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Regular version of the site

Foresight is More Prescience than Prognosis

As part of the project “The International Academy of Foresight” the Foresight Centre at the HSE Institute of Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (ISSEK) is receiving its first interns from partner universities. Tiina-Maria Seppänen, researcher at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), and Alexander Chulok, head of department at ISSEK, talked to us about their joint research plans.  

Alexander Chulok
Alexander Chulok
— Alexander, can you tell us in more detail about the academy and what it’s for?

— The Academy is the first ever consortium to unite foresight research organisations from more than ten countries. Its mission sounds quite ambitious: “Foresight to develop democracy” and implies a wide range of research projects on very varied subjects. Leading world centres in foresight and prognosis are involved: The Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT), The Finland Futures Research Centre at the University of Turku (UTU), The Centre for Strategic Studies in Management and Science (CGEE) Brazil, The Latin American School of Social Sciences (FLACSO) Argentina, Foresight Canada, The Science and Technology Policy Institute (STEPI) South Korea and others.

Around the world Foresight has been developing as a concept for more than 40 years, but has only been growing in Russia in the last 15 years. This makes it all the more important for us to look at the experience of our colleagues and to learn from their mistakes. On the other hand, Foresight as a science has reached such a level of complexity, skill and experience that it wouldn’t be untimely to discuss some kind of harmonisation. It’s time to talk about the need to make general standards for quality, a unified system to connect the centres which are doing Foresight research. So among the key tasks for the academy is to develop joint international research projects, to increase mobility of young academics and to make an international expert network on the basis of the participating organisations. The project will start when it gets support from the European Commission under the Marie Curie Prize competitions, and is expected to last three years coordinated by AIT. During that time, more than 150 researchers will be brought in, some quite young and others more experienced, and there will be summer and winter schools, an academic seminar and a concluding conference.  

— What role does HSE’s Foresight Centre play in the academy?

— HSE has joined the process on an equal footing, which I think is an objective indication of the quality of our research. Although Foresight has only recently become part of Russia’s innovation and science and technology policy we already have a clear sense of why we are doing it and which is the proper approach for us to use. But it’s also important that we synchronize our purpose with the research of our foreign colleagues, so every year at the International consultative council of the Foresight Centre we discuss the latest trends and influences in Foresight research.

Through the academy we plan to organise more than 20 internships for our staff and for colleagues from partner organisations in leading European centres involved in research about the future. Our foreign colleagues showed a keen interest in coming to study with us. Among the first is the young researcher from the Institute of Sustainable Development at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Tiina-Maria Seppänen.

— In Russia these days the word “foresight” is used quite a lot but not always in the right way. What do you understand foresight and foresight research to mean?

— Foresight has many factors, but essentially it is the systematic research and creation of a general picture of the future of the economy and society, divided by key stakeholders. By key we mean stakeholders like business, consumers, science, higher education, the state and, ideally, society. Getting them involved is one of the necessary conditions of effective Foresight. And we need a systematic approach. It’s no use doing Foresight research and then just going away and not applying it usefully, or adjusting it when new dangers or new opportunities arise. Foresight is more prescience than prognosis. It’s difficult to predict the future but you can make agreements about it, and those agreements can be more important than a correct prognosis. In Russia at the moment, where although we have so many opportunities for communicating, business and science continue “not to see” each other, applying the ideas of Foresight could become a powerful tool to integrate their interests.

Foresight has absorbed approaches from many different areas – marketing, sociology, economics and management and could provide useful material for expert discussions and the right framework to develop a script for the future.

In recent years Russia has moved away from short-term 3-4 year planning. It’s noticeable among companies who are initiating 10 year projects and in government policy making that most industrial strategies, regional and national plans are calculated up to 2030 and beyond. Evidently, without a picture of the future with all the possible changes and variations included, it is extremely difficult to make the right executive decision now. We need road maps which show the many possible solutions, and alternative strategies to realise them, taking into account the constant changes in the situation around us. I think that’s another strong argument in favour of Foresight.

— What opportunities does the internship programme for young researchers offer?

— We are running quite a broad range of Foresight research projects, including national, regional, industrial and corporative foresight as well as international projects like ERANET.RUS or Rising Powers.

So, there are lots of areas of mutual interest. For example, as part of the long-term prognosis for science and technology development in Russia up to 2030 which we are coordinating under the Ministry of Education and Science, six priority areas have been chosen for research. They include information and telecommunication systems, life sciences, new materials and nanotechnology, transport and space systems, rational use of natural resources, energy and energy efficiency. For each of these we looked at global trends, future and innovative markets, products and services, priority applied research and development.

It’s important that alone we cannot cover every interesting niche, and there are many challenges on a global level like ageing populations and energy security which need a collective, interdisciplinary and international response. Here we need to integrate the chain to create added value, there we need partnership to carry out research or transfer competencies.

We hope that the various joint projects of the academy will allow us to outline zones of mutual interest with potential partners and to bring up proponents of Foresight culture who in a short time will be able to use their research to demonstrate the usefulness of Foresight.

For example, Tiina-Maria Seppänen is studying sustainable development and her subject is the ecology of transport systems. This presents a lot of complex problems which can only be resolved in cooperation with different specialists and so we’ve planned a series of meetings with colleagues from different departments at HSE and with our partners at Moscow State University at the Centre for Prognosis in the Rational Use of Natural Resources.  I think Tiina can tell you in more detail about her research.

Tiina -Maria Seppanen
Tiina -Maria Seppanen
Tiina-Maria Seppänen, a Pioneer of the International Foresight Academy in Moscow

 Tiina-Maria Seppänen, M.Sc. in Environmental Sciences, is a research assistant at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Switzerland.  She is currently in Moscow working for the project of the International Foresight Academy.

— What are your interests in research?

My interests in research are focusing on sustainability and more precisely on sustainable mobility and the future issues relating to transport and resources. My research includes future trends and key drivers as well as challenges and opportunities for the future transportation. Socio-economic and environmental aspects, spatial differences in versatile developments, indicators for sustainable mobility and technical solutions as a way for creating an accessible, sustainable and efficient transport system are essential parts of my research.

— How long have you been working in this areas in Switzerland? What are the main problems and goals?

— I have been working in the field of sustainable mobility at the Institute of Sustainable Development (INE) at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Switzerland for two years. I have a master’s degree in Environmental Sciences, which also included topics relating to sustainability, energy and transportation. My master’s thesis was about biogas as an energy source for heating and transportation. During the past years I have been working on several EU and other projects focusing on current and future mobility issues and including different foresight methods.

Switzerland has an advanced public transport system with frequent connections and good infrastructure, but issues relating to peak hours and unequal capacity use, financing, land use and spatial development exist. The different urban, suburban and rural areas in Switzerland have versatile issues when it comes to accessibility and sustainable transportation, which is one of the reasons why we at INE are trying to find ways to measure and analyse sustainable mobility nationwide in Switzerland. Infrastructure financing and the internalisation of the external costs, which are the negative environmental and social impacts caused by transportation, are also central issues in Switzerland.

— You are the pioneer of International Foresight Academy in HSE.  What are your expectations and challenges in working in Moscow?

— I’m looking forward for learning about the transport related foresight and about the future trends, challenges and opportunities for the transportation in Russia. I would also like to get to know about the framework requirements and key drivers influencing the mobility patterns in Russia and finally to be able to compare the situations in Russia and in Switzerland / in the EU.  It will be interesting to look at the differences and similarities and to create cooperation based on the common interests. A joint output in the form of a paper or article would be a desirable result.

— What's your first impression on Moscow?

— I’m really enjoying Moscow. It’s an exciting city and has numerous grand buildings and churches where the remarkable history and culture can be seen. It can be a small cultural shock when coming from central Europe, but not in a negative sense. I’m also surprised how well the metro system is working and how easy it is to get around in Moscow.

— How do you see development of International Foresight Academy in the nearest future?

— Since I am the pioneer of IFA, I can’t say for sure how it will develop, but I’m convinced that exciting knowledge exchange and positive learning experiences will be a part of IFA’s future. Further plans for international exchange between European and South and North American countries is already been planned.

Ludmilla Mezentseva and Anna Chernyakhovskaya, HSE news portal

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