The expert panel method is a commonly used method in Foresight to elicit expert knowledge. The panels are typically groups of 12-20 individuals who are given 3-18 months to deliberate upon the future of a given topic.Page contents:
- Main characteristics
- When is this method appropriate?
- Who is it for?
- Who is usually involved?
- Main steps
- Pros and cons
- Complementary methods
The "expert panel"is of the most frequently used methods in Foresight. Most of the activities in institutional Foresight exercises are carried out by expert panels. The expert panel method is based on the idea of eliciting expert knowledge. The panels are typically groups of 12-20 individuals who are given 3-18 months to deliberate upon the future of a given topic area, whether it be a technology (e.g. nanotechnology), an application area (e.g. health), or an economic sector (e.g. pharmaceuticals).
Technology Foresight is, by definition, a participatory, discursive activity that should be based upon the best available evidence and judgment. These conditions make the use of (expert) panels a natural choice in Foresight exercises. Panels not only open up the Foresight process to potentially hundreds of individuals, they are also ideal forums for in-depth discussions and debate. For these reasons, panels are the "process centres" in many Foresight exercises. Some of the benefits of expert panels include:
- Availability of expert judgement 'on tap' at the centre of an exercise, which can be particularly important when dealing with the uncertainties associated with the future;
- In-depth and meaningful interaction and networking between different scientific disciplines and areas of expertise that would otherwise be difficult to organise;
- The ease with which panels can complement other methods used in technology Foresight. Indeed, with some methods, panels are a near necessity for the generation of inputs, the interpretation of outputs, and/or the overall conduct of the method;
- The credibility and authority lent to the technology Foresight exercise by the profile of panel members and the visibility of expert/stakeholder panels; and
- The moulding of influential individuals (panel members) into Foresight ambassadors and change agents in support of panel findings.
In a Foresight exercise the expert panels have the following functions:
- Gathering relevant information and knowledge
- Synthesising the information gathered
- Stimulating new insights and creative views and providing a vision of future possibilities, as well as creating new networks
- Diffusing the Foresight process and its results to much wider constituencies, and
- Influencing Foresight in terms of follow-up action
Thus once they are established they are the main actors carrying out the process throughout the exercise.
Typically, expert panels are set up in most Foresight exercises at all levels, although the role and functions of expert panels in such exercises may vary. In some cases, panels are the main process centres ('hubs') of a technology Foresight exercise, gathering and analysing data and community opinions, employing a wide variety of Foresight methods, such as scenarios, and formulating priorities and recommendations for action. In other cases, the Panels can be given very specific tasks within a much wider process, for example, commenting upon weak signals picked up in environmental scanning or formulating Delphi topic statements.
Once the panel's remit has been formulated, the task of assembling members can begin. The first step is to develop a profile of the panel, i.e. to identify the sorts of expertise and/or stakeholders that should be represented in light of the panel's remit. There are two interrelated considerations to take into account when profiling panels:
- Composition – what mix of knowledge is required to address the panel remit?
- Balance – what mix of views, positions, value judgements and scientific disciplines should be represented on the panel to ensure even-handed analysis and conclusions?
These are major concerns in technology Foresight, since panels must be perceived to be technically qualified and even-handed if the exercise is to achieve authority, credibility and legitimacy. It must, however, be acknowledged that panel members will bring their own interests and biases to the table and to pretend otherwise is unrealistic. Indeed, expertise in a given area normally means that an individual has some sort of stake, whether financial, professional, political, etc. in that area. With stakeholder panels, this link is typically even more obvious.
On a practical level, there are a number of approaches for actually identifying potential participants. These can be divided into:
- Personal contacts: Using names known to those already involved in the project
- Stakeholders: Identifying major stakeholders in the areas of concern and asking them to put forward names
- Formal process: Involves more systematic search processes. Types of expertise and stakeholders are identified; a first set of names suggested; these are asked to nominate key people (introducing new names); then a final selection is made of the people who are to be invited to take part
The initial aim is to generate a long list of candidates for panel membership. This list will then need to be cut down to a short list of primary nominees and alternates. Key stakeholders typically contribute to the composition and procedural design of expert panels, which helps ensure that those stakeholders will find the panel's results credible. Stakeholders include sponsors of the Foresight exercise as well as those organisations that might be expected to act in the light of the exercise's findings.
