A Foresight exercise can pursue a wide range of objectives. It can generate insights into the dynamics of future developments, visions about future states of affairs, a shared sense of commitment to efforts leading towards these visions among a group of actors, and strategies to support these visions. Furthermore it can change the structure of the community of actors involved. However, this does not imply that every exercise can achieve all these objectives at the same time and to the same extent.
When designing a Foresight exercise a set of objectives matching the needs of the specific case has to be carefully defined. These objectives should be clearly stated from the beginning of the exercise and communicated to participants, stakeholders and the public throughout the exercise.
Points to consider when defining the objectives
Starting from the definition of the focus of the exercise, the set of objectives the exercise is to pursue should be drawn up.
Ideally this should be done in close interaction with all the key players involved. It is vital for the success of the exercise that there is a clear understanding of the objectives among both the sponsors of the exercise and the people charged with carrying it out, such as the project coordinator and the executive team. The objectives obviously have to be realistic in relation to the available resources, in terms of money (and!) time. Accordingly, there will be an iterative process of adaptation. When - as is often the case - resources are less generous than initially hoped, the objectives may have to be reconsidered. As the success of the exercise will later be measured in the light of these objectives it is extremely important not just to list everything that could possibly be achieved but only those aims that will guide the exercise and can realistically be achieved. It is probably better to agree to drop an objective than to promise something that will later have to be abandoned.
Some important characteristics of the objectives
The objectives should be readily understandable, internally consistent, and (at least in the first instance) not too specific. This is important so as to gain widespread support for the exercise early on, although care must be taken not to promise too much to too many players.
The objectives need to include not only information needs, such as deriving inputs for decision making, but also the benefits of the Foresight process, such as improved networking or encouraging forward-looking attitudes. The involvement and mobilisation of actors in the system is not only one of the key factors for success. It can also be seen as an objective in itself (see outcomes and benefits). How much emphasis is put on each kind of objective needs to be considered carefully, as this will determine the choice of both approach and methods. When making these decisions later on it should always be possible to go back to the objectives to argue for one choice or the other. Finally, it is important that the objectives reflect the close linkage of Foresight to action. They should not be confined to information needs and process benefits but also embrace actions, and measures to be proposed by the exercise.
Critical issues when defining the objectives:
- Involve the client/sponsor
- Involve key players as much as possible
- Be realistic
- Be clear and easily understandable
- Do not forget objectives related to the Foresight process
- Stress the need to come up with suggestions for actions
- Objectives should serve as reference point for decisions throughout the process and later for evaluation
There is more information on objectives in some of the example cases: