Posts Tagged ‘weak signals’

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. 198: Weak Signals and Emerging Issues in Health

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

This foresight activity was conducted as part of the EU FP7 SESTI project (Scanning for Emerging Science and Technology Issues) aimed at developing a process that can be used to identify weak signals and emerging issues in a systematic, efficient and effective way. It also pursued the application and implementation of such techniques by contextualizing them and initiating discussions within the policy arena, thus linking them in a meaningful way to existing policy processes. To enhance the quality of the comparison of the different weak signal scanning approaches, the content domain was limited to signals that are precursors to changes in the research and innovation system. This policy brief reports on the approach and findings of the SESTI project on the health theme.

Demographics, New Technologies and Patient Empowerment

Countries have been facing increasing pressure on health service budgets due to a number of factors. This trend is projected to accelerate over the coming years, and countries are desperately looking for ways of limiting expenditure without reducing the quality of services or their accessibility.

The most significant factors driving the change are:

  • Demographic and societal change. The ageing population has profound implications for the cost of health and social services.
  • Health informatics and telemedicine. ICT is changing the face of healthcare. ICT systems are revolutionising information sharing between health professionals, for example through the development of seamless electronic patient records. This requires the implementation, maintenance and upgrading of a sophisticated infrastructure with all the investment that this entails.
  • New health technologies. New pharmaceuticals and techniques are continually being developed leading to a broader range of treatments applied on a routine basis resulting in additional medical costs. But new health technologies can also contribute to decreasing costs, at least in the mid to long run. Better early diagnostics (enabling cures at an early stage), self-monitoring of health functions, robotic assistance (enabling the elderly to live on their own for a longer time or assisting medical and nursing personnel) and modern prosthetics (enabling disabled people to work more efficiently) can improve efficiency and reduce costs over time (Braun et al 2009, p 22).

Issue-centred Scanning and Exploratory Scanning

During the project, two different approaches to identify new emerging issues were followed: issue-centred scanning and exploratory scanning.

Issue-centred Scanning

In this approach, the project team foresight experts systematically conducted searches for signals that could indicate potential emerging issues. The scan tapped various digital sources, such as scientific journals, newspapers, policy papers, reports and statistical data books.

This approach provides valuable information and is a very useful technique for identifying emerging issues but has the drawback that it may miss the so-called unknown unknowns, although individual scanners may stumble upon them during the scanning activity.

The manual search for potential emerging issues followed two main lines:

  1. The first focused on selecting potential emerging issues that may be relevant to the topic being researched, using material from the national horizon scanning exercises.
  2. The second is based on a more open search on the Internet, using key questions and phrases as search strings constructed by the experts based on the kind of issues one may expect in the subject area.

The method delivered a useful set of emerging issues that were used as input for the workshops held later during the project.

Exploratory Scanning

In the exploratory approach, the foresight experts examined a variety of digital sources of information and screened them for weak signals using automated text-mining tools. The advantage of this approach is that it does not rely on an expert for identifying topics and that it should be more effective in identifying novel issues outside the perception of policymakers and expert communities.

While the concept of a bottom-up approach using automated techniques appears attractive, in practice we found that the difficulty of clustering the raw data posed an obstacle to successfully identifying emerging issues. Thus, the further development of the text mining tools would be necessary before this technique could be applied reliably in practice.

Refining the Set of Early Warning Signals

The scanning exercise produced a long set of early warning signals. This list was then refined through an assessment exercise where the underlying issues as well as the impact and uncertainty of the signals were considered. There was also a first appraisal of the reliability of the signals. The signals were clustered in different ways, taking into consideration the content dimension (keywords, areas and topics) as well as significance and granularity.

Visualisation tools, such as tag clouds, were employed to help identify keywords and provide a basis for discussion. Keywords may be either single words or phrases (e.g., health care, regenerative medicine).

The processing involved the following six steps:

  1. Clustering of weak signals
  2. Assessing the significance of clusters
  3. Framing of connected weak signals
  4. Tentative modelling of emerging issues
  5. Comparison with results of previous foresight exercises
  6. Selection of significant emerging issues.


