There is often tension between the various orientations of Foresight. This ambivalence is problematic as there is a danger that exercises are started with misguided expectations as to their impact and outcomes. Throughout the process Foresight practitioners might struggle with conflicting demands and ultimately exercises might be viewed as a failure although their achievements could actually be of high value for policy.
Within the 2006 mutual learning process a common understanding emerged that Foresight can and should address both the basic functions of informing policy and facilitating policy implementation. However, it was stressed that not everything can be achieved simultaneously and with the same approach. It seems crucial that within Foresight design there is a clear understanding about what type of impact is being targeted within each particular Foresight activity.
A possible approach is to subdivise the exercise into various successive or parallel phases, each of them fulfilling one or a few specific functions. This approach is illustrated in the following figure, which shows different phases of a hypothetical Foresight exercise where the X-axis represents various functions and the Y-axis represents the diversity and level of participation within the exercise. The dotted circle at the bottom symbolises the phases where participation is low, while the dotted upper circle symbolises the open process.
Illustration of an exercise subdivided into several phases
The phases in this example are:
- A "diagnosis phase” with policy-makers and experts to reflect on the situation of the current system;
- A fairly-open phase of “exploration” to build scenarios of possible future evolutions of the system with a wider participation of stakeholders;
- A fairly-secluded phase of “strategic orientation” for policy-makers to discuss possible strategies on the basis of the diagnosis and of the exploration of the future carried out earlier possibly revealing their own hidden agendas “off record”.
- A largely-open phase of public debate such as citizen conferences to “make the fundamental choices” on the basis of a consensus as large as possible.
- A phase of “implementation and coordination” where the choices are transformed into policy
Other characteristics of the exercise such as the level of creativity could be mapped onto the various phases in a similar way. In this case a phase of seclusion with no pressure to come up with concrete results could serve the needs of idea generation.