Posts Tagged ‘technology assessment’

EFP Brief No. 225: FESTOS – Foresight of Evolving Security Threats Posed by Emerging Technologies

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

New technologies can improve our quality of life greatly, but they may also have a “dark side”. The objectives of FESTOS were to identify and assess evolving security threats posed by the potential abuse of emerging technologies and new scientific knowledge, on the one hand, and propose means to reduce the likelihood of such threats, on the other. Looking ahead to the year 2030, this foresight study scanned the horizon of different fields of technology. Possible means of prevention and policy measures were studied in the context of trade-offs between security needs and the freedom of research and knowledge.

Emerging Technologies
Pose New Threats to Security

The FESTOS project (Foresight of Evolving Security Threats Posed by Emerging Technologies) identified and assessed evolving security threats caused by the abuse or inadequate use of emerging technologies and areas of applied research. Looking ahead to the year 2035, FESTOS scanned the horizon of fields such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, robotics, new materials, and information technology, as well as capabilities that might emerge from converging technologies.

FESTOS identified and evaluated these potential threats on the horizon. Based on this scanning, FESTOS stimulated “out of the box”, forward-looking thinking and constructed “threat scenarios”. Finally, FESTOS recommended policy guidelines designed to minimise the probability of these evolving security threats materialising. Possible means of prevention and policy measures were studied in the light of trade-offs between security needs and the freedom of research and knowledge while taking into account shifts in the public perception of threats and related security issues.

Three Pillars of the Project

FESTOS had three pillars:

  1. To identify new, potentially threatening technologies.
  2. To assess emerging threats and – based on a selected set of potential threats – to construct scenarios with appropriate early-warning indicators.
  3. To draft preparatory measures and policy guidelines.

As all foresight studies, FESTOS did not aim to predict the future. Instead, the project sought to raise awareness and initiate a debate among and between scientists and policy-makers about the possible “dark sides” of future technologies.

Technology Scanning

The FESTOS team carried out a horizon scanning of emerging technologies that might pose security threats in the future if these technologies are abused. Furthermore, an assessment of the potential threats was carried out. The first result was a structured description of around 80 “potentially threatening” technologies in the six fields listed above. The next step was to evaluate the threat aspects of 33 selected technologies by means of an international expert survey in which 280 experts participated. The collection of technologies was not intended to be exhaustive but to stimulate further discussions and provide a basis for the subsequent analysis. As such, it can serve as a “dynamic data bank” of potentially “abusable” technologies.

Determining the Nature and Severity of Threats

Subsequently, the results of the expert survey were analysed in terms of the likely time spans for the threats to materialise, prioritisation (relative impact of each technology), the nature and extent of the potential damages, as well as societal issues. This activity included ranking and selecting security threats for scenario construction. In methodological terms, the exercise included expert brainstorming sessions, a security assessment (including Ansoff filters and the STEEPV method), an analysis of the relevant signals of change and wild cards.

Scenario Development

Four narrative scenarios based on the identified security threats from emerging technologies were developed. The aim of the scenarios was to depict possible futures that take into account the social dimension and the interdependency of different impacts. In a scenario workshop, five methods and procedures were used: wild cards, security climates, futures wheel, security café for impact analysis and brainstorming.

Control and Prevention

The possible control of scientific knowledge to prevent unintended new security threats is a very sensitive issue in open democratic societies. FESTOS raised a debate on whether and how to control emerging science and technology developments in order to prevent abuse without slowing down the process of knowledge creation needed for innovation, progress and improving human life. Secondly, FESTOS analysed the problematic issue of controlled dissemination of scientific knowledge in the light of the inevitable trade-offs between security and freedom of research and knowledge creation. The methods used were an online survey of approximately 100 selected experts and representatives from various parts of society, followed by 5-10 semi structured in-depth interviews in each of the participating countries (Poland, Germany, Finland, UK and Israel) with selected key actors representing civil society and other relevant organisations, and, finally, an international workshop on control and prevention, with the participation of invited experts and representatives.


