Welcome

The EFP Mapping Environment is a multi-purpose platform aimed to monitor, analyse and position (MAP) forward-looking activities (FLA) in Europe and the world. This is a unique space where you will be able locate and hopefully share research and innovation initiatives, which are often associated to one or more of the following approaches: foresight, horizon scanning, forecasting and impact assessment… read more »

To scan or contribute to our database of FLA initiatives, register here »

Background and Introduction to FLA Mapping


Mapping Forward-Looking Activities (FLA) builds on key results and lessons learned from the first large international effort aimed at understanding the nature of FLA practices in Europe and other world regions, including Latin America, North America, Asia, Africa and Oceania. The significant number of mapped FLA between 2004–08 (over 2,000 initiatives) is clear evidence of the rising interest in FLA. As shown in Mapping Foresight (Popper, 2009), this is mainly because foresight and forecasting have become more than just tools to support policy or strategy development in science, technology, and innovation (STI). The results of previous mapping activities revealed that the scope of FLA, as practised in the early years of the twenty-first century, involves a wider range of objectives, including: analysis of the future potential of STI, promoting network building, priority setting for STI, supporting methodology and capacity building, and generating shared visions towards, for example, a strong European Research Area (ERA). In addition, these mapping efforts showed that “multi-scope” or “multi-purpose” FLA is not a European phenomenon but a global one, with interesting similarities as well as differences in FLA practices around world. The mapping publications also showed that the growth of FLA practices is not a matter of fashion but instead a systematic effort to promote effective processes to proactively think about the future. These processes have been applied to a variety of research and knowledge domains. The wide range of domains where FLA has been applied extends across the natural sciences (e.g. biological sciences, chemical sciences, physical sciences, etc.), engineering and technology (e.g. environmental engineering, communications technologies, etc.), medical sciences (e.g. public health and health services), agricultural sciences (e.g. crop and pasture production, etc.), social sciences (e.g. policy and political science), and the humanities (e.g. language and culture).


The Logic of EFP Mapping

 

 

In EFP we have further advanced the mapping for practices and at the same time introduce additional indicators supporting the mapping of players and outcomes of FLA - see Practical Guide to Mapping Forward-Looking Activities (FLA) Practices, Players and Outcomes (Popper and Teichler, 2011). There are significant advantages in mapping FLA. Firstly, Mapping FLA will help us identify individuals and organisations that belong to one or more building block(s) of the FLA umbrella, thus allowing us to recognise key FLA players. Secondly, “FLA players” share some competences and skills regarding the use of particular techniques (e.g. Delphi, roadmapping, scenarios and modelling) and the mapping of different applications and combinations of these methods can lead to a richer understanding of their pros and cons. Thirdly, there seems to be a growing recognition among public, private, academic and civil society actors about the importance of conducting futures research at local, national and international levels. This has increased the demand for quality and quantity of FLA, thus forcing “sub-domains” such as foresight and horizon scanning (FHS) to evolve in ways that practices are borrowed from each other and, as a result, previous boundaries and differences have become less obvious. Fourthly, the concentration of FLA into one platform offers an unprecedented opportunity for interconnecting knowledge on FLA outcomes, thus supporting better science, technology and innovation (STI) and RTD policy advice. Finally, the scope of Mapping FLA is so large that results from their systematic and continuous mapping could potentially be used to virtually shape any phase of the policy cycle (formulation, implementation and evaluation) in any region, country, sector or thematic area.

To better understand the core elements of Forward-Looking Activities (FLA), a practical framework called the S.M.A.R.T. Futures Jigsaw has been developed (see below). The Futures Jigsaw contains 36 elements, which relate to the five phases of FLA processes: Scoping, Mobilising, Anticipating, Recommending and Transforming. Each of these phases and elements will be explained in greater detail below.