Following the conclusion of the scanning and processing phases by the SESTI team, a workshop was held to present and discuss the project results with a variety of stakeholders, including national policymakers, thematic experts, EC officials and delegates from the private sector. A workshop paper was prepared and circulated to the workshop participants beforehand as background material for the meetings.

The workshop was structured according to the following format:

  • Setting the scene: presentation on the thematic background by a member of the SESTI team;
  • Emerging issues: presentation of the results of the SESTI scanning activities;
  • Discussion: open floor discussion on the emerging issues presented;
  • Voting on the issues by the participants on four criteria: impact, plausibility, novelty and policy implications.

Personalisation, Diversification and Individual Accountability

The scanning exercise identified a number of emerging issues of which the following five were highlighted as being the most prominent.

Diversification in Medicine

A wide range of new offerings beyond conventional medicine and outside the public health system have sprung up in recent years. Diminishing trust in conventional medicine, the debate on cultural diversity in medicine and the increasing use of complementary and alternative medicine may lead to new requirements with regard to regulation. This field encompasses a number of therapies including herbalism, meditation, acupuncture, yoga, hypnosis, biofeedback and traditional Chinese medicine. A growing number of people in Europe (more than 100 million) are turning to complementary and alternative medicine for disorders they feel cannot be treated with conventional therapy.

Mental Health in an Ageing Society

Advances in medicine means that humans are living longer than ever before. However, for the individual this may prove to be a mixed blessing since the quality of life of the elderly is often compromised due to frailty, reduced mobility, dependence on medication, financial limitations and loneliness in the twilight years. One in four older adults lives with depression, anxiety or other significant mental health disorders. In many EU member states the suicide rate among the elderly is higher than that for any other age group.

This aspect of the ageing population has been overshadowed by the economic perspective related to the pension problem and rising healthcare bill. The psychosocial consequences of an ageing society and the related problems are not widely known.

Obesity: the Global Epidemic Marches On

It is estimated that in excess of one billion adults are overweight, and that at least 300 million of them are clinically obese. Obesity has reached epidemic proportions and has been a major contributor to the global burden of chronic disease and disability. Within Europe, obesity affects 20-30% of adults, and a cause of particular concern is the increase in obesity rates among the young.

Rising obesity is the result of a combination of factors – increasing affluence leading to abundance of food, poor consumption habits due to a hectic routine, and a sedentary lifestyle. To combat obesity we need to recognise and address these realities, yet a number of endeavours aimed at raising public awareness and encouraging a healthier lifestyle appear to have had a limited effect. The problem calls for a new impetus and for a broader approach in the fight against obesity.

Is Prevention Better Than Cure? Re-prioritising Health Research

Most medical research funding is channelled into ways of treating disorders rather then towards methods of preventing disease. Whilst nobody would contest the remarkable progress and medical discoveries that have been made in recent years, new pharmaceuticals and treatments have contributed to a spiralling healthcare bill. Rising citizen expectations and an ageing society have placed further demands on healthcare services, and most countries are facing major challenges in terms of its sustainability.

The time may be ripe for radically rethinking health research strategy. Social interventions at policy level have a high impact on health and may become of great interest to public health policy. Nevertheless, the outcome cannot be measured in the same way that the outcome of clinical trials or health behaviour interventions on individuals can be measured.

Personalised Medicine

Personalised medicine is an approach that tailors interventions to individual variations in risk and treatment response. Although medicine has long made efforts to achieve this goal, recent advances and falling costs in genomics are beginning to make this concept a reality.

Pharmacogenomics may also provide an opportunity for an increased range of medicines. A number of drugs fail to obtain regulatory approval because they have a negative side effect on a small part of the population. This reduces the range of available medicines and pushes up the costs of research. If the genetic element could be incorporated into the testing and licensing procedure, it would be possible to develop many more drugs provided that these would be prescribed on the basis of successful genetic tests only.