 Top Technology Threats and Threat Scenarios

Three Types of Potential Threats

Examination of the diverse technologies led to identifying three broad categories of potential threats: The first category is the disruption of certain technological applications for malicious purposes (for example, jamming communications in intelligent collision avoidance systems in transportation). The second category concerns the increased availability of technologies that once were confined to the military or to unique, heavily funded laboratories and were prohibitively expensive. The third category concerns surprising malicious uses of new technologies developed for completely different, beneficial and civilian purposes. The most interesting for FESTOS seemed to be the third category, where we found the most unexpected threats, signals of change or surprising “wild cards”.

Ten New Top Priority Threats

The threat analysis resulted in a prioritisation of the threatening technologies with respect to their potential for malicious use (combining the easiness of putting them to malicious use and the severity of the threat). The resulting top ten technologies are:

  1. Smart mobile phone mash-ups
  2. Internet of things (IoT)
  3. Cloud computing
  4. New gene transfer technologies
  5. Advanced artificial intelligence
  6. Synthetic biology
  7. Cyborg insects
  8. Energetic nanomaterials
  9. Radio-frequency identification (RFID)
  10. Autonomous & semi-autonomous mini robots

Furthermore, the intensity of the potential threat (i.e. the overall threat to several spheres of society according to the experts) posed by the ten most relevant technologies was prioritised:

  1. Advanced artificial intelligence
  2. Human enhancement
  3. Swarm robotics
  4. Cyborg insects
  5. Internet of things (IoT)
  6. Water-catalysing explosive reactions
  7. Future fuels and materials for nuclear technologies
  8. AI-based robot-human interaction
  9. Cloud computing
  10. Programmable matter

For the time scale 2015 – 2020, the following potential “wild card technologies” were identified (i.e. technologies with high severity threats and a low likelihood of actual abuse): swarm robotics, brain implants, water-catalysing explosive reactions, future fuels, self-replicating nano-assemblers, medical nano-robots, ultra-dense data storage, meta-materials with negative light refraction index and synthetic biology.

Four Scenarios for Threat Assessment

Four narrative scenarios for threat assessment and identification of indicators were produced:

Scenario 1: Cyber-insects Attack!

Swarms of cyber-insects attack people and animals.

Scenario 2: The Genetic Blackmailers

Individual DNA is misused for purposes of extortion.

Scenario 3: At the Flea Market

Intelligent everyday nanotechnology-based products can be set to self-destruct, which is triggered by a wireless signal.

Scenario 4: We’ll Change Your Mind…

A terrorist group uses a virus to change the behaviour of a portion of the population for a certain period of time.

Conflict between Security and Freedom of Research

With the aid of the expert survey and the interviews, the FESTOS team assessed the respondents’ perceptions of the awareness, acceptance and effectiveness of control and prevention measures. The results show that control and prevention measures exist, mostly in the fields of ICT and biotechnology. On the basis of the national reports on the participating countries’ security institutions, we can say that the main institutions engaged in control activities are governments, ministries and security agencies. Most of the control measures have a high or very high impact on scientific knowledge, especially the freedom of science, knowledge creation and dissemination. The experts consider media, including the Internet, to be a dangerous channel of dissemination. By contrast, the most accepted control measures are

  1. education curricula including programmes aiming to raise the awareness of potential threats,
  2. measures invented by the knowledge producer and
  3. measures developed by the media to limit the publication of sensitive knowledge.

Codes of conduct, internal guidelines (bottom-up approach) and legal regulations are perceived as the most effective control measures.


Policy Conclusions

Continuation of Horizon Scanning of Emerging Technologies

There is a need for networking, international cooperation and broader expert panels to evaluate emerging technologies continuously with respect to possible unintended effects relevant to security. More detailed technological evaluations are required in the short-term, and it was suggested that at least sixty to eighty technologies need to be evaluated. FESTOS provides a starting point to cover all the risks and work towards a EU risk strategy in different areas of science and technology. In addition, there is a need to cooperate much closer with the EU patent office and with patent agencies around the world. It is furthermore very important to secure financing in Horizon2020 to allow continuing the horizon scanning work carried out in FESTOS.

Academic Freedom in Democratic Societies and “Knowledge Control”

There is a tension between possible security dangers of technology R&D and academic freedom, and there seem to be only two “stronger” control measures that academics are willing to accept: internal guidelines in research organisations and codes of conduct. Codes of conduct are the preferred control mechanism in R&D.

