Selecting participants


Online Foresight Guide

Identifying participants

Personal contacts or personal contacts from personal contacts are commonly used for recruiting potential participants. However, it might be considered useful to introduce more formal and transparent reputational approaches, such as co-nomination. Rather than relying on the initial set of candidates that might be thought of, questionnaires asking these people to nominate others who they believe to be particularly knowledgeable in specified areas of expertise can be used. A snowball survey involves contacting the people nominated by your first contacts, then contacting their nominations, and so on. Co-nomination approaches may be employed, in which the repeated naming of particular people as expert in particular fields is used for guidance in the selection of experts. However, it is possible to find experts in existing databases and through the internet.

Profiling participants

Stakeholder profiling is used to gauge the level of competencies and mindset of the stakeholders and to provide an overview of aspects such as:

 

 

Selecting participants: criteria

Level of responsability

As a general rule, which bears exception, the more leading participants that can be mobilised the better.

Balance

In many cases you will seek to involve all the relevant stakeholders concerned with the topic you are addressing. Your group is thus likely to consist of representatives from different professional backgrounds and sectors of society such as government, business, societal organisations, knowledge institutions, and intermediaries. It is often not easy to achieve a suitable balance of participants - especially when policy decisions are involved, such as major funding decisions where some actors will seek to exert more pressure than others to be involved. Others might refuse to be involved and try to hinder the process. It is extremely important to avoid being trapped in the perspective of just one part of an arena of stakeholders as this will jeopardise the credibility of the whole exercise.

Heterogeneity/Homogeneity

It has been noted that a heterogeneous group contributes more alternative viewpoints and ideas to the discussion than a group of participants who share similar ideas and are involved in the same networks. Therefore you might want to consider explicitly including participants from different networks, who represent unorthodox and innovative opinions and viewpoints. On the other hand, a certain degree of homogeneity will provide participants with common ground for discussion and action.

Commitment

The participants must be willing to invest time and energy.

Autonomy

The participants must function relatively autonomously within their organisation and, at the same time, have the ability to convey the developed visions and present them to their own organisation. Sometimes "forerunners" will even be needed. Although these will often be high ranking members of an organisation this is not the only criterion that could be employed.

Creativity and practitioners

As thinking about the future is always a somewhat creative process it is important to have people with a sufficient ability of visionary and out of the box thinking. On the other hand if you want people to act upon the visions you will need "practitioners" who can link long-term goals to short term needs for action and contribute more practical awareness of how to bring about changes today.

Open mindedness

To facilitate the mutual learning process and to enable the development of original visions it is important that participants are able and willing to sometimes step back from their organisation's viewpoint and to consider other standpoints and perspectives. Also they need to be able to look beyond their own field of expertise.

Expertise

For any kind of Foresight event it is important to have people who are knowledgeable in the field you are tackling. However the type of knowledge needed depends on the task in hand. So in some cases you will need really deep technical understanding in others more a broad overview over everything happening in a field. The identification of expertise is especially a critical task when you apply methods based on the use of expertise.

Contacting participants

The process for developing a list of participants to be invited to a Foresight event entails:

  1. Writing the list of criteria important for your event.
  2. Identifying people meeting these criteria through one of the methods mentioned above.
  3. Contacting people (email, phone or face-to-face) using the opportunity presented by workshops, conferences, panels, etc. They can be asked whether they would like to participate and whether they can suggest other names.
  4. Drawing up a tentative list, paying attention to the balance: professional backgrounds, academic disciplines, age, gender, geographical origins.
  5. Contacting the people selected so as to give them an official invitation and/or ask for confirmation.

Background note: involving policy-makers?

Another issue on involvement concerns policy-makers – what should their role be in the exercise? There is no clear-cut answer to this question, and much will depend upon the political culture and the context. Deep political involvement may improve the impact on decision making, speed up the process and facilitate access to resources, but there are some risks that the exercise could become subordinated to the short-term information needs or the results be politically 'tainted'.

More information:

Background note: involving lay persons?

Along the same lines as above, another issue concerning involvement relates to the participation of lay persons in a Foresight exercise. It is important to note that the terms "stakeholder" and "lay person" do not refer to the same groups of people, with the latter usually referring to ordinary citizens and the former to the various parties that can help shape decisions by bringing some expertise into the exercise. Thus, again much will depend upon the political culture, the public's education and willingness to participate in common decisions affecting their future as well as the exercise's context. A wider participation of citizens may enable the identification of broader needs. On the other hand, there are some risks that the exercise could become difficult to manage as the number of participants and of different backgrounds increase. In the past, when exercises were more focused on science and technology related issues (see focus in a Foresight exercise), reliance on experts was the common rule. However, currently there seem to be more examples of exercises experimenting with wider citizens participation (see the Wallonia example), as the approach seems to be more holistic and therefore the issues under analysis more intertwined with social considerations (see the discussion of the scope of a Foresight exercise). Apparently, it seems, the involvement of lay persons may become more common practice in future Foresight exercises as the issues under study becomes more multidisciplinary and the realisation that, in the end, everybody can be affected by the impacts of the decisions stemming out from the exercise. Possibly, lessons can be learned from technology assessment or participatory planning approaches.

There is more information on identifying and selecting participants in some of the example cases:

 

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