Clearly, having people on panels who are acceptable to the organisations responsible for implementing Foresight findings is important for policy impacts. On the other hand, some care needs to be taken to avoid situations where panels are solely composed of an elite group of 'usual suspects'. Technology Foresight should be about interaction between different communities, disciplines, and ideas. This aim is seldom best served by filling a panel solely with nominees from, for example, a sponsoring ministry. This is why many national technology Foresight exercises have used co-nomination approaches to broaden the knowledge base, by bringing new faces into the Foresight process.
Once the shortlist is agreed, nominated individuals must be sounded out on their willingness to serve on a Foresight panel. Such approaches are typically made by the project manager with a telephone call. During this initial contact, the exercise should be described to the nominee, explaining clearly why it is being carried out. The remit of the panel should then be summarised, indicating the key tasks and, most importantly, the time and effort needed. Evidence from past Foresight exercises suggests that most people are flattered to be asked to serve on such panels and typically accept the invitation, especially if the exercise has a high profile and political backing. Those individuals that are unable to accept or those that are not approached to serve as panel members may be used in other parts of the exercise, for example, as recipients of questionnaires and consultation documents and/or invitees of workshops and other consultation forums.
The choice of panel chairperson deserves special note. Two main criteria are typically used for selecting such people in technology Foresight – their profile and standing, and their time commitment. Having someone who is well known and (more importantly) well respected in a given community (or even nationally) will provide an invaluable boost to a panel's work, lending it authority and legitimacy. People will be more inclined to respond to surveys and to read a panel report if the chair is well respected. Unfortunately, many of the really good people are too busy to chair a technology Foresight panel, which requires probably at least twice as much commitment in time as being simply a panel member. However, it is not impossible to attract really good people but it does require a lot of effort on the part of project managers. Further considerations as to the suitability of an individual to serve as panel chair (in addition to the ones already mentioned for panel members more generally) is an ability to lead a team, good project management skills (especially given the time constraints common to most technology Foresight exercises), and political skills for dealing with sponsor and stakeholder organisations.
In a Foresight exercise, expert panels are expected to carry out specific tasks within a given timeframe (e.g. the duration of the exercise) related to their functions. There are two documents that are used to inform the panels about their tasks prior to starting work: (i) the Proposal and (ii) the Terms of Reference.
The proposal document explains what the panel will do, and who (which experts/stakeholders) should be involved. Drawing on the proposal, the terms of reference set out what they should do, how it should be done, and when it should be completed. A short and succinct 'terms of reference document' can be divided into four parts:
- Background, which provides some background on the Foresight programme and the purpose of the terms of reference document
- Description of each phases of the programme, setting out: (i) what needs to be achieved, (ii) how the panel should go about its work, and (iii) a series of milestones
- Description of the way in which the panels' work fits into the overall Programme
- Account of the human, infrastructure-related (including training) and financial resources available to the panels to support their work
This document is distributed to all the panel members in the Programme and was used by the sponsor and project management team to monitor the progress of the panels.
Once the panel chair and other panel members have been appointed, they will need further detailed briefing on the task at hand. This can be done face-to-face at the first panel meeting. But face-to-face briefing may also be supported by the prior distribution to panel members of more detailed project plans, summaries of the methods to be deployed, and brief biographies of the other panel members. This means that panel members will have reasonable knowledge of the exercise by the time they arrive at the first panel meeting. Many national technology Foresight exercises have also used training workshops to acquaint panel members with working practices and the methods they will be using. This is strongly advised if panels will be using unfamiliar futures or forecasting techniques. Training sessions should be run by experienced trainers/facilitators.
