The objectives of a Foresight exercise must be clearly stated, internally consistent and (at least initially) avoid being too specific. This is important to gain widespread support for the exercise early on, although care must be taken not to promise too much to too many players. Ideally, the objectives should be debated by the key players in order to ensure early buy-in to the exercise.
Typical objectives of Foresight exercises include:
- Informing policy-making so that decisions taken by key actors in the commissioning body are more aware of longer-term developments and how these are liable to interact with current policy decisions. This can involve gathering intelligence on possible longer-term developments and how these may interact with the policy decisions made today, or providing alerts on major future risks and opportunities. Often a Foresight exercise will be stimulated by the need to take a particular decision. However, the knowledge developed, and the Foresight capabilities embedded in the organisation as a result, should have a wider significance.
- Building networks that bring together people from different sectors and institutions involved with shaping the future of a particular topic. They will be brought together to work on their visions and assessments of the future. The purpose of this is to help them become better able collectively to understand the challenges and opportunities that they are liable to confront, and the strategies and objectives that others might pursue.
- Developing capabilities widely throughout a region or organisation and develop a "Foresight culture". The aim here is for people with a variety of backgrounds to be able to define and embark upon their own Foresight activities and create their own Foresight networks.
- Building strategic visions and creating a shared sense of commitment to these visions among Foresight participants.
Done well, Foresight is more a process than an academic study, and the involvement and mobilisation of regional actors is one of the key success factors and can be seen as an objective in itself.
To achieve its objectives Foresight facilitates a process of systematic collective reflection on the long-term future. This process of reflection can have several outcomes and benefits.
The results of Foresight are generally fed into public decision making, but they also help participants themselves to develop or adjust their strategies. Thus Foresight functions as an alternative policy instrument suitable for addressing the challenges of governance within complex systems.