As the cost of genetic testing continues to fall, it may be generally available as early as 2014. The recent developments raise questions about regulatory policy, technology assessment, and especially the financing and organisation of medical innovation.

Changing Demand for Health Services May Reduce Costs

The workshop proved invaluable in bringing together a variety of perspectives representing different interests, including academia, the public sector, the private sector and civil society. This collective knowledge ensured an interesting and balanced discussion and helped impart a certain degree of validity and legitimacy to the results.

The workshop conclusions are summarised below according to the issues introduced above.

Diversification in Medicine

The growing popularity of complementary and alternative medicine could lead to a demand for a diverse mix of medical services in the future. The regulation of practitioners may need to be extended to include those practicing alternative medicine. This speciality may provide opportunities for reducing the public healthcare bill.

Mental Health in an Ageing Society

The increasing incidence of mental health problems among the elderly is a looming problem that could have a significant impact both in terms of demand for medical services as well as in a wider social context. There are very significant policy implications and the matter deserves further consideration.


Increasing incidence of obesity and the limited success of current attempts to address the problem demand a new impetus and a broader approach. Alternative measures could include additional regulation of the food industry and regulatory constraints on marketing by the fast food industry.

Re-prioritising Health Research

New pharmaceuticals and treatments have contributed to a spiralling healthcare bill, and in many countries, future sustainability is a challenge. The time may be ripe for radically rethinking health research strategy with an increased focus on preventive solutions.

Personalised Treatment

Widespread personalised medicine is believed to have a significant impact on the future treatment of individuals. Its increasing significance is considered a plausible prospect for the future as pharmacogenetic knowledge grows and costs continue to fall. Pharmacogenomics also provides a mechanism for improvements in the pharmaceutical regulatory regime leading to a broader range and lower cost of drugs.

Authors: Petra Schaper-Rinkel            

Ozcan Saritas                          

Brian Warrington                   

Victor van Rij                           

Sponsors: EU Commission
Type: EU-level single issue foresight exercise
Organizer: FP7 SESTI Project Coordinator: TNO, Maurits Butter  
Duration: Oct 08 – Mar 11 Budget: N/A Time Horizon: 2025 Date of Brief: April 2011  


Download EFP Brief No. 198_Weak Signals Health

Sources and References

For more information, visit the project website at

Amanatidou et al. (2011). “On concepts and Methods in Horizon Scanning: Lessons from Initiating Policy Dialogues on Emerging Issues.” Fourth International Seville Conference on Future-Oriented Technology Analysis (FTA)
Seville, 12-13 May 2011

Braun et al. (2009). EFMN. Special issue on healthcare. Healthy ageing and the future of public healthcare systems, Brussels 2009

Kopelman, P. (2010). “Foresight Report: the obesity challenge ahead.” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 69(1): 80‐85.

Mossialos, E., Dixon, A., Figueras, J. and Kutzin, J. (Eds.) (2002). “Funding Healthcare: Option for Europe.” Open University Press, Buckingham.

Office of Science and Technology (OST) (2001). “Healthcare 2020, Report of the Foresight Healthcare Panel.” Department of Trade and Industry, London, available at:

Saritas, O. and Keenan, M. (2004). “Broken promises and/ or techno dreams? The future of health and social services in Europe.” foresight, vol. 6, issue 5, 281-291.

EFP Brief No. 197: Scanning for Emerging Science and Technology Issues

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

The Scanning for Emerging Science and Technology Issues (SESTI) project was about identifying “emerging issues” that could have a potentially significant impact on society by 2030, are still not sufficiently recognised by policy makers, and to which policy makers should (perhaps) pay more attention. The overall objectives were to research the added value of weak signal scanning, develop and improve the theoretical concept of weak signals, assess the strengths and weaknesses of several scanning methods (exploratory and evaluative), identify emerging issues and ways of creating awareness among the policy community.