Ethical Control and Codes of Conduct

Since science and technology is globalised and develops at a fast pace, we can only have ethical control if there are international codes of conduct, to be developed by international organisations. Scientists need to understand the consequences of their research, and this needs to be handled at an international level. There seems to be a difference between democratic and non-democratic countries in this respect. In democratic countries, there is less of a threat that scientists might develop technologies that will be misused. In societies that are more closed and lack democratic institutions, scientists tend to continue their research even if they are aware that their invention might pose a threat to security. In any event, industry has a massive influence, including the ability to effectively lobby for its interests. Some of could focus on safe researcher practices, codes of conduct etc. and assist in the creation of an international “control” environment.

Project Assessment, Social Responsibility and Security by Design

It is highly desirable that the “dark side” is considered at the beginning of projects. Therefore, it is crucial to develop assessment criteria. It is more effective to build in design control measures during the design phases of the research than to turn to ethical assessment after the research is completed. Such an anticipatory approach results in “security by design”.

Networking: the Role of the State and the EU

Another critical element is “networking and networks”, which will be very important in the future. This aspect concerns how scientific organisations are networked to produce results for society. All innovations are based on knowledge, and we must develop knowledge-management systems to manage the dark sides as well. This requires an active role of the EU Commission and European Parliament.

The Role of Education

There is a need to educate students as early as possible about threats and security issues during their studies at university. Knowledge about these control dilemmas should be added to the universities’ curricula.

We also need early media training for children since they will encounter a number of challenges as they increasingly navigate an expanding digital universe. Such media proficiency is even more important since the digital universe can be unfamiliar or even unknown to their parents, who are “digital immigrants”.  The future “digital natives” can only cope and shape the digital universe if they are properly informed and know how to protect themselves.

Bottom-up vs. Top-down Approaches of Control

Actors and decision-makers, as they balance security needs, the requirements set by open democratic societies and the freedom of science, should take active measures against the possible dangers of the dark side of technologies. More promising than top-down measures are bottom-up proposals: Instead of legislation and coercive measures with rather questionable outcomes, the FESTOS team proposes to develop soft and optional measures. These measures, first of all, are based on self-regulation, self-control and the education of engineers and scientists. Codes of conduct, ethical guidelines and educational measures may initially be established on sub-state levels but must be developed into national, Europe-wide and global regimes. While self-regulation and education may be the means of choice in most cases, it has to be stressed that there are also exceptional cases, such as weapons of mass destruction, for instance. In these cases, there exist international regimes to regulate the prohibition of research and development of extremely dangerous technologies and, for the most part, the international community complies with the rules. An example is the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), which was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning the production of an entire category of weapons.

FESTOS Consortium

The consortium of the project “Foresight of Evolving Security Threats Posed by Emerging Technologies” (FESTOS) consists of the following partners:

Interdisciplinary Centre for Technology Analysis and Forecasting (ICTAF) at Tel-Aviv University, Israel

Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC), University of Turku, Finland

Centre for Technology and Society, Technical University of Berlin (TUB), Germany

Institute of Sociology (IS), University of Lodz, Poland

EFP Consulting (UK) Ltd, UK

Authors: Burkhard Auffermann

Aharon Hauptman

Sponsors: European Union DG Research
Type: European Union foresight
Organizer: ICTAF – Interdisciplinary Center for Technology Analysis and Forecasting,                                             Coordinator: Dr. Yair Sharan,
Duration: 2009 – 2011
Budget: € 824,552
Time Horizon: 2035
Date of Brief: February

Download: EFP-Brief-No.-225-FESTOS

Sources and References


EFP Brief No. 224: Technology Radar: Early Recognition of New Business Fields in Future Markets

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

New technologies are changing the market. All the more important it is for a company not to miss any relevant future technology. In the years 2009 and 2010, a global German high technology company used the support of the FutureManagementGroup AG to identify the ten most important emerging technologies in each of its four business units. The technologies should lie outside the current core technologies. The goal of the project was the early recognition of future markets in these technologies. For this purpose, we used a broad toolset in accordance with the Eltville Model of future management.

Future Management

The FutureManagementGroup AG (FMG), founded in 1991, is an international group of experts specialised in future management and the early recognition of opportunities in future markets. Using the “Eltville Model” and various future management methods and tools, we built a methodological bridge from management practice to futures research and back to daily business. Future management comprises the entirety of all systems, processes, methods and tools for early perception and analysis of future developments and their inclusion in strategy.