 

 

The first phase of Foresight & Horizon Scanning (FHS) processes is about scoping futures. This involves the definition of the aims and objectives of the study, which are often related to a broader set of rationales (e.g. orienting policy and strategy development) and background conditions (e.g. events, documents, etc.). This is followed by the description of the context (e.g. EC funded foresight activities) and the domain coverage (e.g. energy, nanotechnology, security, etc.). Then the methodology is defined (by selecting and combining methods) and a clear work plan is prepared (by defining major activities, tasks and milestones). Next come the decisions about the territorial scope (considering the implications of choosing one or more of the following options: supra-national, national and sub-national) and the time horizon(s), in order to decide how far should we look into the future. Sometimes the funding and the duration of Foresight are independently determined by the context (such as open calls for tenders, for example). However, even if the total funding and duration in months are pre-defined, it is important to make sure that the overall scope of the project is realistic considering available resources. The key elements of the scoping futures phase are used in the mapping of FHS practices.

For practical reasons mobilising futures is represented as the second phase of FHS processes. However, some activities are simultaneously initiated with the scoping phase, such as contract negotiations with the sponsor or definition of the research and technology development (RTD) teams; while others run throughout the life of the project (e.g. engagement of target groups). This phase requires regular (sometimes face-to-face) meetings and discussions with sponsors (responsible for both economic and political support) and champions (influential individuals capable of mobilising key stakeholders). The clear definition of capacities needed to conduct the study is one of the most critical success factors. By capacities we mean the RTD team (i.e. project leader, researchers and technology developers), support team (responsible for travel, logistical and administrative issues), methodology experts (providing guidance during the whole process) and domain experts (e.g. thematic specialists). Depending on the nature of the study (and of the sponsors!), the Foresight team may need cooperation and networking to increase the participation scale and specific target groups (e.g. government organisations). Finally, one element that is often neglected or underestimated is the need for coherent public relations (PR) and marketing strategies. While the former helps to mobilise decision-makers, the latter is essential to communicate and disseminate key activities and findings. The main elements of the mobilising futures phase are used in the mapping of FHS players.

The third phase of the FHS processes is about anticipating futures, i.e. producing the “formal outputs” of Foresight. First we have the so-called visions, often described as desired or target futures. Then we find scenarios ranging from multiple possible futures to a single success scenario that could, but not necessarily, be used as a vision. In some Foresight activity we can find forecasts, which are predictions or ‘informed guesses’ about the most probable futures. Some studies produce lists of key and emerging technologies where further research and investments may be needed. However, some of the most common immediate outputs of FHS include: lists of technological, economic, environmental, political and ethical (TEEPSE) drivers, trends and megatrends; as well as lists of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) and grand challenges (problematic issues of sufficient scale and scope to capture the public and political imagination). More recently, we see a growing interest in the production and analysis of lists of wild cards (uncertain future events with low ‘perceived probability’ and high impact) and weak signals (current issues/developments which are highly uncertain and ambiguous). More systematic and action-oriented studies tend to generate pathways (future directions) and roadmaps (details plans with one or more ways to achieve desired/target futures). Finally, we find models (using judgemental or statistical knowledge) and frameworks (including conceptual, methodological and analytical ones) as typical outputs of evidence-based Foresight. The main elements of the anticipating futures phase are used in the mapping of FHS outcomes.

The fourth phase of the FHS processes is about recommending futures. Many types of recommendations can be mapped against practices, players and “formal outputs” of a particular FHS activity. This will allow EFP to codify and measure the extent to which Foresight conducted at different levels (sub-national, national, European and international) suggest some types of recommendations. However, the STI orientation of FHS players quite often (but not always) makes the recommendations more relevant for actors in the research and innovation system. Even where recommendations are not explicitly stated in “formal outputs” of FHS (e.g. reports), often they can be detected implicitly. However, for the purposes of the EFP Mapping, it is important to be clear as to what is meant by ‘recommendations’ otherwise confusion could result. A couple of points should be highlighted:

  • Recommendations are not the same as ‘Priorities’. The latter refers to topics and areas that have been identified as important in Foresight. By contrast, recommendations refer to actions that should be taken to address priorities. Care should therefore be taken not to confuse the two of them;
  • Recommendations are wide-ranging in terms of what they cover and who they target. Policy recommendations are normally directed at the likes of ministries and other funding agencies, but recommendations from foresight panels and task forces often tend to be broader in scope and refer to a wider group of targets, including companies and researchers. Mapping efforts have had to be focused upon a broader set of recommendations than those that simply refer to public policies.

