Analysis of the context

Online Foresight Guide

The exercise in its landscape

A new Foresight exercise never emerges into an empty landscape of strategic intelligence and policy-advising and has to be embedded within a wider context. It has to coexist, collaborate and compete with complementary or alternative approaches such as Evaluation, Impact Assessment, Risk Assessment, Technology Assessment, Technology Forecasting, Strategic Planning, Innovation Studies and Futures Studies.

The context of an exercise is always specific as the local political, economic and cultural conditions are unique. Other actors, institutions, decision-making centres, committees, policies, programmes, projects, and activities are certainly already present and addressing some, or all, of the issues at stake. The first step before starting a Foresight exercise is therefore to systematically analyse this context and to identify the agents that it is essential to have on board (and those that it is not), any agents that may help the exercise (and any that may oppose it). It is important to be realistic and aware that some people or institutions may oppose, impede or hinder the starting exercise, openly or not by considering that it steps on their territory.

Foresight exercises have sometimes been managed as a relatively 'stand-alone' project , in particular when organised by regional public authorities. Such projects may be initiated from a strategic position, such as central planning departments or the office of the regional 'governor'. By virtue of their broad focus and central position, these exercises often address cross-thematic and cross-sectoral issues, which can be missed by existing, more-focused, institutions and processes. However, this independence also makes their results difficult to implement, especially if the institutions in charge of the implementation are organised along 'traditional' lines.

Typical problems

Typical problems for the Foresight exercise that might emerge while analysing the context include:

Specific case of Foresight for policy-making

Foresight outcomes can be taken onboard by policy-makers only if they are fully in step with the policy-making process, in terms of timing, cultural compatibility and usability. Therefore, a thorough analysis of the political context during the design phase of a Foresight exercise is essential. The system in which the exercise is embedded has to be understood as well as the one on which it is supposed to have an impact. The culture of decision-making within ministries/agencies matters for the positioning of Foresight. Decision-making practices are usually context-specific and not codified. They have to be deconstructed in order to “prepare the field”. It is very important to position Foresight within the complex process of policy building and to link up with other activities such as ongoing planning that are already in place.

Typical check-list

The following checklist was elaborated as a tentative guideline to perform this crucial step in the early phase of designing a Foresight exercise:

See also:

Next "Positioning in the policy cycle"...