Foresight of Information Society Technologies in the European Research Area (FISTERA)


Online Foresight Guide

Why do Foresight?

FISTERA was set up to provide the European Commission with information on the evolution of information and communication technologies, the social implications of this evolution and the broader context within this evolution takes place (such as the human resources problem), that could be used in the organisation of the European Research Area. Efforts towards developing cross-national visions of the future of information communication technologies within distinct social sectors (transport, health care, education, government) had so far been largely absent from the European Research Area (ERA) in general, and consequently form the European area for Foresight in particular. Being a European-wide network, including actors of various European countries with various competencies and disciplinary background, FISTERA offered an interesting platform for studying future prospects of the Information Society. Within the European Commission a number of issues were raised to which FISTERA might offer an answer. These questions can be summarised as: what are the visions on the future of Europe within Information Society Technologies? Related issues are: what are expected societal changes within Europe related to technological changes; what are the 'disruptive' technologies that may have a severe and irreversible impact on business and public sectors? Foresight offers the appropriate research framework to address this question.

Designing the exercise

Analysis of the context

FISTERA is a Thematic Network, supported the European 5th Framework programme for research, technological development and demonstration on a user-friendly information society (1998-2002). FISTERA has been developed as a thematic Network by a number of partners (led by the Institute for Prospective Technology Studies, one of the EU Joint Research Centres, situated in Seville, Spain) in order exert influence on the scoping of the seventh Framework programme, especially in the field of 'Information Society Technologies'. FISTERA started on 1 September 2002 and lasted until 1 December 2005. During its three years of existence, the Network has performed the following activities:

- Review and analysis of national foresight exercise outcomes on ISTs

- Building up aggregate pan-European technology trajectories (a roadmap of potential developments of key emerging technologies)

- Analysis of the main European Information Society Technologies (IST) actors (public and private research and development institutions)

- A fully fledged Deplhi exercise on wider applications of ISTs.

- Dissemination of the findings through a website, an e-mail alert service, road shows in EU-countries, conference presentations, the organisation of a final FISTERA conference and the publication of a series of books on the results of FISTERA.

Coverage of the exercise – Defining the focus and scope

FISTERA covers the future of Information Society Technologies within the European Research Area. To this end, it was decided to have a very broad and encompassing project strategy that covered both a broad range of methodologies (see section on methodologies) and of perspectives. The focus was on technological developments, identifying major technological breakthroughs ('disruptive' technologies) and offering a layered perspective on technologies, functionalities, services and ambients. The focus was also on social developments, on the set-up of the IST knowledge infrastructure within Europe and on issues dealing with the industrial strength, the human resources aspect and the priority setting issue.

The scope of Foresight was Information Society Technologies and Information and Communication Technologies. Information Society Technologies refer to the social realisation of Information and Communication Technologies. Information and Communication Technologies refer to the production of these technologies, the services that can be offered by means of these technologies, and the industrial sector to which ICTs give rise. ICTs are characterised by very turbulent dynamics, indicating a high speed of change. This of course, makes a Foresight study over a longer period of time problematic. Notwithstanding this problem, FISTERA directed its attention to the whole range of IST and ICT developments.

Setting the objectives

The main objectives of FISTERA were:

Defining the users

Results of FISTERA are interesting for the following group of users:

Designing the global approach

In discussing the set-up of the project, it was decided that FISTERA should be a full-fledged Foresight exercise in the domain of Information Society Technologies, since such a full-fledged exercise was lacking at that point in time. The IPTS took the lead in deciding which partners were best suited to cover the various methodological issues that were at stake (overall analysis of previous work, setting up technological trajectories, outlining and analysing European strengths and weaknesses in the domain of Information Society Technologies, organising and providing a forum for a pan-European Delphi exercise. Interesting to note is the implicit design decision not to take the economic dimension into account. In the latter phase of the project, this decision has been reversed and economic experts have been invited to participate, since economic expertise was lacking in the core team.

Setting the time horizon

Given the fact that FISTERA is a Foresight study, its time horizon had to be decided upon in advance. It was decided not to have one 'final' but to build in some flexibility. This means that the technology forecast had an intermediate time horizon of 2008 and a final time horizon of 2020. Within the Delphi study, the horizon was set at roughly 2010 (being the time horizon of the Lisbon objectives).

Setting the time frame

FISTERA was a three year research project within the 5th Framework Programme of the EU (contract: IST-2001-37627), starting at 1 September 2002 and ending at 30 November 2005. Originally, the project was intended to end on 1 September 2005. An extension of three months was requested from the Commission to finish off the project, which was granted.

Designing the approach

In its three years of existence, FISTERA has presented a full-fledged foresight study on Information Society Technologies. The project has been divided into five main work packages:

Next to these five work packages that had been defined at the start of the project, a few new activities have been initiated during the project:

Costs and funding

The entire budget for Fistera has been funded by the EU as part of its 5th Framework Programme; the budget of the entire project was approximately EUR 1.5m.

