Defining the outcomes

Online Foresight Guide

Once the objectives have been defined they should be translated into a set of more specific outcomes that the exercise is expected to produce. These outcomes may be either tangible or intangible. Thus, you will need to:

Relating outcomes to users

When defining the outcomes it is crucial to discuss them with all their possible users. The desired outcomes from the Foresight exercise may vary between actors – some may want a focus on certain types of work, others on particular sectors of the economy or on certain social groups, and so on. Some expectations as to outcomes may be unrealistic, in that they will be informed by too optimistic a view of the emphasis that will be given to certain issues, how far decision-makers are liable to heed the inputs from Foresight in dealing with such issues, and how rapidly to expect change.

For these reasons, it is helpful to have a clear notion of the sorts of benefits for different groups of people that can reasonably be expected. This needs to be conveyed as part of the Foresight activity. It needs to be communicated by capturing relevant information, and putting it into a form suitable for stakeholders to examine. As the exercise proceeds, and better understanding is gained as to what it can and cannot hope to accomplish, there may also need to be some modifications to these expectations.

Background note:

Let's take the example of a roadmap developed within the framework of a policy-intelligence institute. The experts involved will want a roadmap that will be as 'scientifically exact' as possible. However, the policy makers sponsoring the project may actually need an overall picture including socio-economic and human factors, even if the technological and scientific issues are treated in a more superficial way. Accordingly, the validation of the process and outcome should be considered as much an assessment of the relevance or as 'market testing' or a quality control as pure scientific validation. The ultimate evaluation of a Foresight study is whether the outcomes have been translated into actions and have triggered some changes in the client organisations.

Defining the target outcomes

In close interaction with the sponsor, and possibly with representatives of the main user groups, the team should prepare a set of outcomes from the Foresight exercise. As a start you can get some inspiration from the list of typical outcomes of Foresight exercises compiled in this guide or from other exercises. However, it is vital that you enumerate the expected outcomes for your specific exercise taking into account:

When considering the outcomes it is vital not to focus only on tangible (formal) outcomes such as reports, priority lists, etc. but explicitly consider whether more process-related (informal) outcomes such as improved networks or changed mind sets are also aimed at.

Remember that all later design steps are likely to refer back to the target outcomes. Therefore, outcomes that are not explicitly recorded in the early design stage are not likely to be adequately addressed later on. On the other hand, later on the success of the exercise will be assessed in the light of the target outcomes so you should be careful not just to mention anything that might be done.

There is more information on defining the expected outcomes in one of the example cases:

Describing the target outcomes

It is advisable to described the outcomes you are expecting in a way that is suitable for different audiences (policy makers, various stakeholder groups, and the general public). In many cases it will be useful to prepare different types of descriptions for different audiences. In the same way as when defining the objectives it is important to think about both tangible and intangible outcomes.

Again, these two types call for different kinds of descriptions:

For tangible products like reports and action lists you will need to come up with formal descriptions such as topics to be addressed, structure, number of pages, etc. For communication purposes you might want to draw up templates at an early point in the exercise to show users and stakeholders what to expect from the exercise.

For the process-related outcomes you could provide some best practice examples from other exercises showing what the intangible benefits were of an exercise with a similar focus to yours.

Together with the objectives the description of outcomes should become part of the scoping document and other documents used to promote and communicate the exercise.

To avoid misplaced expectations, it should always be clear to everybody involved at the various stages what outcomes are expected.

The definition of outcomes is part of the iterative process of the design phase of the exercise. At various stages of the design phase (e.g. when assessing the resources available) it will have to be re-examined.

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