Figure 1: Future management as a bridge

Future management makes it easier, and in many cases possible at all, to use the results of futures research as a resource for orientation and inspiration in a business context.

The Five Futures Glasses

We use the “Eltville Model”, which offers a set of five distinctive and clear views on the future. We call them “the five futures glasses”. Each of the five futures glasses has its own specific characteristics, principles and modes of thinking:

  • The blue futures glasses look at the probable future → assumption analysis.

The guiding question is: How will our market(s), work and living environments change in the next five to ten years?

  • The red futures glasses look at possible surprises in the future → surprise analysis.

The guiding question is: How should we prepare for possible surprising events and developments in the future?

  • The green futures glasses look at the creatable future → opportunity development.

The guiding question is: Which opportunities for new markets, products, strategies, processes and structures will arise from these changes?

  • The yellow futures glasses look at the desired future → vision development.

The guiding question is: What does our company need to look like in five to ten years time in the sense of a strategic vision?

  • The violet futures glasses look at the planned future → strategy development.

The guiding question is: How do we need to design our strategy to realise the strategic vision?

The five futures glasses form the process model of the Eltville  Model. You cannot wear all five futures glasses at the same time or the future will remain unclear and confusing. You need to put your different futures glasses on one after the other to form a effective working process.

The second essential component of the Eltville Model is the results model, a semantic network of objects of thought that are used (future factors, assumptions, surprises, opportunities etc.)

The Eltville Model has been developed through research and in more than a thousand workshops and projects with leading corporations as well as with non-profit organisations around the world. It is a unique model that consistently resolves the confusion concerning the future, creates clarity and provides a productive way of working with sound insights and results.

Looking for Amazing Technologies

The most important goal of the project was to identify “amazing technologies” outside a client’s current capabilities but with a potentially high impact on the existing business of the client. We were asked to evaluate the exact relevance of these technologies for the client’s business to deduce new market opportunities of these technologies and evaluate their potential.

Our solution to accommodate these needs was a “future business radar”. The focus was on the blue futures glasses (assessment of technologies) and the green futures glasses (development of opportunities). Less focus had been given to the yellow futures glasses (assessment of opportunities and decision, which opportunities should be pursued). Not included were the violet futures glasses: With the completion of the project, the business units have individually taken responsibility for developing the strategy to enter the future markets that were identified as relevant to their business.

Technology Radar: the Project Process

Function Maps

After the definition of the project goals and the project timeline, the first step was the analysis of functions delivered by the four business units. In contrast to a product or a solution, a function describes the effects that a product is actually bought for. Questions to think about to identify the functions of a product are:

  • What is it that your customers actually pay for when they purchase your product?
  • What is the actual use that your customers would like to obtain from your product?

Concentrating on the functions opens up completely new business opportunities even for the combination of products with other products from outside the current portfolio. Functions can be described at three levels:

  1. Super-functions: Functions that are indirectly fulfilled by a product or service, for example through integration into other products (e.g. personal mobility in case of all automotive parts)
  2. Primary functions: Core functions of a product or service for which it was invented. The main reason for its existence (e.g. sealing).
  3. Secondary functions: Additional functions the product or service fulfils beyond its core use. They often are the decision criteria of customers if several products can fulfil the primary functions reasonably well (e.g. convenience, cost saving).


Figure 2: Levels of functions

The relevant functions were developed in a workshop with the project team consisting of representatives of all business units and enhanced through independent analysis by FMG. The functions were then transferred to visual maps, reviewed by the business units and jointly further developed by FMG and the project team.

Long List of Technologies:
Which Ones Are Potentially Relevant?

The long list of technologies was developed from extensive secondary research. All technologies that are described in current literature as emerging and/or as gaining importance in the future where considered for the long list. The single selection criterion for inclusion in the long list was the existence of a conceivable relation to a single function of one of the business units. The connection of a technology to a function is a valid indicator for its potential relevance. It shows that the technology can change the way in which the function is performed in the future. It can provide new solutions and products as well as change business models, thus changing value creation in the market. A total of 180 potentially relevant technologies have been identified.

An important source in the desk research was the FMG-FutureNet, a semantic database of futures knowledge. It is a knowledge network, modelled on the human brain, in which items of future information are saved and linked. We structure the available future knowledge and evaluate, summarise, substantiate and meaningfully link the individual items of futures information. In addition, we add information gained in our projects. As a result, the FMG-FutureNet has become a unique database of future markets.

For the technology radar project, we additionally evaluated websites, studies, books and magazines.

Short Lists of Technologies:
Evaluation of Technologies

The technologies from the long list were evaluated along two criteria: “impact on industry” and “reasonable time horizon”. The initial evaluation was done by representatives from the business units on a 9-point scale. A second evaluation was performed by FMG leading to some technologies with low rankings to be reconsidered. After a structured discussion process, each business unit selected ten technologies for deeper analysis. In total 32 different technologies were analysed and the results summarised in technology briefings.

Identification of Future Market Opportunities

A future market is a solution for important future problems or desires of certain people that develops or will generate significantly more revenue in the future. Examples of future markets include augmented reality glasses for smartphone users, robots that carry luggage and equipment for the military, or affordable space tourism for adventure travellers. The difference between a future market and a future trend or future technology is that one can additionally imagine which concrete solution people would actually be prepared to pay for and how you can make a profit out of it.

Future market opportunities were developed through analytical and creative thinking, including input like future factors and methods like meta-opportunities, which we would like to introduce here briefly.

Future factors are trends, issues and technologies that act as the driving forces of future change and allow us to collect knowledge about the future. They are based on existing knowledge of experts and futurists on possible and probable future developments. Future factors give indications on what, why and how the future is changing. Two types of future factors are important for the early recognition of future markets:

  1. Future factors in nature, society, business and politics that change the needs of end consumers. Examples are climate change, feminisation, entrepreneurisation, flexibilisation or globalisation
  2. Future factors in technology and science that will change processes and methods as well as products, services and solutions. Examples are nanotechnologies, dematerialisation, informatisation, micro-system technology, robotics or neurotechnologies.

Future factors primarily represent the view through the blue futures glasses but can also be used as a technique to support creative thinking. This is especially fruitful when future factors have no direct relation to the client’s industry.

Meta-opportunities are repetitive patterns that are recognisable in many future opportunities. These patterns are recipes and shortcuts for opportunity recognition. They illustrate models of best-practice thinking and stimulate the search for opportunities. Through the use of meta-opportunities, productivity and the value of opportunity development can be increased considerably.

Subsequently, the identified and developed future market opportunities were set in relation to the business units and to the functions fulfilled by the business units in particular. In addition, the technologies were analysed for the interrelations among each other. From 98 raw future market opportunities, ten were selected for each business unit to be described in a short portrait. The criterion of choice was the estimated market potential. The selected future markets were described following four main questions:

  1. Which problem is solved? Which desire is fulfilled?
  2. What is the solution?
  3. Whom is the solution delivered to?
  4. How is the solution special?

Finally, the time horizon of the future markets was evaluated from a technical and a demand perspective; the markets were classified in terms of their distance from current capabilities.

A Strong Case for Function-based Technology Assessment

An important goal of the project was not to miss any relevant technology. This was ensured by an overview scan and the analysis of the results of futures research concerning the emergence and further development of new technologies. Simultaneously, the technology radar served as a future business radar, as it identified the most promising future markets that lie in the most important technologies. Out of 180 technology candidates that were included in the long list, we created 41 differentiated and in-depth future market portraits.

The project has shown how function-based technology assessment can contribute to identify relevant technologies outside current competencies and businesses – an essential requirement to recognise potentially profitable future markets.

The most promising of the recognised future markets needed to be explored in more detail. Future markets can only be considered as realistic if there are enough arguments for their future market potential. Therefore, the next step for each business unit was to do detailed future markets research for selected markets. The future


Figure 3: Map of results

markets research provides a solid analysis of market prospects, key challenges and possible business models. It thus allows sound investment decisions for the development of a future market.

Authors: Enno Däneke   

Stefan Schnack

Sponsors: A German high technology company
Type: Sectoral forward-looking analysis
Organizer: FutureManagementGroup AG, Eltville, Germany
Enno Däneke,
Duration: 2009 – 2010
Budget: n.a.
Time Horizon: 2020
Date of Brief: July 2012

Download: EFP Brief No. 224_Technology Radar Eltville

Sources and References

Mićić, Pero (2010): The Five Futures Glasses: How to See and Understand More of the Future with the Eltville Model. Houndsmill, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave McMillan.

Mićić, Pero (2007): Phenomenology of Future Management in Top Management Teams. Leeds: Metropolitan University.

Mićić, Pero (2006): Das ZukunftsRadar. Die wichtigsten Trends, Technologien und Themen für die Zukunft, Offenbach: GABAL-Verlag.

For further information on future management, the Eltville Model and the Five Futures Glasses, please visit:


EFP Brief No. 177: Scenario Workshops GM Crops and Foods

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Five scenario building workshops were organised in autumn 2008, each involving students of different disciplines and a school class. In the workshops, the lay participants developed scenarios on the future development and use of genetically modified crops and foods in Germany. The underlying driving forces and the resulting opportunities and risks were discussed. The aim of the project was to develop and test a new approach for scenario building workshops with laypeople and to contribute to the debates on future research agendas for genetic engineering in the agriculture and food sector.

The Context: Controversies on GM Technology in Agriculture and Participatory TA

Genetic engineering has been one of the most controversial modern technologies for quite a long time, and the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops is an important area of conflict in Europe. Key words describing the current situation are the increasing use of GM crops worldwide, reluctance of introducing GM crops in Europe, open questions concerning the coexistence of transgenic crops with conventional and organic farming, the ongoing development of new GM crops with new traits, and complications within the existing EU regulations. The future development and use of GM crops in Europe (and in Germany) is characterised by high uncertainty, thus creating the opportunity to develop different scenarios.

In the past, participative technology assessment (TA) activities on this topic – such as stakeholder discourses, consensus conferences, citizens’ juries, public meetings, and public debates – took place in different European countries. They mainly focused on the first generation of GM crops. First generation means the currently used GM crops exhibiting herbicide tolerance and/or insect resistance. Furthermore, the debates have centred on issues of current concern while the assessment of possible future developments is less developed and scenarios have not been applied in this context.

In spite of the uncertainty of future developments, scenarios have also not been employed in other assessments of GM plants and food so far. What we have is vision papers on future research agendas and on the opportunities of modern biotechnology that do not really reflect the societal and political discussions about this topic.

Objectives: Discourse and Opinion Formation

The overall objectives of the project were to contribute to

  • the debate on the future shape of research agendas in the area of GM crops and foods;
  • opinion formation on this controversial topic among the workshop participants;
  • discursive TA methodology.

The project addressed both young people in education and laypeople in the area of GM crops and foods (Meyer et al. 2010).

Approach: A New Scenario Workshop Methodology

To inform the workshop participants, the project group drafted 23 fact sheets (of 4-6 pages) in advance, grouped into four thematic complexes:

  • Technologies and utilisation of GM plants and foods
  • Framing conditions for future developments
  • Regulations of GM crops and foods
  • Impact dimensions of GM plants and foods

The fact sheets describe the current knowledge and include different disciplines, varying assessments and controversial perspectives of stakeholders. The aim was to draw up information sheets that are comprehensible to laypeople. Draft fact sheets were commented on by scientists and stakeholders to ensure an appropriate and balanced description.

The one-day scenario building workshops were at the centre of the project. The aim of the workshops was to construct scenarios for the future development of GM crops and foods in Germany, in a medium-term perspective (until the year 2025). The scenario building workshops took place at the

  • University of Freiburg (28 November 2008),
  • University of Hohenheim (24 October 2008),
  • University of Karlsruhe (17 October 2008),
  • Hermann-von-Helmholtz-Gymnasium Potsdam (23 September 2008), and
  • University of Potsdam (11 November 2008).

The workshops followed a common procedure comprising the following steps:

  • Welcome and introduction round
  • Explanation of discussion principles and framing
  • Identification of driving forces
  • Grouping of driving forces
  • Selection of key driving forces
  • Identification of possible future developments and characteristics of the key driving forces
  • Grouping of these developments and characteristics of the key factors into scenarios
  • Elaboration of the scenarios (group work)
  • Presentation of the group work on the scenarios and final discussion round

The workshops’ results were documented, and the project group undertook an evaluation by comparing the outcomes of the different workshops.