Skills and competencies

Given the broad scope of FISTERA activities, various skills and competencies were required. They relate to technological competency (being able to judge technological developments), methodological skill (being able to organise a full-fledged, web-based Delphi exercise), overall research skills (being able to analyse broad-ranging future studies on ISTs, being able to perform a patent analysis, being able to systematically gather and analyse findings on various dimensions of IST-developments, such as key IST institutes, human resource activities, and being able to systematically reflect upon the – intermediate – results); finally, one needs project management competencies to be able to run such a long term and highly complex project. The partners within the core team contributed to these skills in various manners; all partners had their own specialisation and had responsibility for one work package.

Review existing and on-going work

The first work package of FISTERA dealt with the analysis of previous work on foresighting Information Society Technologies by national governments within and outside Europe. During the first round, eight national foresight exercises on ISTs have been analysed ( Austria, Czech republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Spain, Sweden and United Kingdom). In a second round this was enlarged to encapsulate United States, Japan and Norway, and to include the new member states as well.

Project team and organisation

Project management was in the hands of Institute for Prospective Technology Studies, one of the EU Joint Research Centres, situated in Seville, Spain. The project leader also had responsibility for dissemination activities. Project members were:

Next to this core group of project members a total of eleven member organisations formed a second layer of interested groups, participating at the organisation of road shows, providing feedback to the core team members and performing research tasks allocated to the members.

ARC FUND (BU), DTI (DK), IDATE (FR), IEETA (PT), IQSYS ( HU), NMRC (IR), OPET (PT), P&BF (PL), TCM (ES), TNO (NL), TUBITAK (TU) and ZRS-RAS (SL) were members of the project, not belonging to the core team. McCaughan Associates (UK) was responsible for an international expert group that occasionally provided feedback to the project team.

Core members had several people working on the project (usually part time, and as part of the overall activities they are engaged with). Members were involved in specific events (organisation of national roadshows, providing feedback).

Steering Committee

A Network Management Committee was formed that had responsibility for the overall project development. The NMC consisted of the core members, Gopa Cartermill (being responsible for financial aspects) and the member representative. The Dutch organisation TNO acted as representative of the team members in the Network Management Committee.

Communication strategy

Day to day communication was supported by e-mail. Bi-weekly teleconferences were held to discuss on-going issues. Network Management Committee meetings were planned to coincide with workshops, conferences and other forms of project activities. If necessary, Network Management Committees were planned as isolated events to discuss issues that required direct interventions.

Methodology

In methodological terms, FISTERA relied mostly on established foresight methods and tools, which can be used without major teething problems. However, some of the tools had to be adapted to fit FISTERA's needs. For instance, the well-established Delphi methodology was replaced by an online system in order to allow inexpensive pan-European application. Other tools, like the multi-level concept of Technology Trajectories and the corresponding matching of patent classifications, were conceived from scratch.

In thematic terms, it was necessary to focus the forward-looking analysis in FISTERA on particular aspects, where the project was likely to contribute new insights to the current debates on the future of IST. For this reason, (macro-)economic factors of importance to ISTs, probably one of the most intensely investigated areas of economic research, have only been touched upon as far as is necessary to complement the other key dimensions. The tools used to analyse the technological, social, economic and political factors are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1: Foresight tools by key factors.

 

Strengths and weaknesses

Opportunities, threats and challenges

Technology-related factors

Bibliometric analysis of patents, publications and secondary sources (such as R&D funding), assessments included in national foresight studies.

Analysis of technology trajectories and disruptions, assessments included in national foresight studies

Economic and political factors

Information from national Foresights and literature

Online Delphi and targeted workshops, information from national foresights and literature

Socio-related factors

Information gathering from literature search and online-delphi

Scenario-building exercises and workshops and online–delphi

S&T-based competitiveness

Information gathering through desk research and check by interviews; online-Delphi

Scenario-building exercises and workshops

 

FISTERA combines a number of foresight tools and sources to elaborate on Europe's strengths and weaknesses as they appear today (central column). The threats and challenges should be perceived from a point of view of achieving the 'Lisbon 2010 Objective' (and beyond). For sake of simplicity, the table indicates the principal sources only.

Running the exercise

Management

Being an EU 5FP project, FISTERA was led by a project officer, Mr Pierre Maro, within the European Commission. Day to day management was in the hands of the lead partner, IPTS. Organisational and financial affairs were taken care of by Gopa Gartermill. Bi-weekly teleconferences were held in order to keep the project team informed about each others progress and about possible issues that needed to be solved. Given the fact that the project team was composed of international institutes, much of the management communication was done by means of e-mail, and by the FISTERA website, that for this purpose has been initiated. Meetings of the Network management Committee were scheduled to coincide with workshops, roadmaps, conferences or other forms of meetings. Yearly work plans included an update to the original work plan, as results of negotiations with the project office. Progress reports indicated the results achieved.

