Types of approach to designing a Foresight exercise
- Top-down approaches work from a fixed proceedure. Usually small panels of experts drawn from different stakeholder groups work on information gathered from a wide range of sources. Formal methods are used to structure the process.
- Bottom-up approaches put more stress on interaction. The process of information gathering as well as the dissemination and implementation of the results are itself subject to the discussions.
There is more information on the approach to design decisions in some of the example cases:
- Product-oriented approaches produce tangible outcomes like reports, priority lists, scenario descriptions, action plans, checklists etc. These products might be aimed at narrow circles of decision makers who commissioned the project but can also address a wider audience or the general public.
- Process-oriented approaches emphasise intangible outcomes such as network building and learning processes as the main outcome of the exercise. The goal is to achieve increased receptivity to signals of change and an enhanced understanding of how and where to access critical resources thereby improving the preparedness for action. Furthermore the building of a Foresight culture in organisations and constituencies is an important aim of process oriented Foresight.
Choosing the best mix of approaches
The particular balance of approaches to Foresight chosen should depend, of course, on the specific circumstances. This may seem to be an obvious point. Nevertheless, there have been several cases of an approach simply being copied from one context to another, without adequate appraisal of how the approach might need to be modified or restructured to deal with the new circumstances. In some of these cases this has led to major failures in the Foresight process, and a loss of political support for Foresight.
What can be chosen, in practice, is going to depend upon various political circumstances. It may be that senior policymakers have an entrenched idea of what Foresight should be, they may even be seeking to emulate high-profile programmes that have been undertaken elsewhere. There may be high-level doubt that a broad public could have anything of value to say about important topics, or it may be feared that a process of broad consultation could exacerbate existing ethnic, political or civil strife. Results may be required to inform extremely pressing policy decisions, or to convince international aid or loan agencies that serious strategic analyses have been conducted. This highlights, among other things, the need for scoping and feasibility studies prior to embarking on a major exercise. Such studies will often be required to arrive at an exercise 'plan', and they are also important for convincing actors of Foresight's merits - as can other strategies, such as soliciting contributions from international experts to pre-Foresight meetings.
We may have to accept that something less than the ideal is all that can be achieved in current circumstances. To the extent that we do a good job now, explain as far as possible why particular choices have been made, and make our case for doing things differently in the future, there may be hope for continuous improvement in Foresight practice.