Defining the scope

Online Foresight Guide

The 'scope' of a Foresight exercise defines 'what the exercise will look at', i.e. 'what is in and what is out'. Accordingly, depending on the scope, some things will be excluded from the view while others will be taken up. It is therefore necessary to carefully design a scope that is appropriate to achieving the objectives of the exercise.

As described in more detail below there are basically two aspects involved into defining the scope of a Foresight exercise:

Finally, you will have to combine your choices of focus, topics and perspective into a coherent exercise design.

Selecting the topics to be covered

A topic within a Foresight exercise is a fairly tightly constrained theme that can be dealt with, for example, by a working session of an expert panel or a section of a Delphi questionnaire. A Foresight exercise with a given focus can cover a variety of different topics. Some exercises have covered around 20, although less than 10 is more typical. The choice of topics is critical for the relevance of the exercise and can often itself be considered a part of the outcome.

Many past Foresight exercises have dealt with topics relating to developments in science and technology. Typical themes for such technology-oriented Foresight exercises have included microelectronics, new materials, nanotechnology, biotechnology and communications technology. Some of these exercises have looked at just one technology field in considerable detail. Other exercises have scanned very broad technological fields to identify a number of "key or critical technologies" (e.g. those considered to be of major importance for a nation).

However, it is also possible to deal with topics other than technology. Recently more and more Foresight initiatives have dealt with socio-economic topics such as demographic change, health, human resources, social welfare education (at all levels), transport, housing, energy, cities, environmental management, water supply, climate change and its effects, community development, crime and violence, youth alienation, mental healthcare, creative components of culture, and social engagement.

Some exercises have aimed at identifying a number of upcoming developments rather than choosing one particular topic.

The procedure for the selection of topics depends very much on the focus and objectives of the exercise. In the case of territorial Foresight the decision on the topics to be dealt with in the exercise will follow different criteria than for sectoral Foresight or issue-driven Foresight.

Territorial Foresight usually aims to tackle the relevant factors likely to shape the future of the region. Therefore, there is often a range of topics considered as indicated in the table below. Usually a territorial vision is elaborated which comprises several different aspects. SWOT analysis is often used in these cases to identify topics that are of strategic importance to the region.


 Example topics of previous regional Foresight exercises  


Examples of Topics or Sectors
West Midlands

Creative Industries, Medical Technologies, Engineering Design

Limousin 2017

Services, Agriculture, Identity/ Images and Creativity

Catalonia 2010

Telecommunications, External transport links, Catalan identity


Knowledge Intensive Business Services (KIBS), Employment in voluntary sector

Nord – Pas de Calais

Waste Materials, New Services, Urban Structure

(Source: FOREN Guide)

Specific case of Foresight for policy-making: Shaping within boundaries

The literature often emphasises that Foresight should be closely linked to action and decision making, mainly targeting public policy. Foresight exercises are expected not only to provide information for policy but also to develop concrete “policy recommendations” or even to suggest precise policy instruments. It was suggested during the FORLEARN Mutual Learning workshops that there may be a need to rethink the way Foresight can actually achieve change. It does not usually make sense to aim at affecting the whole socio-economic framework but rather that a bigger effort should be made to analyse what can be shaped within this framework.

To achieve a realistic impact it is crucial to consider how to strike the right balance between shaping the future and adapting to constraints for the target area (e.g. country, region, sector or thematic field). By acknowledging the constraints of acting upon the future it becomes possible to focus the exercise on these aspects that can indeed be shaped, thus increasing the actual space for manoeuvre. Sometimes there may be more possibilities for change than are obvious at first sight, but sometimes there will also be less.

To sum up, it is critical to clearly acknowledge what the external limiting factors are in order to ensure that the expected outcome is realistic. The more the limitations of Foresight are clarified and acknowledged, the more it can concentrate on the issues where there is actually room for manoeuvre, thereby optimising its efforts and real impacts.

See also:

Defining the perspective

The perspective refers to the way a topic is addressed, or in other words the set of questions that is considered in order to deal with the topic. While in general Foresight may address scientific and technological, institutional, social and economic developments to an equal extent, often only one or two of these are addressed in full. For instance, Delphi studies aimed at informing S&T strategy of a wide range of actors concentrate on scientific and technological developments, while in the UK and the Netherlands science-related Foresight panels, which are related to public science policy, often focus on institutional responses to scientific and technological developments. Foresight related to economic, environmental or agricultural policies tends to focus on social and economic needs and developments.

For each topic that has been chosen for a Foresight exercise, different perspectives can be adopted for the investigation. The majority of past Foresight exercises have taken one of the following perspectives:

  • Confined perspective
    Focusing on one aspect of the topic (e.g. technological development within the field)
  • Techno-economic perspective
    Typically emerging business opportunities within a technology field.
  • Holistic perspective (social/cultural + economic + technological)
    For a technology topic this means that the interaction between societal and technological developments is the focus of the exercise
    For a societal topic (e.g. health) this means that technological developments are also closely investigated.

Background Information: Although Foresight practitioners often consider a holistic perspective to be desirable, it is not always easy to achieve. The reason for this is that in many professional communities and policy-making bodies it is rare for all aspects of an issue to be discussed in an integrated way. Often experts and organisations (such as government departments) are interested in only one of the aspects. Engineers and specialists from the social sciences rarely used to talk to one another. A current topic of much debate in the Foresight community is how to achieve better integration between societal and technological aspects in Foresight. There is a general agreement that in order to tackle long term developments, even in a confined thematic area, there needs to be a wide ranging appraisal of future developments.

It is important to ensure that the perspective you adopt matches the objectives of your exercise and allows you to achieve the intended outcomes. So, for instance, when policy makers want to address societal changes a narrow perspective on technological aspects alone will not serve their needs. On the other hand if decisions on technology funding are to be supported, a broad socio-economic perspective might not be able to derive the detailed technical information needed. Later on when selecting the methods you will need to consider carefully whether the method is suited to the perspective adopted, as not every method adapts equally well to every perspective. Also when you design various events, such as panel discussions or open consultation phases, it is important always to reflect which level of analysis you are targeting and how the results will be linked to the other features of the chosen perspective.

See also: a presentation used by TNO to define the perspective adopted to address emerging innovations [pdf ~ 400kb]

Combining the focus, topics and perspectives

After having drafted the first ideas on the focus, topics and perspective for your exercise, the challenge will be to combine these into an integrated and consistent framework. There is a wide range of possibilities for this as there is no one-to-one mapping between the focus, topics and perspective in Foresight. An exercise which is primarily concerned with technology topics may strongly emphasise the interaction of the technology field with the socio-economic framework. Such an exercise will dwell on social factors and economic developments relevant within the field. On the other hand, an exercise concerned with a social issue like demographic change might well explore the role of technological developments that have an impact on demographic change or else are likely to be affected by it.

In summary, although there is a great deal of overlap in terms of broad themes discussed by various types of Foresight activities, the same topics can be discussed from completely different angles.

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