To the Future with Foresight
Foresight research allows us to predict the future, and therefore to be ready for it. This was the main idea of the seminar ‘Scientific, Technical and Innovation Policies ’which was held on October 6th by the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge with the participation of experts from the University of Manchester.
The future is actively created by people, and this fact stimulates the development of such methods of forecasting and prediction as Foresight. The method is, in a broad sense, based on the same algorithm as people use to make decisions and consider consequences in their everyday life, claimed Ozcan Saritas, an expert from the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, University of Manchester.
Since the1950s, methods of expert analysis, extrapolation, as well as the first systems of modeling have been used to predict the future, Saritas said. More recently, Foresight has been used to stimulate the development of certain economic sectors and has become an important tool for forecasting and providing sustainable competitive advantages.
In the 1980s, an understanding of the fact that the ambiguity of the future was increasing and the development of society was becoming ever more complex led to a shift in the emphasis of Foresight research, and it became necessary to involve the maximum number of parties in the process of prediction. Thus a concept of expanded participation started to form, which allows the creation of a fully functional national innovational system, Saritas explained.
In the beginning of the current century the importance of innovations, both technological and organizational, has started to increase. Technical progress, new international standards of trade, quality, labour, ecology and intellectual property rights have given rise to new opportunities throughout the world. That was the first side. On the other side, global problems have started to appear, the solutions to which demand a global management system, in which Foresight plays an important role, Saritas said.
Apart from the technological development and innovation emergence, a change of political context is also taking place. Society today is more involved in the decision-making process, and this fact is also reflected in the tasks and methods of Foresight research.
So, Foresight today is a system of methods of expert assessment of strategic directions of socio-economic and innovational development, as well as revealing technological breakthroughs, able to influence the economy and society in the middle- and long-term perspective.
Wild Cards and Weak Signals
‘Wild cards'have a low probability of realization, but if they do happen, such factors have a great influence on the way of world development, Rafael Popper, another representative of the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, emphasized in his presentation.
‘Wild cards'may be divided into two categories:natural occurences and human actions. They generally include natural disasters, illnesses, terrorist attacks which may happen at any time and spread rapidly. Foresight is concerned with developing precautionary measures to protect us from such ‘accidental'factors, Popper said.
Since such signals are constantly disappearing or changing under the influence of different powers, system analysis and monitoring is needed in order to track them. As part of the EU programme, an information bulletin is prepared, which includes chosen relevant ‘wild cards'. For example, in Germany they are medical care and transport, in Great Britain - nanotechnologies and ecology, in Finland - safety, the energy sector and the agro-industry, Rafael Popper added.
‘Weak signals'allow the forecasting of a row of future events. For example, today there is an growing shortage of drinking water, so we can create a list of countries where this situation will worsen in the future. In the longer term, a larger part of the Earth's population will suffer this shortage of drinking water, and people will try to migrate to other countries. ‘We shall face this in the next 20 to 30 years'believes Popper.
S&T in the Spotlight
The Manchester Institute of Innovation Research offers an independent analysis to those who develop and implement policies in science and technologies (S&T). The Institute has Master's programmes and programmes for retraining professionals and management'- said Ian Miles, another expert from the University of Manchester.
In its research the Institute combines innovations and analysis of the future along with information on how innovational systems will be reformed and recreated. The work aims to see future opportunities and problems connected with the decision-making process, as well as creation of an expanded network of experts from various areas of activity.
Most Foresight projects have science and technology (S&T) perspectives research as their key component. Thus tasks of formation the policies in this sphere are solved. Some studies of the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research are associated with business and population. Among their most well known projects are Cleanprod, E-skills and Nanoplat. Iknow, SANDERA, SESTI, FarHorizon research is being conducted as part of the current EU framework programme.
‘We also study changes in employment and professional skills'Miles said. In this area there are many models with various tasks and different input and output variables. As a result, these models are difficult to evaluate, and often they fail to give a quality assessment. Creation of scenarios of the situation development allows us to understand how many people of which professions and qualifications will be in demand, and in what sphere it will be necessary to create new jobs.