Futur - the German Research Dialogue

Online Foresight Guide





Futur context

Futur is not a classical Foresight activity but consisted of a series of Foresight activities taking place in Germany over a number of years. These activities included a key technologies project (Technologies at the Beginning of the 21st Century) and national Delphi surveys (Delphi '93, Mini Delphis, Delphi '98). International comparisons were also conducted as a part of national Foresight. After general elections and a change in the government, a new more participatory approach was aimed for. Instead of a Delphi, a different mixture of methods was to be applied.

The aim of the exercise was to break with the conventional decision-making process for agenda-setting and prioritisation, which was characterised by a closed and rather opaque interaction between research institutions, industry, project managing agencies (Projektträger) and ministerial bureaucrats in charge of research funding. There was no overall systematic approach to developing new projects or guiding research, technology and education, although the different BMBF departments have their own approaches to identifying subjects that have to be supported. The ministry's strategists were increasingly concerned about the risk of missing important new issues if the funding agenda is based solely on traditional mechanisms driven by the actors involved. Therefore, Futur aimed to bring in interdisciplinary ideas from the demand-side so that new projects or programmes could be developed.

Reasons for using Foresight in Futur

All the Foresight activities were selected and financed by one of the strategic departments of the Federal Ministry of Research and Education (BMBF). Futur as a whole was decided upon by the minister, Edelgard Bulmahn, herself. In all cases, it was agreed not to organise the Foresight within BMBF but externally (so as to be able to access to the necessary skills and to ensure neutrality). Futur, of course, had close links to the BMBF as the main client of the exercise. It was expected that priorities in science and technology could be set with Futur and that new projects would be generated and started. As a side-effect, it was expected that Futur would have an influence on the organisation of BMBF itself, making it easier to start interdisciplinary projects.

In 1999, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) decided to organise Futur in order to counter the criticism that only experts were involved in previous Foresight activities, and to open up the German national Foresight processes to a greater variety of participants. This pilot exercise put special emphasis on the use of the Internet as a platform for discussing the different topics. The kick-off meeting took place at a conference in June 1999. The process started with a focus on two fields, "Mobility and Communication" and "Health and Quality of Life". The Ministry expected that it would be sufficient to provide a platform and some inputs on the themes to encourage anybody interested in the topics to participate in the discussions. As international experience from elsewhere has shown, this approach tends to fail because too few people knew about the process, and the questions to be discussed are not well defined. In this case the methodology and objectives were also unclear. As a result, the BMBF decided to re-start the process.

Securing political support in Futur

Support was needed from the exercise's sponsors. This was clear from the beginning and there was clear support from both the BMBF strategic department and the Minister herself. However, it proved difficult to convince the various departments of the BMBF that they would obtain any benefit from Futur (rather than additional work from a lower budget) so the level of support varied from department to department. Some attempts towards in-house promotion were made, but not all departments were reached.

All participants need to be convinced that they can learn something or can benefit in some way when taking part in such an endeavour. In this case, most participants expected to achieve more direct influence over the BMBF's programming than was realistic. Their excessive expectations naturally led to disappointed. The learning effect was also limited, causing even more disappointment. The lesson here is that it needs to be made clear from the beginning what the participants can and cannot realistically expect.

Designing the exercise

Setting the objectives in Futur

Futur aimed to introduce new perspectives into the existing BMBF research agenda by adding to the traditional mechanisms for agenda-setting and prioritisation.

The conventional decision-making process is characterised by a closed and rather opaque interaction between research institutions, industry, project managing agencies (Projektträger) and ministerial bureaucrats in charge of research funding. There is still no overall systematic approach to developing new projects or guiding research, technology and education, although the different BMBF departments have their own approaches to identifying subjects that have to be supported. Strategically oriented officers within the ministry were increasingly concerned about the risk of missing important new issues on the funding agenda, if this were solely based on traditional mechanisms driven by the actors involved. Hence, Futur was supposed to bring in interdisciplinary ideas from the demand-side so that new projects or programmes could be developed. This was regarded as a complementary approach to those existing (from expert groups to direct proposals).

Futur was therefore oriented towards the identification and inclusion of societal needs in future research agendas and serves as a means of priority-setting for future innovation-oriented research policies.

