Brussels, 20 May 2003
FISTERA, the thematic network for 'foresight on information society technologies [IST] in the European Research Area', has published its first report on national IST foresight studies.
Funded under the IST programme of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) and promoted by the Joint Research Centre in Seville, FISTERA provides a new forum for consensus building on future visions for information technology. The recently published report is part of this objective. It compares the results of recent national foresight exercises from Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, focusing on insights and outcomes with respect to IST.
First and foremost, the report found that a wide range of methods is being implemented in national foresight exercises, ranging from brain storming and panel discussions to more sophisticated multi-method exercises. In particular, the report noticed a growing trend within national initiatives to use electronic means of communication in order to broaden participation.
While the methodologies of the exercises have diversified, the report detected some common constraints. One such constraint is the lack of time, either for information exchange between participants, or even to complete the entire exercise. Furthermore, essential foresight components such as SWOT analyses, construction of future visions and the development of alternative options are often lacking in the final report.
The report also reveals a certain uncertainty in national programs with regard to setting a time horizon for foresight statements, which can vary from between 5 and 30 years. The danger of reproducing 'zeitgeist', statements that mimic current rather than future trends, is real, notes the report. It goes on to suggest that possibly due to doubts over the long term reliability of foresight statements, national exercises tend to work in the short term, creating networks and raising awareness of the future among the public.
With regard to the role of IST in national foresight, the report finds that national visions concerning IST are underdeveloped in about half of the studies. It suggests that compiling a vision of the future in this field is extremely difficult, 'as stakeholders are sometimes unable to envisage applications for a technology about which little is known other than it will be important.' In light of this, IST exercises are oriented mainly towards short term policies that lack the capacity to investigate unexpected technology breakthroughs and research into cutting edge technology.
With a view to overcoming such obstacles, the report suggests taking note of the Swedish foresight study that uses 'technology hindsight' to help forecast the technologies the will be important for the future.
The report also makes several recommendations concerning IST foresight at European level. SWOT analyses at European level would enable countries to map out areas of scientific expertise and potential areas of collaboration. In addition, benchmarking the relative position of each country would ensure a uniform approach to foresight, the report concludes.
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