It is imperative that the panel gets off to a good start, which means special attention should be paid to the first panel meeting. After brief introductions, the panel chair and/or project manager should lead the discussion of the Foresight exercise's scope and the panel's remit within it. This might be followed by discussions with the sponsor, although this often does not happen – instead, the project manager may articulate the views and expectations of the sponsor. Discussion could then be widened to include consideration of the expectations of a wider group of stakeholders, especially of those who might be expected to act in the light of the Foresight exercise's findings.
Some further time will need to be spent on fuller introductions, where panel members devote a few minutes to setting out their interests and experience in more detail. At this point, panel members may decide that there is a need to appoint additional members to cover anticipated knowledge gaps. If this is felt to be necessary, then new members will need to be appointed by the time of the second meeting.
At the first meeting it is also important to get panel members to start thinking about the issues they will need to consider in their work. This can be done through presentations and panel brainstorming sessions. Whilst the process and content of the sessions will depend on the panel's remit, likely outcomes of panel discussions will probably include formulation of preliminary questions and issues for further discussion. Issues surrounding data access and the panel's research needs may also begin to emerge at this early stage.
Finally, 2-3 hours will need to be set aside to formulate the overall approach to the task. In many technology Foresight exercises, panels are given quite tight terms of reference that clearly specify the methods to be used and the types of outputs to be produced by certain fixed dates. In other instances, panels have a greater degree of freedom over how they go about their work and what they produce, although even here, milestones are likely to be set. The sorts of things that will need to be discussed and decided include:
- Working practices and panel structure – for example, will the panel work as a whole or through sub-groups? Will particular panel members be assigned to lead on specific areas?
- What are the data and research requirements? How will data be collected and analysed? Who will conduct research (e.g. project team, consultants, panel members)? What wider consultation will be carried out? What facilitation will be required for specialist methodologies? Panels may need help from experienced Foresight practitioners to be able to answer these questions effectively.
- What will be the schedule of panel meetings? This includes the total number of meetings and their frequency. These can vary widely between panels, even within the same technology Foresight exercise. The panel (or project team) may also decide to prescribe the topic for each meeting – for example, 'meeting no.3' might be scheduled to deal with SWOT analysis or the like.
- What will be the schedule of panel outputs, including the final report? In order to track and monitor progress, an agreed-upon milestone chart will need to be formulated (if not already specified a priori in the terms of reference).
Conducting Foresight work
While Foresight work is underway, it is often a challenge to get panels to think creatively about (a) the future, and (b) the means of getting there. People seem to find this difficult, partly due to the unfamiliarity of thinking in this way. It is therefore imperative to ensure that panels take sufficient account of (a) the long-term (short-termism is a common weakness in panels and workshops) and (b) a wide variety of perspectives on any given topic.
Creativity courses and handbooks, as well as tips from several creativity Internet sites, can help project managers to encourage out-of-the-box thinking within panels. Inspirational or even controversial speakers can be brought into some meetings to stir things up. Provocative 'think-pieces' (e.g. essays) can also be prepared for panels to read. Some of the major Foresight methods, borrowed from the worlds of forecasting and futures studies, are also useful in encouraging creativity. Popular approaches in expert panels include brainstorming and scenario-writing. A panel composed of members from diverse backgrounds should also help, particularly to encourage consideration of different perspectives. As a general rule, panel members are expected to behave as individuals rather than advocates of the 'corporate' views held by their particular organisation.
At the same time, panels should not stray into the realms of wishful thinking – their analyses and recommendations need to be based upon sound data of the past and present, as well projections of those trends that can be projected with reasonable confidence of accuracy, e.g. demographic change. SWOT analyses, reviews, and trend analyses are therefore commonly used. Some further research and data analysis is usually required, which can be carried out by members of the project team, external consultants, or even panel members. But careful consideration needs to be given to the commitment required from panel members to deal with such data. Foresight panels are usually composed of volunteers who tend to be extremely busy people with little time for collecting and analysing data. Much of this work will need to be out-sourced to project managers and/or technical consultants, with analyses written-up in attractive formats for panel members to easily digest.
