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HSE ISSEK Scholars Publish a Book on Foresight for Science, Technology and Innovation

In their new book, Foresight for Science, Technology and Innovation (Springer, 2016), Ian Miles, Ozcan Saritas and Alexander Sokolov introduce the term ForSTI to describe future-oriented analyses, informed by participative processes (to assess evidence, articulate possibilities, and propose actions), that are designed  to feed into STI decision-making. The future considered is usually a long-term one; the issues examined go beyond the purely technical ones; the stakeholders involved reflect the wide spectrum of experience and knowledge relevant to these issues, and the actors whose mobilisation may be required to effect change. (Effective action needs key actors to share insight concerning the rationale for, and potential outcomes of, particular decisions.) The book was presented during recent conference Foresight and STI conference at HSE.

The notion of Foresight has much in common with the work of the "prospectives" school in France, though there is more stress here on wide-ranging stakeholder involvement, and more focus on STI issues. This reflects the approach adopted in several successful Technology Foresight Programmes (TFPs) over the last few decades. It is this success, most probably, that has provoked the rise of the word "Foresight" to describe many activities that would have earlier been described as futures studies, forecasting, or even futurology. The key authors in bringing the term to the fore were John Irvine and Ben Martin (Irvine and Martin, 1984; Martin and Irvine, 1989), whose reviews of approaches to prospective analysis for STI policy were highly influential on TFP development. It is noteworthy that these authors were based in an organisation that combined both innovation research and science policy analysis, on the one hand, with futures studies, on the other. They were alert to the need to bring together the insights associated with such notions as technological trajectories, innovation systems, and the like. The TFPs that drew on their appraisals were typically ForSTI exercises that aimed not only to inform specific policies, but to help "wire up" the innovation systems of the countries or regions concerned. Many more limited activities (short-term, little effort at participation, little relation to actual decisions) may be described as "Foresight", but these - which may well be of value in their own right, and as inputs to fuller ForSTI - are not our focus here.

ForSTI became prominent as societies around the world confronted challenges associated with waves of revolutionary new technologies - many countries found that their innovation systems had been rather unprepared to deal with the emergence of new Information and Bio- Technologies, for instance. As applications of these technologies proliferate, and they are joined by advances in nanotechnology, neuroscience, and other fields, so new opportunities - and looming challenges in economic, employment and ethical arenas - are coming to the fore. This is taking place in global and more local contexts where we face "grand challenges" associated with climate change and environmental deterioration; demographic changes (ageing, migration, etc.); energy, food and water security; and more. Most, if not all, of these "grand challenges" have clear STI dimensions of their own. Public concerns have also grown around the implications of many applications of STI, increasing the pressure on policymakers to develop and use better appraisals of future possibilities and prospects.

ForSTI exercises involve distinctive activities taking place over a period of time that may be measured in months and (often) years. The following Figure outlines a series of phases; but Miles, Saritas and Solokov stress that these do not constitute a rigid schema, since there can be reiterations of specific phases. Often, planning of an exercise needs to be very flexible as Intelligence is required throughout the process (in the sense that new phenomena may need to be taken into account), and as advice is frequently sought before ForSTI process is far advanced. The phases are described as:

  • Initiation: establishing the purpose of the activity, its scope and intended uses and users, and the resources that are available. What is the "focal object" and how will it be addressed in the subsequent phases?
  • Intelligence: Scanning the focal object and its context, establishing basic knowledge about trends, about the results of other studies and the views of major stakeholders, etc.  (Some ongoing activity of this sort will be required throughout the exercise, as noted.) 
  • Imagination:  Involving efforts to grasp the underlying dynamics of the focal object, to map and model it.)
  • Integration: Delineating and appraising possible futures that can arise from the dynamics considered.
  • Interpretation: Examining the implications of the analysis, and suggesting relevant strategies and priorities for achieving the major objectives of the sponsor and other stakeholders.
  • Intervention: Communicating these interpretations and steps that follow to key actors.
  • Impact: Evaluating the extent to which the ForSTI activity has achieved its objectives and been of use, and examining follow-up and the scope for embedding such activity in the organisations concerned.

These are not to be taken as a strict sequence.  In practice there may well be jumps back to "earlier" phases or forward to later phases – both “snakes” and “ladders”.  Some activities within the process - for example a modelling or scenario exercise - may themselves encapsulate several stages of the process.

Additionally, ForSTI involves:

  • Interaction: an activity that early on particularly involves recruitment of stakeholders, and later engages them in participation in successive phases of the process.
  • Management: this is another form of interaction, involving the governance, logistics, and day-to-day monitoring of the whole process.

    FORSTAR – Phases & Methods for ForSTI