Thus, in the new EFP Mapping the twelve types of recommendations used in the Global Foresight Outlook report (Popper et al, 2007) are integrated into six broader categories:

  • Policies and actions
  • Initiatives and actors
  • Appropriation and dissemination
  • (FHS) Research
  • Alliances and synergies
  • Investments and training

Finally, the fifth phase of FHS processes is about transforming futures. This refers to the ability to shape a range of possible futures (also known as futuribles) through six major types of transformations representing the ultimate outcomes or impacts of FHS activities:

  • Transforming capacities and skills
  • Transforming priorities and strategies
  • Transforming paradigms and current visions
  • Transforming socio-economic and STI systems
  • Transforming behaviour, attitudes and lifestyles
  • Transforming knowledge-based products and services

 

Mapping Foresight & FLA Practices

 

 

In the S.M.A.R.T. Futures Jigsaw, seven elements help to map practices and relate to the Scoping futures phase of a Foresight or Horizon Scanning process:

  • Aims and objectives – To define general goals and specific objectives of a study.
  • Rationales and background – To justify/clarify the needs for Foresight and its boundaries.
  • Context and domain coverage – To define key RTD settings and areas/sectors.
  • Methodology and work plan – To define the RTD process and related methods.
  • Territorial scope – To define the sub-national, national and supra-national coverage.
  • Funding and duration – To define the cost and duration of key activities.
  • Time horizon(s) – To establish how far into the future should we look.

Just like foresight, most FLA practices are the result of a systematic work to promote effective processes to proactively think about the future. FLA can be applied to a variety of research areas or knowledge domains, such as natural sciences, medical sciences, engineering and technology, agricultural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities.

The original purpose of previous mapping activities was to analyse key features and characteristics of collected foresight exercises and describe relevant issues about foresight practices in Europe and other regions of the world. However, the extension of the mapping to cover a wider range of forward-looking activities (FLA) – i.e. foresight, horizon scanning, forecasting and impact assessment – will allow us to expand our knowledge, learning and absorptive capacities. In addition to the analysis of key features and characteristics of each of these activities will help us identify commonalities and differences of various approaches to futures research.

Here we focus on one practical question: How to map FLA practices?

The answer to this question involves the mapping of the core elements of FLA practices. We should also highlight that in the foresight literature and previous mapping activities we have considered the sponsors and target audiences in the mapping of FLA practices. While this was convenient in the past, we have recognised that these and other elements associated to the participatory nature of FLA deserve more attention and, for this reason, we will consider them in the mapping of FLA players. Similarly, “formal outputs”, recommendations and impacts are considered in the mapping of FLA outcomes.

 

Mapping Foresight & FLA Players

 

 

The growing demand for forward-looking activities (FLA) has increased the number of players prescribing, applying, researching, improving and supporting FLA. This has both pros and cons. On the one hand, we find new actors prescribing practices or “systemic approaches” that have not been properly oriented or aligned to the three fundamental features of fully-fledged FLA: forward-looking (prospective orientation), strategic-intelligence (practical orientation) and stakeholder-engagement (participatory orientation). On the other hand, we see more players improving and supporting FLA practices based on lessons learned from systematically researching (i.e. mapping and evaluating) and applying (i.e. practising and exploiting) FLA. In EFP we will map the latter group of players in an effort to identify key FLA competences, capacities and skills in Europe and other world regions.

By players we mean actors who have been involved in forward-looking studies mapped in the EFP Mapping Environment. This possibly means that, in the short-term, our lists of actors would not be representative of the universe of FLA players. However, the mapping of FLA players is not meant to be a census or process aimed to collect information about all members of the FLA community. Instead, our aim is to systematically record the type, role and number of FLA players contributing to the projects mapped in EFP. In other words, we will not map institutions, initiatives or individuals teaching or publishing on FLA, unless they have been involved, in one way or another, in one or more than the following phases of mapped FLA: scoping, mobilising, anticipating, recommending and transforming futures.