A further general principle that should be highlighted is the need for (and benefits of) wide consultation. There might be a temptation for panels to settle for internal discussion – things tend to get done more quickly, and greater control over the scope and direction of deliberations is possible. But panels that talk only amongst themselves risk missing important information and perspectives, even when members come from diverse backgrounds. Moreover, consultation lends a panel visibility, which can be important if findings are to be effectively disseminated. And stakeholder commitment to a panel's results, garnered through direct involvement, should not be underestimated. Of course, consultation should not be done for its own sake – it should have a clear purpose in the overall methodological approach used by a panel. Neither should it be confined just to those communities served by the panel. A Foresight exercise should provide space for interactions with other communities, most obviously through developing linkages between the various panels set up within a Foresight exercise. In general, consultation can be conducted through a wide array of mechanisms (e.g. workshops, questionnaire surveys, expert hearings, Delphi, consultation documents and Internet mail groups).
Panels can carry out their work through various organisational configurations, and a popular approach makes use of sub-groups within panels. These might focus upon a particular topic or task, with their small size (typically 2-5 members) allowing for more concentrated effort through the assignment of specific roles to individual panel members. However, to reiterate an earlier point, consideration will need to be given to the time required for work of this kind, as panel members tend to be busy people.
The overall governance of volunteer panels is relatively straightforward when the terms of reference are tightly specified. Panels meet a fixed number of times within a well-defined framework to carry out a particular task. But many panels in technology Foresight exercises are given wider remits whereby they have the freedom and relative autonomy to decide on their own approach and the substance of their reports. In these instances, the role of the chair and her/his relationship with the project manager are crucial. For instance, prior to all panel meetings, the chair should discuss the meeting agenda and any documents or analyses to be presented with the project management team. It is important that the chair and project manager come to an understanding on all the items on the agenda so that they can be mutually supportive during the panel meeting. This is not to say that the chair should stifle debate – on the contrary, the chair should encourage expression and discussion of diverse viewpoints. Fairness and flexibility should be employed toward the goal of achieving a group consensus view where possible. But panels work within budget and time constraints and the chair must ensure that the panel effectively meets its remit within these constraints.
Increasingly important considerations for panels and other public committees are accountability and transparency. In this regard, the substance of discussions within closed panel meetings may be publicly reported, although the norm is to keep these confidential. In this way, panel members have the relative freedom to express opinions without having to account for them publicly. Meetings should be transcribed and minutes prepared – the latter could be made publicly available on a web site if personal opinions are sufficiently anonymised. Panel members should also respect this confidentiality and should not brief the media or other groups without the expressed permission of project managers and/or the panel chair. Indeed, relations with the media should be carefully managed and an information dissemination strategy developed. The panel chair should act as the official spokesperson for the panel and its reports in dealing with the media, sponsors, and audiences.
Project managers should publish brief progress reports at regular intervals – perhaps every 4-6 months, depending upon the duration of an exercise – whilst analyses prepared for or by the panels (e.g. SWOT analyses, literature reviews) could also be made publicly available. In this way, the evidence base (and assumptions) upon which a panel is working can be scrutinised. Such reporting may also be used as an opportunity to consult with wider communities of actors. Thus, in many technology Foresight exercises, interim reports containing preliminary analyses and findings are published and feedback invited.
Reaching consensus and identifying priorities
One of the chief aims of appointing panels in technology Foresight is to nurture deliberation amongst a group of recognised experts and/or stakeholders around a set of issues with a view to generating enlightenment and policy advice. Policy advices clearly set out what needs to be done and why, and suggest who should take action. In some technology Foresight exercises, panels may not be required to reach consensus or to identify priorities, let alone outline recommendations for policy and investment.
Reporting on the panel process and findings
Panels will need to report on their findings, both at the end of their work and in the interim. The main rationale for reporting is to disseminate analyses and findings and to present priorities and recommendations for further action. Reports should therefore be tailored to their intended audiences. Reports are also used to demonstrate that panels conducted their work with integrity, drawing upon the best available evidence to support their findings.