Participants

Next to the project members, the network members (encompassing eleven European countries) and the experts gathered in an expert group, the total number of participants to FISTERA events ran into a couple of hundred experts in various domains. Overall, FISTERA has organised some fifteen road shows in fifteen countries, and several workshops (more than ten) for which between ten and thirty experts per workshop have been invited. Workshops covered various themes: Human Resources, Technological trajectories, New Member States, Delphi results, priority setting, Economics, Industrial innovation policy. The road shows have been organised in accordance with national representative council, leading to inclusion of high level political interest groups within these countries. The Delphi online questionnaire has attracted responses of some five hundred contributors over two rounds.

Promoting the exercise

Due to the fact that dissemination activities have been part and parcel of the project set-up and the performance of the project, FISTERA has become widely known as 'the' European exercise on the future of Information Society Technologies. The e-mail alert that has been initiated and that encompasses a few thousand addresses, receiving information about new events and new milestones reached within the project, contribute to the visibility of the project.

A CD ROM has been produced, encompassing FISTERA results and underlying reports. The CD ROM has been updated during the project and has been disseminated on several occasions to participants at FISTERA events.

Challenges

Several challenges have been faced during the project. The most important challenge is to keep a project on track, during several years (three in this instance) in a turbulent and fast changing environment. The formulation of the original ambition of the project dates back to five years ago. The project only started two years after its objectives had been set. Half way in the project, original ambitions had to be reformulated because resources spent and results obtained were not up to the original expectations. This requires good project management and close co-operation between the project team.

An important part of FISTERA was an up to date database with technological trajectories. (The database has been developed and filled by one of the core project partners – TILAB – and is publicly available and accessible; see http://fistera.telecomitalialab.com/) Keeping this database up-to-date is not an easy task in this fast-changing environment.

Follow-up

Diffusion and Dissemination

One work package of FISTERA has been devoted to diffusion and dissemination activities. From the early start of the project, dissemination of project results has been key to the project. Several tools have been used: e-mail alert service, website, CD-ROM with project results, road shows, workshops, conferences.

In order to reach a broader community of interested parties, FISTERA has undertaken several dissemination activities (see under Dissemination). One interesting example of such a dissemination activity has been the organisation of a workshop, directed at the IST price winners 2004, organised During the IST event 2004 in the Hague. during this workshop the issue of involvement of SMEs in innovative research activities was addressed.

Other dissemination activities are the various workshops (road shows) that have been organized to inform and interest national stakeholders (policy makers, industrialists, scientists), and the workshops dealing with specific themes (human resources, economic implications, ICT policies within new member states)

Reports of Fistera are presented at the website (http://fistera.jrc.es/) and the CD-ROM (available through the website). The entire results of FISTERA will be published in a series of books, covering the following issues:

Evaluation

Evaluation of progress has been part of the annual progress reports and the updated work plan for each of the three FISTERA project years. The EU project officer had an important role in evaluation overall FISTERA findings, in keeping the project on track, and in proposing re-formulation of original ambitions and objectives.

FISTERA is a complex project, with a number of separate trajectories but also with quite some interdependencies between the various work packages. Keeping the project on track while the environment changes during the project, requires sophisticated management skills and competencies and an open attitude both towards conceivable change and to realising the objectives originally set. Looking at the results achieved by FISTERA, management has been successful to sail safely between Scylla and Charybdis. Half-way during the project, the project underwent a thorough revision on the basis of the results achieved so far. Amongst others, the national road shows were stopped and replaced by a number of thematic workshops. Research into the role of New Member States for the European Information Society was added to the original work plan. A number of economic papers have been requested to fill the gap that was apparent with respect to the economic dimension of FISTERA.

Policy impact

Impact is of course difficult to measure. Several instances however indicate the impact of the FISTERA project. One of these, and probably from the perspective of the objective of FISTERA the most important one, is the influence FISTERA has been able to exercise on the formulation of the Seventh Framework Programme (especially on Information Society Technologies). FISTERA has been positioned at the heart of the policy making process within DG Infso in order to directly intervene in the process of policy making within the EU. Findings of FISTERA are mentioned within official EU-reports. The FISTERA project team, and especially the project management team of IPTS, has been invited to present its views for the Commission in a number of occasions.

Of course, this only came within reach after having offered promising and interesting results. The timing and the framing of FISTERA have been set such that intervention within the policy process surrounding the emergence of FP7 was possible. FISTERA is a good example of a Foresight exercise which, though dealing with the development of future visions, nevertheless is able to influence policy making processes directed at the (very) near future.

Within the contributing member states FISTERA is also pretty well known. Whether findings of FISTERA influence national IST policies is more difficult to evaluate.

Next steps

Plans for a follow-up of FISTERA are being discussed at the time of writing of this template. The follow-up may deviate from the approach of the first FISTERA exercise, the changing IST scenery within the EU-25 since the start of the deliberations over FISTERA-1.

Main sources of information

Information about FISTERA can be found at the FISTERA-website:

The results of the technological trajectories can be found at the website of Telecom Italy:

http://fistera.telecomitalialab.com/