There is a variety of methods that can be used in Foresight, each producing different results. How can you choose which method, or methods to use?
The precise choice of the appropriate combination of methods will always be a matter of judgment based on the particular context and nature of the issue being examined. This guide enumerates some of the points relevant to the decision-making process. However, in most cases it is highly recommendable to exchange views with experienced Foresight practitioners. In particular, when you have decided to focus on a particular method you should try to find out who else used it, get in touch with them and consult them about their experience.
Does the method meet my objectives?
When deciding on the methods to be used at a certain point in your exercise you will usually start from the objectives of each phase and the outcomes you expect. You will probably consider a range of methods that might be able to fulfil this particular function (as outlined in "Assigning sets of methods to functions") by carefully looking on the description of various methods as they are described in the table of methods in this guide e.g. in the "Is it for me?" section of the description. From that you will have to determine which method is best suited to achieve your targeted outcomes (formal and informal!).
Important criteria to be considered when deciding whether a method is suitable for your exercise are the Level of participation on the one hand and the degree of expertise you need to achieve your objectives on the other. You should keep in mind that this is not naturally the same for each step of the exercise. A largely participatory exercise is indeed not necessarily participatory at each phase. It might well be that only a few experts are taking part in a specific phase while large-scale participation is envisaged in other steps. (See also: The use of expertise in Foresight).
Can I carry out this method?
Although the suitability of a method to the task should always be the primary selection criterion, in practice it will never be the only one. There are a number of practical considerations to be taken into account when actually choosing the methods you will be using such as:
- Build on existing material: A sound 'common-sense' approach can replace a more formal and resource-consuming method if a lot of material is already available; So, for instance, when there are a number of studies on the competitiveness of a sector, a sectoral Foresight exercise will not necessarily have to carry out a SWOT analysis from scratch to fulfil the diagnosis function.
- Mind the costs: The cost of the various methods is widely differing. Therefore availability of resources should be carefully taken into account when selecting a method. It is dangerous to chose a method without having the adequate resources as the outcome is very likely to be little satisfying. Rather select a less sophisticated tool that you can handle well within the existing limits! You will find hints on the resource intensity in the description of each method.
- Mind participants' availability: Some methods rely heavily on the participation of some key actors (e.g. expert panels), specific experts (e.g. roadmaps) or a wide range of societal groups (e.g. citizens' workshops) or even a large number of participants (e.g. surveys). It is not always easy to secure the adequate level of participation for any method. Therefore, before you chose a method it is advisable to carefully check whether you will be able to engage the participants as needed.
- Mind the time: The implementation of every Foresight method takes its time! However, some methods are particularly time consuming. Therefore, when selecting the method you should keep in mind the timeframe of the exercise. So, for instance, you should consider when the first results are expected, and check whether you can meet these expectations with the selected method. Also it is vital to check whether you can finish the exercise within the planned timescales.
- Mind the skills: Each method needs certain competencies to be implemented. So, for instance, a scenario approach needs skilled facilitators and creative scenario writers while an online survey requires programmers and an understanding of statistics. Before you embark on a method make sure you either have these skills in the team or the possibility to recruit them.
- Meet the needs of the sponsor - but wisely: In some cases sponsors of a Foresight exercise have a certain method in mind that they want the exercise to use, often because they have heard of a successfully application somewhere else. While this should be certainly taken into account it is vital not to rely on the sponsor alone. The process should not be driven by the desire to use one or another method just because they are fashionable or because the sponsor has a positive image of them. Sponsors do not necessarily have an in-depth knowledge of the specific advantages and drawbacks of each method.
- You can find specific information about drawbacks and advantages of each method in the table of methods within this guide.
- You can find considerations on how to assign methods to different functions within the exercise such as Diagnosis, Prognosis and Prescription under: Assigning sets of methods to functions
- You can download an interactive presentation to help you decide which method is best suited to your case. [ ˜ 75kb