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Regular version of the site

Foresight: Moving from the Future to the Present

Russia is beginning to develop a system of strategic planning. One of its elements is foresight of science and technology development. What place does foresight occupy in this system, and how can its results be implemented? In an interview for the Science and Technology in Russia project, First Vice Rector of HSE and Director of its Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (ISSEK) Leonid Gokhberg explained why Russia needs foresight. According to colleagues at the OECD, ISSEK is one of the biggest foresight centres in the world. In September 2014, it will be launching a Master’s Programme 'Governance of Science, Technology, and Innovation', which for the most part will be focused on foresight studies. 

— How is foresight different from forecasting?

— Forecasting has been around for hundreds of years, but foresight studies emerged in the 1970s when the process of technology development accelerated sharply. At that time, people realised that the quantitative methods of forecasting weren’t working anymore.

Prognosis is moving from the present to the future, but foresight is the opposite — moving from the future to the present. The difference is ideological. Forecasting works by guessing the future based on the present situation and taking into account possible, but generally rather unpredictable, drivers of development.

The job of foresight is not to predict the future, but to create, on the basis of a consensus among decision makers and leading experts, an integrated vision of the future and to attempt to devise a possible plan of action to respond to key challenges and to reach identified aims. 

A key element of foresight research is the process of attracting expert knowledge and agreeing the positions of the parties. We cannot talk about building a future or forming a strategy unless we take the interest of stakeholders into account. The art of this kind of research is in choosing the right experts and, ideally, balancing the interests of all the players. But, alas, there is a serious shortage of experts in certain areas of science and technology. This was the problem we encountered when developing Russian S&T Foresight 2030. The culture of long-term planning is lacking in politics, scientific research, technology, as well as in the corporate sector. Business lives only in the present; science looks, at most, three years ahead when allocating money. Developing new foresight instruments and switching to long-term scientific research programmes, including those in the framework of state programmes, will bring about a positive change, by setting the strategic vector for related technology sectors.

— Why is HSE providing expertise and analytical support for developing S&T Foresight for Russia?

— We have a strong team here at HSE. We are involved in a broad spectrum of research and expert analysis for the government, intensively developing at HSE. We are members of all major foresight research networks and were among the founders of International Foresight Academy. We have an International Advisory Board on foresight. One of its first institutional decisions was to create Foresight Centre at HSE, which gave rise to Foresight-Russia journal, now indexed in the Scopus database. We are also considering promoting the journal in the Web of Science, since we began to publish its English language version this year.

As one of the classics of foresight, Professor Ian D. Miles, is Head of HSE Laboratory for Economics of Innovation, and Ozcan Saritas — Editor in Chief of English journal Foresight and one of the brightest young academics in the field — has transferred to us from Manchester University, we are able to provide international expertise, as well. We publish a series of monographs selected by an international editorial board with Springer; remarkably, since recently, every chapter gets indexed as an article by the Web of Science. In the autumn, we will be running our annual conference 'Foresight and STI policy'. 

— And you train specialists in foresight as well?

— Naturally. There are about 150 of them now — we have a very strong and mainly young team. Almost all of them studied and qualified in the best western universities and foresight centres. Every summer we send young ones to the top foresight summer schools. HSE already offers a course on foresight, and from September, we’ll be running an English language Master’s Programme 'Governance of Science, Technology and Innovation', which will, for the most part, be focused on foresight research at all levels, including corporate foresight and technology roadmaps. It will be taught partly by guest professors from various countries.

Read the full version (in Russian)

By Anna Gorbatova

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