Brussels, 19 May 2003
With many of Europe's leading foresight practitioners gathered in Ioannina for the Greek Presidency conference on foresight in an enlarged European research and innovation area on 15 and 16 May, the scientists and policy makers in attendance took the opportunity to review the latest results from ongoing foresight initiatives.
One of the leading projects currently underway is eFORESEE, a foresight initiative funded under the 'improving human potential' section of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), which consists of pilot projects addressing key industrial sectors in Malta, Estonia and Cyprus.
The eFORESEE coordinator for the Maltese pilots is Jennifer Cassingena Harper, from the Malta Council for Science and Technology. Dr Cassingena Harper spoke to CORDIS News, outlining the preliminary results of the 'knowledge futures in information and communication technologies [ICT] and education in 2020' pilot, and explaining the role of foresight in small accession states such as Malta.
The overall objective of eFORESEE is to promote the exchange of foresight relevant experiences among small European and accession countries, although Dr Cassingena Harper explained that the project's output would be equally relevant to regions within larger European countries.
The 'knowledge futures in ICT and education in 2020' pilot aims to elaborate a vision of Malta as an advanced knowledge economy in 2020, and provide an action plan to policy makers and other actors in Malta to help them achieve that vision. As the eFORESEE pilot represents Malta's first formal national foresight exercise, a more fundamental objective is the creation and dissemination of a foresight knowledge base within Malta, and building awareness of the value of foresight amongst other stakeholders.
Through an online process of consultation with key stakeholders, three alternative visions of Malta in 2020 were identified, and the drivers most likely to bring about these visions were rated in order of relative importance. The results highlighted priority areas for action, namely: the need for change within government and society through reforms in the education, research and economic systems; ensuring that infrastructures remain up to date and keep pace with technological developments; and leveraging change by targeting 'change agents' such as visionary individuals, projects, young people and the media.
At this stage, and in the context of Malta's political and economic situation, a final vision was adopted of a highly networked, technology friendly economy with the country's knowledge capital mapped and made available via a national knowledge platform. The vision pictures Malta focussing on areas of local strength, such as crafts, fisheries, lifelong learning and cultural heritage, and given the country's small size, sees an role for Malta as a test bed for European ventures in areas such as e-commerce and e-governance.
With a final vision in place, the team explored the potential drivers in more detail and produced over 50 action lines, grouped under headings including education, science and research, innovation and socio-cultural, which will act as a basis for policy making and decision taking for politicians, industry and wider society.
When asked why such a detailed vision of Malta's future was so important, Dr Cassingena Harper explained that the political reality of meeting the challenge of accession within a small country meant that decisions were being taken in too short term a context. 'Foresight seems to lend itself as a natural ally to this major change process, with its potential for shaping and reshaping opinion, and creating a consensus over time,' she said.
In trying to assess the success to date of the initiative, Dr Cassingena Harper highlights the enthusiasm that it generated among actors in various fields, which has led to a number of spin off foresight activities. 'eFORESEE gives people their own space in which to debate. Thinking about the future is itself highly liberating, and key stakeholders who were focussed on operational and reactive activities embraced the opportunity to take a proactive approach,' she explained.
The types of spin off activity that eFORESEE has led to include a grassroots initiative to introduce the concept of foresight to children. Called FutureChild, the exercise asked children from two primary schools in Malta to imagine and depict how their town or village might look in 2020, and is seen as an important part of creating the next generation of foresight practitioners in Malta.
A second round of stakeholder consultations is due to take place focussing on implementation strategies for the 'knowledge futures' vision, while a separate pilot focussing on Malta's maritime economy is already underway. Together with their partners in Estonia and Cyprus, the team is also creating an innovative 'foresight narrative database', which contains multimedia clips of foresight experts discussing theory and practice and will act as a personalised point of reference for interested individuals and organisations.
Finally, Dr Cassingena Harper emphasised the importance of EU funding to eFORESEE: 'Without the part financing of the European Commission it would have been difficult to undertake such an initiative and introduce the concept of foresight in Malta as effectively as we have done.'
The legacy of eFORESEE, she hopes, will be the creation of lasting networks, synergies, and an understanding and acceptance of foresight that will feed into successful Maltese proposals under the Sixth and Seventh Framework Programmes.
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