Here we focus on another question: How to map FLA players?

The answer to this question involves the mapping of the core elements of FLA players. We should highlight that the mapping of players also includes those actors supporting the scoping phase of FLA, in particular: sponsors, research teams and domain/methodology experts.

Seven elements help to map players and relate to the Mobilising futures phase of the Foresight activity:

  • Sponsors and champions – To define financial and/or political supporters.
  • RTD and support teams – To identify team leaders, managers and supporting staff.
  • Target groups – To identify potential users of results.
  • Participation scale – To measure the levels of interaction and openness of a study.
  • Public relations (PR) and marketing – To increase the visibility and reach of a study.
  • Networks and (international) cooperation – To promote cross-fertilisation/collaborations.
  • Methodology and domain experts – To improve the design and quality of RTD activities.

 

Mapping Foresight & FLA Outcomes

 

 

The monitoring, analysis and positioning of outcomes from foresight and forward-looking activities plays a central role in the new wave of mapping activities. To this end, nineteen of thirty-three elements (58%) of the SMART Futures Jigsaw have been devoted to the mapping of outcomes.

Here we focus on How to map FLA outcomes?

The mapping of outcomes is the most demanding but possibly the most rewarding task of our mapping activities. It is demanding because the mapping of outcomes cannot be completed with desk research and documentary analysis alone. It often requires one or more stakeholder interviews and open participatory processes that could lead to divergent views and controversial attribution debates. Furthermore, this type of mapping is not based on predefined templates. Instead, we aim to capture the most important results of foresight and forward-looking activities, as far as possible, in their original format.

Overall, nineteen elements can be used to map outcomes. Of these, seven features can be considered formal outputs of Foresight and Horizon Scanning (FHS) processes, six are conventional research outcomes and another six features are ultimate the Foresight activity outcomes resulting from the various dynamics and synergies activated in the SMART phases of a fully-fledged FHS process. The following seven formal FHS outputs are distinct features of the Anticipating futures phase, which access and distil collective intelligence to think more systematically about the future in exploratory and/or normative ways.

  • Visions, scenarios and forecasts – To identify possible (desirable/undesirable) futures.
  • Critical and key technologies – To identify important technology needs.
  • SWOT and Grand Challenges – To identify major areas of concern and key assets.
  • TEEPSE drivers, trends and megatrends – To identify major forces of change.
  • Pathways and roadmaps – To define future directions and how to get there.
  • Models and frameworks – To define new conceptual and action tools.
  • Wild cards and weak signals – To identify potential “surprises” and “seeds of change”.

Note: TEEPSE stands for Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political, Social and Ethical.

There are six conventional research and technology development (RTD) outcomes that are linked to the Recommending futures phase. Some of these can be found in standalone policy briefs, academic/professional journal articles produced by members of the Foresight activity team and executive summaries of reports and publications prepared by the Foresight activity practitioners, organisers and users.

Other outcomes can be mapped with the help of stakeholder interviews/surveys and documentary analysis. They are:

  • New policy and actions – To provide possible courses of action.
  • New/further research and the Foresight activity – To address new research questions.
  • New/further investments – To efficiently distribute our limited RTD resources.
  • New appropriation and dissemination – To share knowledge and insights on relevant issues.
  • New alliances – To combine efforts on common/shared visions and objectives.
  • New initiatives – To bridge gaps and strengthen key actors.

Finally, there are six ultimate outcomes related to the Transforming futures phase of the Foresight activity processes.

  • Renewed priorities and strategies – To define concrete action plans and targets.
  • Renewed capacities and skills – To increase absorptive capacity.
  • Renewed paradigms and current visions – To understand and accept future changes.
  • Renewed socio-economic and S&T systems – To address opportunities and challenges.
  • Renewed knowledge-base products and services – To achieve higher development levels.
  • Renewed behaviour, attitudes and lifestyles – To cope with new/changing systems.