Weak Signals for Research Policy

Often societal developments are highly influenced by unlikely events with low probability but high impact. These so-called “weak signals” are not clear-cut and are only rarely discussed in the policy arena (or not at all). Although it is generally accepted that early warning to these weak signals is an important input to policy making, the development of approaches and methods to identify them and feed them into the policy process are still in the early stages. Apart from more traditional approaches, which are still useful in dealing with these “weak signals”, the developments in ICT offer new opportunities for efficient and effective identification methods.

An essential characteristic of “weak signals” is the combination of low probability and high potential impact. Normally these “weak signals” are not discussed in mainstream policy settings, let alone addressed by policy.

However, they need to be anticipated to ensure quick and adequate responses to benefit from opportunities given and/or counteract undesired impact.

On the one hand, an accelerating pace of scientific discoveries opens up new opportunities for developing innovative new products and services. The early detection of “weak signals” in scientific areas with potentially large impact on innovation is one crucial element of the project effort.

On the other hand, Europe is likely to be confronted in the future with new sets of socio-economic challenges. Several of these challenges are already under discussion today while others remain vague and uncertain. In this respect, there is equally a need to look ahead and identify possible future trends and socio-economic challenges with a high impact.

The Scanning for Emerging Science and Technology Issues (SESTI) project aimed at combining research in the field of “weak signals” in order to determine and assess what approaches and methods can be used for policy purposes and to identify the future of research in case studies and show how the results of research can be made usable for policy.

The SESTI project was mainly financed by the European Union in the Seventh Framework Programme under the Social Sciences and Humanities theme. The consortium involved in the collaborative effort consisted of the following parties: the Austrian Institute of Technology, the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, the Malta Council for Science and Technology, the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, and the Dutch TNO Strategies for the Information Society group.

Weak Signals as Early Warning System

The overall goal of the project was to contribute to the development of an effective transnational system for the early identification of weak signals of emerging issues that will have an impact on Europe. In the project, two research questions were central: (1) What new foresight approaches can be used to identify “weak signals” in a systematic, efficient and effective way, and how can they be made operational? (2) How can “weak signals” be systematically linked to policy processes to have an impact?

Another objective of the study was to evaluate the answers to the research questions stated above in a practical situation to enhance usability. For this purpose, the case of the future of research was chosen, leading to the following research questions: (1) What are the weak signals at the interface between scientific discovery, emerging fields of innovation and societal needs in Europe? (2) What national and global developments in business, research and society have a high potential impact on the research infrastructure, and what will happen if they are not addressed by policy?

Specific issues were selected on the basis of set criteria that gave priority to:

  • Topics that are not currently addressed by EU policy or FP7 or are addressed in a limited way.
  • Topics with a long-term orientation (2030) and having no “owner” in the European Policy arena.
  • Topics that have relative low probability and potentially high impact.

Innovative Tools for Scanning & Communicating Weak Signals

The overall strategy of the project was to balance content development, methodological insights in “weak signal” identification and actual use of information by the user (policy) community, which again may lead to new insights for the operationalisation of methods.

The general organisation of the project is visualised in the diagram:

In the following text, the different aspects of the project shown in the diagram will be discussed summarily.

The WikiHub

One of the cornerstones of the project was the WikiHub. This Internet website provided the backbone to the communication infrastructure, both internally and externally. The WikiHub fulfilled two functions: it served as a communication and a scanning tool. The information collected would be integrated into the WikiHub acting as a pool of weak signals that could be edited by the different partners responsible for the various scanning activities as well as by external users.

Scanning for Emerging Issues

The objective of this work package was to scan the environment for weak signals and emerging issues. An important base for this would be the joint database of the coordination group of national horizon scanning, which was initiated by the Forsociety ERA Net. The methods used included input from national foresight representatives and initiatives, Internet scans, literature scans, participatory conferences, electronic surveys and interviews with visionaries.

Processing Information

The objective of this work package was to process the information collected in the scanning activities. As this was still fragmented information stemming from different sources, it needed to be processed to achieve a coherent structure. The information collected was processed in a first stage by one of the project partners for discussion at workshops. During two workshops general futures experts were involved. They selected 50 emerging issues for further analysis based on an input document containing a long list of issues describing them from a global perspective.