Report preparation should be given early and careful attention and not just left to the end of a panel's tenure. It is advisable to define the report architecture early on, no matter how tentatively, and to refine this later. Panel members can take responsibility for writing the final report themselves, but it is more usual for the panel secretary (who will be part of the project management team) to lead on this and to consult panel members in the process. More often than not, the panel chair plays a pivotal role in report drafting.
The project management team might also decide to assign a technical writer to draft the report, not only to ensure one consistent style but also to present the panels findings in as an attractive way as possible. Before being published, panel reports should be peer reviewed to check for (i) factual or analytical errors, (ii) coherence in analysis that shows convincingly how priorities and recommendations were arrived at, and (iii) overall readability and visual appearance of the report. Draft reports are also normally sent to the sponsor for review.
Dissemination of Panel findings
All too often, consideration of a dissemination strategy for a panel's findings is left to near the end of a Foresight exercise. This is not advisable – dissemination and implementation should be considered from the outset and the panel's approach designed with this in mind. Dissemination should also be budgeted for, both in terms of time and costs, particularly as it is likely to involve at least some panel members (especially the panel chair) in further activities. As the sponsor is likely to play a significant role in dissemination activity, the panel chair should consult them on their strategy for diffusing the messages contained in the panel report. In instances where panels have been assembled to carry out a specific task as part of a wider process, there may not be a panel report produced that is suited for wide dissemination. Instead, the sponsor alone may take full responsibility for disseminating the findings of the whole exercise later on.
On their publication, panel reports are typically announced in a press release. The panel chair normally promotes the report and addresses any questions or queries on substance, at least in the first instance. After some time, the sponsor may become the chief spokesperson for the panel's findings. Report summaries may be produced that are targeted at the media and/or high-level decision makers who may not have the time to read the whole report. Every panel report has its own audience depending on the topic area being covered and the recommendations made (if any). The panel report should be interesting to its audience and clear on the message it wants to convey. But this may not be enough in itself, and it is quite common for panel reports to be formally presented at meetings and conferences and for recommendations and implications to be discussed and debated at workshops. Panels may even be retained after their reports have been published in order to promote dissemination of their findings and implementation of their recommendations. This is, however, quite rare, with the UK Foresight Programmes being the notable example.
As regards human resources, a related issue concerns the number of panel members to appoint to each panel. Most Foresight exercises have opted for 12-25 individuals per panel, with the average number being around 15. Typically, a small number of individuals are absent from each panel meeting, and this needs to be taken into account when deciding on the final number.
Considering the financial resources, costs must be taken into account when appointing panels. Financial costs include the following possibilities:
- Honoraria may be paid to panel members and/or the panel chair. This has not been common practice in technology Foresight up until now – the prestige associated with being a panel member in a high profile exercise has usually proved to be sufficient reward. The amount paid represents a token of appreciation rather than a payment for services at normal professional consulting rates.
- Panels tend not to run themselves but are typically supported with facilitators and/or secretaries. Secretarial support, for instance, minute taking and document preparation, may be provided by staff from the sponsor or the organisation awarded the contract for running the exercise. Facilitation of meetings is largely carried out by the panel chair, but additional specialist facilitation is also often required in technology Foresight (e.g. for the running of scenario sessions, the writing of Delphi topic statements). Such skills may reside in the organisation managing the exercise, although often this is not the case and other contractors must be brought in.
- Research and technical services will probably be needed to support the work of the panel. Some of this can often be prepared before the panels start their series of meetings, but other research and technical assistance demands are likely to emerge as the panels undertake their work. Research and technical services can often be provided 'in-house', for example, by the sponsor or the project management team. In other instances, however, it will be necessary to bring in outside expertise to write specialist reports, collect and analyse data, etc.
- Travel costs and other communications (e.g. telephone, document courier) also need to be factored in. In some countries, most expertise resides in the capital city and meetings are held there. But even in such situations, some people will have to be brought in from elsewhere, though costs are likely to be quite low. In many Foresight exercises, expertise or stakeholders are more geographically dispersed. Here, meetings may be held in many different locations with perhaps most panel members having to travel. Some countries have two dominant centres between which meetings may be split (like in the Turkish case where national technology Foresight panel meetings were largely distributed across two centres, Ankara and Istanbul.
