaboration so far.

Solid knowledge of project management is essential to be able to assure the temporal scalability of the methods. Therefore, practitioners of future studies need to be able to acquire such knowledge during their training. The profession should also actively participate in the discussion of how to adapt the time scale of the methods. A key aspect to improve the handling of methods could be the application of appropriate software solutions.

 

Limits and Areas in Need of Further Research

Whether such a thing as methods of future studies even exists is an issue that is still discussed controversially within the discipline of future studies. The lack of a scientific consensus both on the methodological canon and the classification of methods is responsible for the fact that this study could only provide a limited view on the application of methods of future studies in companies. It is impossible to presume that all participants of the preliminary and the main study would share a common understanding of the term “methods of future research”. Therefore, the range of existing methods is only inadequately presented and quantified.

The sample of this study is subject to restrictions: the fact that the participating experts were selected with a focus on their experience in strategy and foresight processes may potentially distort the picture. The reality of those companies that do not deal with strategy at all is not represented in this study either; hence the need for further research. The companies’ reasons for having only little contact with future studies or no contact at all have to be understood. This would be an addition to the results of the present study and might reflect even better on the individual perspectives of different protagonists.

Download EFP Brief No. 239_Corporate Foresight – A Delphi Study.

 

Sources and References

Ambacher, N. (2012): “Corporate Foresight – A Delphi study on the use of methods of future research, taking into account the needs of industry and research”, Master’s thesis at the Free University of Berlin, Berlin

For more information about the study and its results, please visit the project website: www.delphibefragung.de