Scoping an exercise

Online Foresight Guide

Scoping a Foresight exercise is far from straightforward. There is no single best way, as many things depend on the specific context, issues and needs. Every Foresight exercise is different and there is usually a lot of "learning by doing". Even if an experienced practitioner is involved and may have a mental picture of the exercise at the outset it is likely to evolve in different directions as it progresses. There are also times where Foresight exercises are systematic and recurring activities, in which case it is easier to learn from experience.

Careful thought and planning during the design phase can obviously help avoid serious mistakes. A lot can also be learned from the experience of others who have carried out similar exercises. Some of the issues to be considered when designing an exercise range from the initial positioning in the wider landscape, the major design decisions, to the design of the methodology.

It is an over-simplification to present the issues in sequence. In reality the various steps and decisions are deeply interlinked and take place in parallel. Therefore, Foresight design will always be an iterative process involving numerous feedback loops. For instance, the amount of resources needed depends on the objectives and the outcomes, but the objectives are often reviewed according to the resources available.

Initial steps

A Foresight exercise will be justified only by its subsequent impacts. Therefore, before committing substantial resources, it is necessary to find out whether the specific context will allow the exercise to be carried out satisfactorily and have the desired impact on the system addressed (e.g. a country, the Research and Innovation system, the Healthcare system, etc.). This is the essence of the feasibility phase. It should lead to a formal decision, taken jointly by the sponsors and the coordinator, to proceed, to refocus or even to halt the project. Political support may also be sought in these early phases, in order to raise the profile and bolster the credibility of the exercise.

Making the major design decisions

Once the decision to proceed has been taken, a number of important decisions need to be made. These include issues such as the focus, objectives, users, outcomes, scope, approach, time horizon, and the expected duration of the exercise. The outcome of these decisions will normally be set out in a scoping document.

Taking stock: Compiling a Scoping Document

Obtaining resources

Finding and securing resources consonant with the focus, objectives and scope is one of the major challenges (if not the major challenge) during the design of the exercise. These resources will not only be financial (i.e. to cover the exercises costs), for which it will be necessary to find and convince sponsors, but also human (i.e. skills and competencies).

Setting-up the exercise

Before the exercise can be launched a number of organisational structures need to be put in place or defined, such as a project team, a steering committee, and working groups of experts and stakeholders. It will also be necessary to define a communication strategy, as communication is vital to the success of the exercise. The project team's first job will be to write the implementation plan, defining the project in more detail.

Designing the methodology

The methodology, which acts as the skeleton of the exercise, is to be designed earlier according to the objectives and the desired outcomes of the exercises.

And ... some points to keep in mind

Even if this is not codified within the 'official' documentation, it is well-known to practitioners in the field that many exercises have failed to live up to expectations.

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