- Rental of facilities may also be necessary, especially if panel meetings move about. It is normal for the sponsor to make its premises available for meetings. Sometimes panel members' own organisations may offer similar facilities for free (this happened extensively in the UK national Programme, but it should not be taken for granted). If meetings stretch over a day or more, it may also be necessary to pay for hotel accommodation.
- If panels are to carry out questionnaire surveys and/or organise workshops, materials will need to be provided. Moreover, reports will have to be published and disseminated.
Time is needed for assembling the panel and any support staff, holding meetings, using methods such as Delphi or scenarios, preparing reports, and disseminating the final results. Realistic estimates must be made of the time and costs required to complete these tasks. This can prove difficult at the outset, and it is common to underestimate, especially with respect to the time needed. Indeed, it is not uncommon for technology Foresight exercises to overrun – usually by only a few months, but sometimes it can be longer.
Typically reaching consensus on key issues or to identify priorities, let alone outline recommendations for policy and investment are among the outputs of the expert panels. Where priorities are requested, these should be determined in a transparent and systematic manner if they are to be credible. For a panel to arrive at priorities, it must reach some level of consensus and closure. This is usually achieved through the power of analysis and panel debate. If serious disagreements between panel members remain, these should be highlighted rather than obfuscated. Where panels must prioritise large lists of topics, for example, in critical technology exercises, voting procedures are commonly used. Voting is nowadays done online, and can in theory be opened up to invited individuals from outside the panel.
It is one thing to identify priority areas but quite another to formulate recommendations for action. Recommendations set out actions that need to be taken in the light of the priorities identified by a panel and tend to be directed at named organisations. This means that they are highly political in nature. For this reason, many technology Foresight exercises chose either not to make any recommendations at all or they at least clearly separate panel analysis and priority-setting activities from the task of setting recommendations. In such situations, panels do not get involved in formulating recommendations. If recommendations are to be set, special forums of stakeholders are organised to consider the implications of panels' analyses and priorities.
The main advantage of working with expert panels is that different types of players who might not normally meet in the course of a panel such as innovators, sponsors, policy makers, academic researchers, users and/or consumers can be brought together. Expert panels provide an environment where diverse viewpoints of stakeholders can be brought together freely.
However, the experience has demonstrated that the operation of expert panels is far from routine and unproblematic. To be able to understand this it is important to mention some of the characteristics of group or individual behaviours that are exhibited by panels during their work. These characteristics that may prevent the panel to work effectively include:
- A dominating personality or outspoken person takes over the panel process so that the outcome tends to be his or her view
- Individuals are unwilling to commit themselves on an issue
- The superior vs. subordinate relationship hampers free expression of opinion by subordinates
- The unwillingness to abandon a position once it has been taken publicly
- Committee members are not necessarily familiar with the needs of the Foresight process and may fall into a conventional mode inappropriate to developing a longer term view of the topics under discussion
Thus during the running of an exercise the management of the group and individual behaviours becomes and important issue. This is because panel members bring their own interests and biases to the table. These factors, which emerge on the panel work process, are likely to affect the Foresight process, the ideas created, and the quality and quantity of the output. Therefore, two main ingredients need to be paid sufficient attention to in the work of a panel:
Individual participants play an important role in panel processes. The depth and breadth of their knowledge and their experience in the field are crucial. In addition to these technical qualifications, it should be borne in mind that the personal characteristics of participants have a powerful influence on the work done. For panel work, it is important that the individuals are creative thinkers who can work well in groups.
At the individual participant level, creative performance requires a particular set of skills. These include the ability to think creatively, to generate alternatives, to engage in divergent thinking, and to suspend judgement. Creativity also requires a leve of drive pushing individuals to persevere in the face of the challenges inherent in creative work. As a result some individuals are more creative than others.
Finally, creativity inherently involves risks. That is, to develop new and useful products or processes, individuals have to be willing to try and to risk failure. The participants should be able to speak freely without fear.