In-depth Analysis

The major objective of this work package was to research in depth selected emerging issues creating more background information to initiate a discussion in the policy arena. The selected issues were further investigated using desk research, interviews and an internal expert workshop oriented towards creating new (contextual) information. For each issue, a horizon scan discussion document was drawn up, describing in depth the respective issue, to serve as a basis for the discussions at the transnational (and potential national) workshops.

Transnational Workshops

The results of the in-depth analysis of the emerging issues selected were presented to international stakeholders to evaluate the potential impact and create momentum to address and elaborate the issue. These results, together with the horizon scan discussion document, were presented at an EU-level workshop that was organised for EU representatives from different areas and also involved experts in the field to discuss the issue.

Selecting Signals for Further Assessment

An advisory commission played a large role in the selection of the signals to be further assessed. All signals identified would be assessed with a semi-quantitative indicator scheme to be developed during the start up phase.

Knowledge Dissemination

This work package aimed at facilitating the effective dissemination of knowledge generated through the project and sought to ensure that strategic intelligence and information would reach relevant stakeholders, in particular policy-makers and those responsible for implementing policies.

At the end of the project, a two-day conference was held to present, discuss and assess the results of the project as well as enhance the functioning of the network.

Policy Implications: Going Beyond Conventional Approaches

The weak signals and emerging issues that were identified in the SESTI project were divided into three categories: health, energy and cognitive enhancement. The final SESTI conference discussed all three categories2. In the following, we describe each of these categories in turn and show policy implications.

Weak Signals and Emerging Issues in Health

An ageing society, longer life expectancy, advances in medical technologies and new medicines are leading to spiralling costs and putting unprecedented pressures on the provision of healthcare services throughout Europe.

Using the techniques developed earlier in the project, the SESTI team identified a number of emerging issues of which the five listed below were selected for discussion during a workshop held in Brussels in November 2010. The workshop was attended by thematic experts as well as national and EC policy-makers.

Diversification in medicine. A wide range of new offerings beyond conventional medicine and outside the public health system has sprung up in recent years. Emerging technologies may lead to new approaches, alternative methods are gaining more attention, and new health related service markets are emerging.

Mental health in an ageing society. Advances in medicine mean that humans are living longer than ever before. However, the quality of life of the elderly is often compromised due to frailty, reduced mobility, dependence on medication, financial limitations and loneliness in the twilight years.

2 Details on the final conference can be found on the SESTI website:

Obesity: The global epidemic marches on. It is estimated that in excess of one billion adults are overweight, at least 300 million of whom are clinically obese. Obesity has reached epidemic proportions and is a major contributor to the global burden of chronic disease and disability.

Is prevention better than cure? Re-prioritising health research. It is a fact that a number of simple preventive measures, such as consumption of nutritious foods, better personal hygiene and sanitation, both when handling food and during medical treatment, have contributed significantly to improved levels of health.

Personalised treatment. The response of an individual to a medicinal drug may depend on a number of factors, such as gender, age and the genetic makeup of that individual. Personalised medicine is a health care approach that tailors interventions to individual genetic variation in risk and treatment response.

Weak Signals and Emerging Issues in Energy

The development of secure, cost-effective and environmentally friendly sources of energy has become one of the greatest and most pressing challenges facing humankind.

The SESTI team again applied the techniques developed in the course of the project to identify emerging issues in the field of energy. The following five were selected for discussion during the Brussels workshop with experts and policymakers in November 2010.

Hybrid nuclear energy. Energy from nuclear fission reactors remains a controversial topic. Nuclear fusion promises a virtually limitless supply of clean energy without the problem of hazardous by-products but remains stubbornly a promise in the future. Recent developments in the form of hybrid fission and fusion reactors might reduce the timeframe within which nuclear plants could become a viable source of clean energy.

Renewable energy from the desert. Large-scale generation of electricity from solar energy requires a large land area coupled with long hours of high-intensity sunlight. The deserts of the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) countries fit this requirement admirably. Large concentrated plants could generate electricity that could then be transported to European countries using high-voltage DC cables. A small percentage of the total desert area would be sufficient to provide energy for the whole of Europe.

Biofuels, biomass and biomimicry. The production of ethanol and other biofuels from crops has already become an important source of renewable energy in the transport sector. However, current yield in terms of quantity of fuel per unit of land area is still too low to make this a viable option for large-scale energy generation. Crop-based biofuels compete with food crops for arable land and can affect the availability and price of grain. Genetic engineering offers the possibility of achieving significant improvements in yield, which calls for further research in this area.

Unknown risks of the hydrogen economy: A recent initiative to combat global warming involves the use of solar energy to generate hydrogen, which may then be used to drive fuel cells to generate electricity in electric cars. One possible risk relates to the leakage of hydrogen into the atmosphere. Since hydrogen is lighter than air, any leaked hydrogen would probably rise through the atmosphere and reach the stratosphere. Here it can react with ozone, producing water vapour, which may increase the size and frequency of polar stratospheric clouds or increase the ozone hole. Since hydrogen is very scarce in the atmosphere, even relatively minor amounts of the gas may have a significant impact on the weather.

Digging deeper and farther: Diminishing existing oil and gas reserves have extended exploration into more hostile and challenging environments. Despite proper precautions, accidents are bound to happen and advances in drilling technology appear to have outstripped the ability to plug a leaking oil well at extreme depth.

Weak Signals and Emerging Issues in Cognitive Enhancement

Human enhancement is a field of growing interest in different communities. It is an umbrella term used to describe the expansion of physical or cognitive abilities of individuals. It can be temporary (e.g., using pharmaceuticals) or permanent (e.g., surgery, implants), and can be applied as a therapeutic measure (to correct a deficiency or impairment) or as an improvement. The term is also sometimes used to refer to measures aimed at increasing the life span of an individual.

Cognitive enhancement is a form of human enhancement that may be defined as the amplification or extension of core capacities of the mind through improvement or augmentation of internal or external information processing systems.

During a workshop held in Brussels in June 2010, a number of issues related to cognitive enhancement were identified that deserve special attention from policymakers. Among the issues discussed were the need for interdisciplinary research and political regulation.

Interdisciplinary research: Many of the developments in cognitive enhancement are expected from interdisciplinary research. From the proponents’ point of view, the promotion of such research requires national and European research programmes specifically designed for this purpose.

Regulatory needs: Many of the topics under development have profound ethical and legal implications and raise questions regarding the need for regulation or guidelines in areas not addressed by existing legislation, such as the use of products affecting the brain, the combination of living organs with technology, or privacy issues caused by ICT implants.

Authors: Effie Amanatidou, Vicente Carabias-Barcelo, Miriam Leis, Ozcan Saritas, Petra Schaper-Rinkel, Bas van Schoonhoven, Victor van Rij, Brian Warrington
Sponsors: European Commission, FP7 SSH Programme
Type: Weak signal scanning for the European region
Organizer: SESTI Consortium, Maurits Butter
Duration: 10/2008-3/2010 Budget: 730k € Time Horizon: 2030 Date of Brief: July 2011


Download EFP Brief No. 197_Scanning for Emerging Science and Technology Issues

Sources and Further Reading

Butter et al., 2010, Cognitive Enhancement Workshop: Weak Signals and Emerging Issues for European Policy, SESTI deliverable D 7.7 (1), obtained from SESTI website:

Butter et al., 2011, Scanning for early recognition of emerging issues; dealing with the unexpected. An operational framework for the identification and assessment of new future developments, SESTI deliverable D 6.2 (2), obtained from SESTI website:

Butter et al., 2010, Energy Workshop: Weak Signals and Emerging Issues for European Policy, SESTI deliverable D 7.7 (3), obtained from SESTI website:

Butter et al., 2010, Health Workshop: Weak Signals and Emerging Issues for European Policy, SESTI deliverable D 7.7 (4), obtained from SESTI website: