Before embarking on a Foresight exercise it is worth reviewing previous work as useful material to start building on can be found. Naturally, when getting acquainted with the area you are tackling (e.g. the structure of the region or the basic aspects of the issue) you will quickly become aware of the main Foresight activities with a similar focus.
By reviewing other work you can:
- Avoid 'reinventing the wheel' by building on available results and on previous knowledge;
- Learn from past experience;
- Save resources by making use of what is available;
- Collect inputs for the exercise already know;
- Avoid being criticised for repeating "old stuff";
- Identify people who can contribute in various functions;
- Make use of available skills and knowledge sources;
- Improve acceptance by linking up with what is already familiar.
Types of inputs to look out for when reviewing past exercises
Skills and competencies needed
This will mainly be 'tacit' knowledge developed by various people in activities like those listed here. Latent Foresight potential that could be mobilised with the right stimuli, e.g. the sensitivity of the various players (businesses, authorities, research technology-transfer and innovation-support) to the Foresight approach. Also, there might be explicit expertise in Foresight tools and methodology.
Information that can be used as a starting point of the exercise or later on as an input
This may include all kinds of formalised knowledge like forecasts, scenarios, results of other Foresight exercises, opinion polls, data sets, market reports, benchmarking data (both quantitative and qualitative). It can include meaningful information on the current state of play and on the main trends (e.g. economic, social and demographic trends).
Resources to be mobilised in the exercise
Associations and bodies representing various different sectors of society – networks, consumer/citizen groups, business associations, credit unions, chambers of commerce, leading figures in the community (public, business), participants that can be involved in your exercise as 'experts', etc.
There may be a variety of past activities where all these types of expertise can be found:
- Participatory approaches such as citizens boards, open consultation processes;
- Attempts to gather anticipatory intelligence like planning processes;
- Academic studies aiming at deriving anticipatory intelligence by applying formal methods (Futures Studies);
- Strategy building in public bodies like ministries and othe groups of actors (public initiatives, professional organisations).
- See also: Skills and competencies
To identify these activities you will have to find your own way of "looking around" asking people, reading publications, etc. Previous projects have mapped past and ongoing exercises (see the European Foresight Monitoring Network) and there are several newsletters, websites and journals regularly reporting on progress in the field.
Collecting Information throughout the process
You will need information on various topics throughout the exercise as an input into the process (such as background documents for panel discussions, etc.)
This will include all kinds of formalised knowledge, such as forecasts, scenarios, results of other Foresight exercises, opinion polls, data sets, market reports, benchmarking data (both quantitative and qualitative). It can include meaningful information on the current state of play and on the main characteristic trends (i.e. economic, social and demographic trends).
To identify this information you will have to find your own way of "looking around", asking people, reading publications etc. However, in the case of Foresight activities and Future studies the references in this guide are a good starting point. Previous projects have mapped past and ongoing exercises and there are several newsletters, websites and journals regularly reporting on progress in the field.
Methods that support the collection of information about the current situation within an geographical or thematic field are referred to as diagnosis methods (see methodological framework). Various techniques are discussed under the heading of "environmental scanning."
Data collection aims to gather information about the dynamics or the evolution of the key variables of the system studied. Thus the set of variables representing the system has to be defined. However, collecting information before the exercise to save time may become counterproductive if it causes information overload.
Although an experienced Foresight practitioner would probably be aware from the outset that demographic change needs to be taken into account in any territorial Foresight exercise it might be more important to have more detailled information about the precise nature of the migratory flows.
Data are basically needed to inform an answer the following three questions about each key variables :
- What is the past development of this variable?
- What is its trend (logical extrapolation)?
- What are the curves and potential breaks that could block the trend?
The first issue when answering these questions is find the right set of indicators to describe the development of the variable.
The choice of indicator is crucial. Even when dealing with 'simple', quantifiable indicators it is nonetheless essential to know about their strengths and limitations. For example, at the infra-national level the migratory balance often plays a stronger role in demographic change than fertility or life expectancy. Again it is useful to know exactly who is leaving the territory and who is coming in.
Sometimes we will be dealing with 'composite' indicators. One of the best known is GDP (Gross Domestic Product) which measures the monetary income generated by the production of goods and services in a particular country. However, it is not clear that GDP makes sense at regional level.
When it comes to values that change or to any other values that cannot be measured by standard accounting, the problem is even more complicated. And if we happen to be concerned (and we should be!) with lifestyles, for example, the problem of their definition and of finding relevant indicators -and of weighting them- is more complex still. Nevertheless the results of the same opinion or declaration poles done by sociologists at different periods of time might be indicators. In the worst case, series of dated facts might also be indicators. But data should also be questioned: are they dependable?, how are they collected?, should we use volumes or growth rates?
Where to obtain the information: in the case of sub-national territories, regional agencies generally gather most data about the specific territory, but this information might have to be compared with that at national or international level to understand the specificities of the region.
How is this information collected: it is useful to complete a record for each variable using a basic template such as: definition of the variable, indicators of its evolution, past evolution and why, hypothesis for the future.
Who gathers the information: depending of the involvement of the Foresight group, either records are distributed as documentation to the participants, or the back-office of the study is in charge of filing the documentation.
How can information be stored: the easiest way is generally to set up a website where all the variable records are stored. It is useful to allow just one person who gather the different files to post them on the site so that one person is responsible for ensuring that only the updated version of each file is on the site. Participants can access the site with a password and download the files.