Regarding the composition of panellists, expert panels need to avoid too narrow a representation. Narrow representation is liable to result in little challenging thinking. Interaction with a diversity of others is a necessary precondition for creative performance. Reflecting the networking elements of institutional Foresight, it is valuable to bring together different types of players who might not normally meet in the course of a panel (e.g. innovators, financiers, policymakers, academic researchers and 'users' of the innovation).
Panels need to be chaired and facilitated effectively in order to maintain motivation and morale, to resolve conflicts, to keep an eye on timetables and to prevent over-dominance of strong personalities. In order for creativity to occur, a facilitator needs to play an active role in fostering, encouraging, and supporting the activity. Hence the role of the facilitator is to ensure that the structure of the work environment, the climate and culture, and the human resource practices are such that creative outcomes can and do occur.
Participation of an outsider in an expert panel's work can be a useful way of diversifying the information and ideas and to motivate and support the 'human divergent thinking process'. This outside agent participates in the meetings (e.g. in brainstorming and discussion sessions), listens to the experts opinions and provides inputs based on an outsider's viewpoint. However, the involvement of an outsider, especially as a facilitator, may also undermine the authority of the members of the panel.
The climate at the organisational level, which covers, for instance, all panels, project managers and steering committees in Institutional Foresight exercises, is another factor that affects creativity. An organisation's structure can play a critical role in enhancing and hindering creativity. For instance, structures that promote open, ongoing contact with external others or information seeking from different or multiple sources increase communication and creativity.
Finally, it is important to know that an expert panel cannot produce a statistically significant outcome. The results provided by a panel will not reflect the response of a larger population or even the findings of a different panel. The panels usually consult through surveys, meetings or conferences to gather opinions from wider participants. However, at the end the outcomes will represent the synthesised opinions of the panel.
In a typical panel, experts meet face-to-face, normally in private sessions, at regular intervals over a fixed time period. During this time, they use their judgement in interpreting available evidence. They report their findings, usually through a written report that is later disseminated and, ideally, acted upon. However, there are many variants on this typical model of a panel. For instance, 'expert panels' may involve 'lay persons'. In fact, panels may not be 'expert' at all (at least not in the traditional, professional sense of the word). Instead, such panels may be composed of 'stakeholders', i.e. individuals (sometimes representing an organisation) with a stake in the outcomes of the panel process. The practical life experiences of such individuals are typically taken as criteria for membership. Another deviation concerns the interaction of panel members, which need not be face-to-face. Indeed, some panels never meet at all. In such cases, interaction may be through the Internet or through a survey process, e.g. a Delphi. This also means that panel numbers need not be limited to 12-15 members but can be much larger. Panels can also meet in public sessions, although this tends to be reserved for those instances where panels wish to consult with a wider public. Finally, panels can, in some instances, be constituted for an indefinite period of time. This often occurs where the desire is to establish an 'independent' authority for dealing with long-standing challenges, e.g. global warming. Such panels report periodically, often on a specific topic or theme.
One of the key elements of Foresight is participation. Active participation through the involvement in exercises is typically provided via expert panels. The methods selected in a Foresight exercise are mainly practiced in the expert panels. Brainstorming, SWOT analyses and scenarios are the methods mostly practiced in expert panels. There needs to be an alignment between the panel's work, the nature of the subject at hand and the methods selected.
- Are there issues which require highly technical knowledge or are highly complex and require synthesis of experts/representatives from different disciplines/stakeholders?
- Will the study be limited to technical problems or will it address broad issues of public policy?
- Do the issues to be addressed in the exercise have alternative resolutions that are controversial, affecting parties who have strong emotional, political of financial stakes in the outcome or are there no stakeholders with strong commitments to a particular problem?
- Is there a need for recommendations based more on data analysis or on expert judgement?
- Is consensus and/or closure among different stakeholders is needed?
- Are wider acceptance and approval of the exercise from stakeholders, wider communities/society important?
- Are there enough human and financial resources and time to carry out an expert panel based Foresight exercise?
There is more information on expert panels in some of the example cases: