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‘An STI-Accelerated and Informed Future is Possible’

‘An STI-Accelerated and Informed Future is Possible’

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The Twelfth International Academic Conference ‘Foresight and Science, Technology and Innovation Policy’ is kicking off at HSE University on November 22. Alexander Sokolov, chair of the organising committee, talked to the HSE News Service about the evolution of the foresight agenda. Two of the conference speakers, Ibon Zugasti from Spain and Mlungisi Cele from South Africa, shared some highlights of their research.

Chair of the Conference Organising Committee Alexander Sokolov is Director of the HSE International Research and Educational Foresight Centre and Deputy Director of the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge.

Alexander Sokolov

Every autumn, the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (ISSEK) hosts its annual international conference 'Foresight and STI Policy', and it has become a tradition for ISSEK to use this forum to take stock of the past year and reflect on future plans with the institute's partners.

The upcoming twelfth conference is expected to be particularly interesting, as this year—which also marks an anniversary of both HSE University and ISSEK—has been highly productive. Since January 2022, The UNESCO Chair on Future Studies established at ISSEK's Foresight Centre has been actively operating. New collaborations have been established, such as joint research with Sechenov University focused on new and promising methods of drug design; some early results from this foresight study will be presented at the conference. Throughout the year, our engagement with the Human Capital Multidisciplinary Research Centre and participation in the Strategic Project 'National Centre for Scientific, Technological and Socio-Economic Forecasting' have set a high pace and level, as well as a broad agenda for our projects.

In addition to presenting ISSEK's recent work, our foresight conferences always cover a broader global research agenda. A series of conference reports this year offers an outlook on the digital economy in Russia and worldwide and reflects on the future of ICT, particularly the transition to 5G/6G. The conference features sessions on national innovation systems and discussions of factors driving the development of high-tech companies. Our colleagues from leading international 'think tanks' will speak about prospective space and ocean research and present global development scenarios—in particular, those projected by the UN Foresight initiative.

Over its four days, the conference will feature seven sessions, a round table on the technology forecast for the Eurasian Economic Union, and a seminar on S&T foresight for BRICS countries. The conference speakers represent 20 countries, from the UK to South Africa, from Canada to China, from Ecuador to Egypt, and the audience is expected to be much broader. The conference will be held online, and its programme is designed to accommodate the schedules of participants joining us from different time zones and those planning to work on the conference days.

Ibon Zugasti Gorostidi from Spain is part of The Millennium Project and Managing Director at Prospektiker. At the conference, he will talk on ‘Five UN Foresight Elements of Our Common Agenda: Results of the Real-Time Delphi Study’. Prospektiker carries out research on the future of technology. It advises the governments of Colombia, Cuba, Chile, Spain and other countries on strategic foresight. The Millennium Project is a global participatory think tank established in 1996 under the American Council for the United Nations University that became independent in 2009 and has grown to 71 'nodes’ around the world (an MP Node is a group of institutions and individuals that connect local and global perspectives). 

Ibon Zugasti

UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued Our Common Agenda, a bold report on UN reforms that includes five foresight elements: a UN Futures Lab, a UN Summit on the Future, a UN Envoy for Future Generations, periodic UN Strategic Foresight and Global Threats reports, and a Re-purposed UN Trusteeship Council as a Multi-Stakeholder Foresight Body. The Millennium Project just released an international strategic assessment of how to implement each to improve global foresight.
The Real-Time Delphi (RTD) questionnaire asked how critical each of the five elements was to improving the effectiveness of global foresight; what and who would make this element successful, and what features would make it most effective; and additional strategies to implement the element.
The study was conducted in association with The Millennium Project’s 70 Nodes around the world, along with the World Futures Studies Federation and the Association of Professional Futurists.
The RTD panel of 189 futurists and related international experts from 54 countries overwhelmingly endorsed and will support the five foresight elements of Our Common Agenda as an integrated and interdependent system: the success of each one affects the success of all the others.

Strategic Foresight and Global Risk Reports by the UN were seen as very critical for improving global foresight by nearly 40% of the panel. They should bring attention to threats that are often ignored, with cost estimates for prevention vs. recovery (Bill Gates estimates it will cost $1 billion to address the next pandemic compared to the $15 trillion spent on Covid so far). It should identify time-sensitive information required to make more intelligent decisions. The report should also be updated online in real-time due to unforeseen incidents (wars, pandemics, research breakthroughs, new discoveries, etc).

According to The Millennium Project’s State of the Future overview, the prospects for humanity could be great—provided the main global challenges are addressed.

Mlungisi Cele from South Africa is Acting CEO of the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI). He was one of the key participants of a large-scale joint project with HSE University that was commissioned by the South African Department of Science and Innovation: 'South Africa Foresight Exercise for Science, Technology and Innovation—2030’. Mlungisi Cele will give a talk entitled ‘Towards South Africa's Science Technology Innovation-Enabled Inclusive and Sustainable Socioeconomic Development’.

Mlungisi Cele

South Africa’s new Decadal Plan for Science Technology and Innovation (STI) seeks to continue building the National System of Innovation (NSI), while at the same time pivoting it to have a greater impact in addressing societal challenges and creating an inclusive and sustainable socioeconomic development. It also emphasises the role of STI in African continental socioeconomic development. The Foresight Exercise for STI informed the identification of the priorities contained in the new Decadal Plan for STI. The Decadal Plan addresses such challenges as climate change and sustainability, education, skills and the future of work. It includes interventions to modernise existing economic sectors such as mining, agriculture and manufacturing. It also promotes fostering new sources of economic growth, such as the circular economy and digital economy. The South African government is continuing to focus on key enablers such as human resources, international cooperation, and investment.

Taking into account the global events of the past few years, the world needs to urgently rethink various policy approaches, priorities and investment decisions. There is a need to build robust and resilient STI systems and institutions to prepare for the future. A concerted and renewed sense of urgency should be exerted on world leaders to address sustainable development goals and stop thinking parochially and in a manner that promotes division, suffering and inequality. There is a need for mass education and training to empower and equip all citizens to deal with whatever situations arise, including mis-and disinformation, as well as differentiate between good or bad science and promote evidence-informed decision making and policy. Foresight Exercises should be promoted and institutionalised as an essential aspect of policy making. We need to improve communication with the public. International cooperation should be enhanced. 

The COVID-19 pandemic enhanced public trust and confidence in science and its role in decision-making. This gave me hope, energy and optimism that an STI-accelerated and informed future is possible.

The Twelfth International Academic Conference 'Foresight and STI Policy' is taking place at HSE University from November 22–25. Please visit the website for more information.

See also:

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HSE University Expands Cooperation with the World's Leading Foresight Centres

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