15-year plan will focus on older people

October 2, 1998

The government this week began drawing up arrangements for the launch of the second Foresight programme - aimed at encouraging industry, government and academics to identify research needs and market opportunities or threats over the next 15 years.

The ageing population, crime reduction and education and training are likely to be among key themes featuring in the programme, the first of which was launched in 1994 in the wake of the 1993 science white paper, Realising our Potential.

Arrangements for the second exercise will be based partly on the results of a consultation exercise and also on the experience of 16 sector panels set up for the first programme. More than 500 trade organisations and companies as well as individual universities responded to the consultation.

A department of Trade and Industry spokesman said that, while no final decisions have yet been made, the second programme will feature a mixture of themes and dedicated sectors.

This contrasts with the last round, which focussed almost exclusively on individual sectors such as information technology, the biological sciences, agriculture and environment. It is unlikely there will be as many sector panels for the second exercise.

"What we are after is a balance between continuity and change," said the spokesman.

Moves to develop the "blueprint" for Foresight II began this week with a meeting of the Foresight steering group, the strategic body that oversees the programme. It is chaired by the government's chief scientific adviser, Sir Robert May.

Foresight I panel chairmen are also due to meet to discuss the consultation results, as is the Whitehall Foresight Group - a team of senior Whitehall officials charged by the government with spreading Foresight across departments. Comments from these three bodies will then be considered by the ministerial Foresight group, chaired by science minister Lord Sainsbury and ministers from 11 other government departments.

The DTI says a "significant" number of organisations have offered to undertake Foresight exercises of their own, in parallel with the national programme. "We are beginning discussions with each of these organisation to agree the scope and timing of the work," said a spokesman.

A key objective of the new programme will be to increase participation both from government departments and the wider public, including school pupils and university students. The education and training theme, for instance, is being championed by the Department for Education and Employment, while the Home Office has been in charge of developing the crime reduction theme.

The DTI plans to make information gathered through the programme more accessible with the help of a "knowledge pool", a web-based depository of regularly updated information on Foresight which will also be available as CD-Rom and hard copy.

Foresight panels will be appointed early next year with the official launch of Foresight II scheduled for mid-1999.

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