Managing time

Online Foresight Guide

Keeping to schedule

Keeping the Foresight exercise on time is crucial to sustaining momentum and credibility. Deadlines may also be imposed on the exercise by the policy agenda.

The exercise needs to be broken down into a number of distinct phases, each with a difference in emphasis and efforts. The timing of the implementation of each phases needs to be discussed by the team in consultation with the sponsor/client at the start of the project.

Breakdown into distinct phases Indicative allocation of time %
Phase 1:
A preparatory, design, and warm-up period which includes scoping  
Ideally 2 months prior to start-up 4
Phase 2:
Start-up (allocation of tasks, work plan, website)
First month into the exercise 5-8
Phase 3:
Running of the exercise
The bulk of the effort and time is dedicated to this phase which can be further broken down into phases addressing stakeholder-mapping and engagement, information-gathering, trends/driver analysis, … 80-86
Phase 4:
Compilation and presentation of results
Last 1-2 months of the exercise 5-8

The time allocations shown in the table are indicative only and may vary from one exercise to another depending on the complexity of the project (e.g. a longer planning phase may be necessary) or the sponsor's preferences (e.g. the sponsor may want more time and effort to be spent on dissemination/diffusion).

The results must be relevant for the timeframe in which they are due to be presented. For instance, if the results are supposed to provide an input to a national plan, they will need to meet the deadline for submissions.

Any deadlines set by the sponsor/client for deliverables and results from the exercise must be met. Deviations from the schedule should be anticipated and reported as soon as possible with an explanation to the sponsors to avoid misunderstandings. There are often valid reasons for deviating from the agreed schedule, such as delays in obtaining information or in organising events due to clashes. Where possible it is best to factor in the possibility of such delays at the planning stage to avoid disappointing the sponsors.

Time costs money

It is important to remember that the client/sponsor is providing the financial resources which pay for some or all of the time of staff spend working on the exercise.

The client/sponsor expects value for money and results need to match the amount of time and effort that is supposed to have been invested in the exercise.

Time sheets are a useful way of tracking timely delivery of results and keeping an eye on the overall productivity of the team.  They should ideally record daily tasks being carried out by the team members and help to identify unanticipated delays or the need to re-assign tasks to team members.  

Overcome time constraints  

Whereas the Foresight team are paid to dedicate time to the exercise, the stakeholders may not always have the time to participate actively in the exercise on a regular basis. This also depend on whether the stakeholders, and in particular, the panel members, are paid for their time and if the remuneration they receive adequately covers their efforts. Often even when resources are available to pay stakeholders and panel members, the latter simply do not have the time because of other commitments (or because they are insufficiently interested or have other priorities). When this happens, it may hold up the overall progress of the exercise.  

For example, in the Malta eFORESEE ICT pilot, given that the more influential players had limited time to dedicate to the Foresight exercise, one-to-one interviews were conducted with the more prominent members of this group to obtain their insights on the effective orientation of the exercise and to identify other key people who could be consulted.

Time is a resource – use it wisely

Time is a valuable resource which needs to be used wisely. In a Foresight exercise time has special significance as it marks important advances in information gathering and breakthroughs in terms of changes in mindsets and insights into hidden obstacles and agendas affecting progress. It is important not to underestimate the power of time in bringing about transformations in behaviour and in offering windows of opportunity for new initiatives. Time forces Foresight to evolve as an iterative process where linear thinking and approaches are overtaken by feedback loops, as particular approaches and perspectives are revisited and methods are revised to improve the process. This is one reason why the Foresight process needs to retain a level of flexibility in the way it is designed, planned and implemented.

Time management is a shared responsibility

Ensuring effective time management and introduction of related strategies is the collective responsibility of all those engaged in the Foresight exercise, from the sponsors, clients, team leader, to the implementation team, including technical secretaries and panel chairs and members.

Where possible, plan for delays

The team leader needs to ensure in the planning phase that the time needed to complete all the tasks is quantified. In order to allow for a degree of flexibility, tasks can be allowed some leeway for possible delays but absolute cut-off dates should be agreed for completion and delivery of results. Any delays anticipated after the cut-off dates need to be reported immediately to the team leader. A balance has to be struck between seeking to achieve perfect results and delaying the process as opposed to ensuring that the project is delivered on time even if some aspects are not fully addressed as envisaged in the plan.

Don't get side-tracked!

Remember that while spin-off activity and related initiatives can enhance the overall quality of the process and the results achieved, it is important that the team is not distracted from its purpose and lured into working on a different project. It is important to recognise when enough has been achieved on a project and to leave secondary activities for a follow-up project.       

There is more information on managing time in some of the example cases:


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