Scenarios: Possible Futures of GM Crops and Foods

The comparison of the workshops’ results shows that the possible futures of GM crops and foods in the assessment of the laypersons are not only characterised by the polarisation of “utilisation versus non-utilisation”. The scenarios constructed in the workshops include a number of visions between these extremes. Additionally, the scenarios describe not only developments in one direction but also include disruptions where the originally increasing spread of GM crops is reversed. The scenarios of the five workshops can be grouped into four categories of future developments (see figure):

  • Increasing utilisation of GM crops
  • Utilisation of GM crops only for specific uses (such as functional food or plant-made pharmaceuticals)
  • Reversal in the utilisation of GM crops
  • Low utilisation or blockade of GM crops use

The scenarios contain differentiated statements, amongst other things, on regulation, research, utilisation, acceptance, coexistence, freedom of choice, risks and alternatives.

Strong versus Weak Regulation

In the scenarios, the future design and handling of authorisation procedures are the key point under the header of regulation. Strong or stronger forms of regulation, in most scenarios, imply a low cultivation of GM crops or totally abandoning GM technologies altogether. Vice versa, an increasing cultivation of GM crops in most cases is associated with weak or weaker levels of regulation. Increasing utilisation of GM crops can lead to their exclusive use. Both descriptions of development are based on the same assumption: The extent of state interventions is directly responsible for the promotion of or restraints on research and economic activities. But this assumption is not valid for all scenarios: In two scenarios, stronger regulation goes hand in hand with an increasing cultivation of GM crops. The reasoning is that stronger regulation is necessary for better acceptance of GM food, which is the necessary precondition for an increased cultivation of GM crops.

Five scenarios describe a reversal in the utilisation of GM crops and foods. This is an indication that development paths involving the reduction of regulations can be unstable – a sustainable development is not assured. These scenarios have a tipping point where weak regulation is replaced by strong regulation or GM crop cultivation is abandoned altogether. In the period under consideration, the shift in the regulation regime results from the discovery of new risks and changes in acceptance.

In the analysis of the scenarios with increasing cultivation and weaker regulation, a number of risks were identified, such as the absence of positive impacts (or benefits), long-term negative ecological consequences, insufficient risk research or an increasing monopolisation of the seed sector. This raised doubts among the participants whether the scenarios are sustainable in the long-term. Finally, only very few workshop participants assessed scenarios with weak regulation and increasing GM utilisation as desirable. Yet, a minority of participants considered those scenarios as realistic.

The workshop participants see a strong influence of different stakeholder groups on the future development of government regulations on GM crops and foods. The influence of companies and lobbies is contrasted in an ideal-type manner with the influence of civil society and citizens or voters. Besides the actors, (health) benefits and scientific insights about risks are considered key issues that influence political decisions, via the public acceptance of GM crops and foods. In this respect, risk assessment and its standards (and the issues of regulatory approval that this involves) are contested – a controversy that unfolds between scientific substantiation, stakeholder influences and the political shaping of regulations.

Coexistence, freedom of choice and alternatives

In the scenarios, successful freedom of choice for consumers and coexistence of different agricultural production systems not only depends on an adequate regulation of such coexistence. A broader framing is used: Research activities and favourable general economic conditions for agricultural production systems not using GM crops (such as conventional and organic farming) have to be maintained in the long-term to guarantee freedom of choice. In the perception of the laypeople, the future development of alternatives in agriculture and food supply is determined strongly by research investments and research successes.

Scenarios with successful coexistence and freedom of choice as well as scenarios with failing coexistence and freedom of choice can be found in all four groups of scenarios. In the long run, diminishing freedom of choice is expected from a market-oriented development accompanied by deregulation. In contrast, coexistence and freedom of choice can be maintained if higher acceptance and increasing utilisation of GM crops and foods is based on stronger regulation and compromises with opponents. Freedom of choice and coexistence take on different forms and proceed along different paths of development in the scenarios. These differences correlate with uncertainties in expert assessments as to whether coexistence can be achieved for all agricultural crops and sites in the case that the cultivation of GM crops becomes more widespread in Europe (Bütschi et al. 2009).

In all scenarios reversing the trend toward GM crop cultivation, insufficient coexistence regulations and/or regulations that do not work well are assumed for the period of growing GM crop cultivation. The consequence is that at the end of this period – at the tipping point – freedom of choice no longer exists or at least alternatives, such as organic farming, will have been neglected. There are major difficulties in shifting back to a GM-free agricultural production at this point where health or environmental problems pertaining to GM crops lead to the reversal.

The participants take a negative view of a situation where utilising GM crops goes along with diminishing freedom of choice (overall 7 scenarios from five workshops). In contrast, maintaining alternatives is seen as positive. Arguments supporting the latter are consumer sovereignty and openness for future adaptability.

Some scenarios make a number of differentiations in regard to coexistence. Successful coexistence is questioned especially for crops with high outbreeding potential and for agricultural landscapes with small field structures. Additionally, the scenarios see chances that restrictive coexistence regulations might induce innovations.

Conclusions: Importance of Dialogue, Benefits and Alternatives

Based on the scenario results and the workshop discussions, the project group has worked out recommendations for research and political agendas in the area of GM crops and foods. The following points were identified as important (Meyer et al. 2009):

The development of new GM crops should concentrate on applications with benefits for individual consumers or for society at large (such as supporting the adaptation to climate change). This is an important precondition for higher acceptance by consumers and citizens.

In the case of an increased cultivation of GM crops in German agriculture, this could be an unstable process associated with risks of disturbances up to the point of failure. This is indicated by the scenarios of reversal. Therefore, policies pertaining to GM crops and foods should be shaped in a process of dialogue. Such dialogues should be open-minded and continuous and not only take place before the implementation of specific measures. A discursive policy approach is necessary despite the manifest controversial debates.

The currently dominant pattern of argumentation that an ambitious regulation of GM crops constrains the cultivation of such crops should be reassessed. Some scenarios describe an alternative development path in which an increasing utilisation of GM crops is combined with stronger regulation. The argumentation in this case is that high acceptance – as a precondition for increased cultivation and use of GM crops – can be achieved only with strong regulation.

Scenarios envisioning the utilisation of GM crops only for specific purposes indicate that greater differentiation and GM crops with new output traits (such as functional foods or plant-made industrials) can gain importance in the future. The progress of technological improvement, development of acceptance, results of risk assessment, and need for regulation can be expected to vary for the different areas of use.

The long-term existence of alternatives to GM crops has a high priority for many workshop participants. Appropriate regulations for coexistence are seen as necessary but not sufficient. Research on different agricultural production systems (such as conventional farming and organic farming) and their further development and use should be sponsored to ensure that they are preserved for the future.

In the perception of the participants, the successful development and introduction of GM crops and foods is associated with an increasing number and a more diversified set of actors in this sector of research and economy. The currently small numbers of companies that develop and market GM seeds are judged negatively as a quasi-monopoly structure. Therefore, research funding should also support the emergence of new actors in research and product development.

Author: Rolf Meyer
Sponsor: German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)
Type: Participatory technology assessment, genetic engineering, Germany
Organizer: Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS), Karlsruher Institute of Technology (KIT), contact:: Rolf Meyer, ITAS,
Duration: 10/2007-10/2009 Budget: N/A Time Horizon: 2025 Date of Brief: Feb. 2011  


Download EFP Brief No. 177_Scenario Workshops GM Crops and Foods

Sources and References

All project documents in German (final report with references, workshop report, manual for scenario workshops, fact sheets) are available at the project homepage:

Bütschi, D.; Gram, S.; Haugen, J.M.; and Meyer, R.; Sauter, A.; Steyaert, S.; Torgersen, H. (2009): Genetically modified plants and foods – Challenges und future issues in Europe. Final report of the joint EPTA project. Berlin;

Meyer, R.; Knapp, M.; and Boysen, M. (2010): Zukünfte der Grünen Gentechnik. Ergebnisse aus Szenario-Workshops mit Laien. In: Technikfolgenabschätzung – Theorie und Praxis 19 (1), 74-79.

Meyer, R.; Knapp, M.; and Boysen M. (2009): Diskursprojekt “Szenario-Workshops: Zukünfte der Grünen Gentechnik.” Final Report. Karlsruhe, Berlin, October 2009.