Another objective was added in the second phase of Futur: Future Dialogues should be started in order to begin discussions on topics in the public. But there was only one workshop on demographic change.

Determining the coverage (focus and scope) in Futur

The focus of Futur was not thematic. Instead, it was decided that Futur should be open to any results and topics. The idea was to bring non-expert participants into the process and generate topics "bottom-up".

Futur started, therefore, open to any issues. At first, Futur covered every future topic in response to questions concerning society's demands. Then, the topics were filtered and finally, only those that were in the BMBF's are of competence (namely research, technology and education) were developed into Lead Visions. This was frustrating for some participants because they expected a broader view on the future and regarded many soft topics (from governance to cultural issues) as more important. They were disappointed that in the end the topics selected were mainly technology related. This highlights the need to communicate requirements early on.

Defining the users in Futur

The German Delphi studies did not define their users. Everyone who wanted to could make use of the data. Nevertheless, the main client of Futur was the BMBF.

There were no specific activities for other stakeholders during the process. Some members of the focus groups were also involved in the development of project formulations deriving from the Lead visions (in BMBF). At the end of the first phase there were some strategic talks with important German stakeholders such as the Fraunhofer Society, Helmholtz-Gesellschaft, Leibnitz-Gesellschaft, and companies to introduce Futur and its aims and to convince the decision-makers there to participate in or support the exercise.

In Futur, the BMBF was defined as the user of the output of the Foresight activity. Lead Visions were handed over to BMBF to be implemented. The aim was for the BMBF to be given new ideas and inputs. However, as the BMBF was not involved in the workshops directly, it was difficult to convince people in it to make use of the Lead Visions or other information derived from Futur. It was expected that also industry and other participants could be the users of Futur information but, for them, the information was often too abstract, broad and mainstream. The output was therefore generally regarded as a nice overview but of limited practical use.

Approach to design decisions in Futur

In the spring of 2001, the German Foresight process "Futur - The German Research Dialogue" was launched on behalf of the BMBF. The methodology and format of the expected outcomes of Futur were defined in advance by the BMBF (sponsor). The procedure relied on a wider process, using a variety of methods and instruments. It was decided that face-to-face meetings of working groups should be the central medium of discussions, and the Internet should be used for information purposes, supporting transparency and communication of the whole process.

Setting the time horizon in Futur

Futur did not have a fixed time horizon. It looked at the year 2020 for the development of society as a whole and developments in other areas were derived from it. This made it sometimes difficult to talk about future topics: participants often continued to think about the present.

Setting the timeframe in Futur

The first phase of Futur started in the spring of 2001 and ran until the beginning of 2003. It was evaluated by an international expert panel in the autumn and winter of 2002. The results of this first phase of the Futur process were presented to the public in the summer of 2002. The second phase of Futur ran until March 2005 and in 2004 there was again an international expert panel to evaluate Futur. The third cycle of Futur began in the winter of 2005 and was due to end in late 2005.

Costs and funding in Futur

It was clear from the beginning that the BMBF would finance Futur. Nevertheless, the costs grew over time because workshops and conferences are expensive, the communication costs were under-estimated and some activities (large conferences) that were more public relations exercises to boost the acceptance of science than Foresight also had to be paid for. The lesson here is to stick to the direct objectives.

In Futur the resources do not consist only of project money but also included money and time from the consortium involved and especially for the participants who were not paid for their participation in workshops. In most cases, they even had to pay their own travelling expenses. In Futur, the internet pages, conferences and workshops were the major and the most expensive parts. Their preparation, logistics, hosting, accommodation, catering and the details of the content had to be paid for. Protocols had to be written, facilitation to be organised. This involved a lot of personnel from the consortium and therefore cost a lot in terms of both time and money. This caused the costs of Futur to rise to about €3 million a year, compared to the Delphi '98 study which cost about €800,000 over its whole timeframe (from 1997 to 2000), including publications such as the report, a book, 8 newsletters, as well as workshops and a small conference in the end. This sharp rise in costs shows the wide range of potential costs national Foresight exercises can incur.

Whereas the Delphi surveys were limited in time, Futur was planned as a continuous activity. Nevertheless, for publication and information distribution purposes, Delphi '98 was extended until 2000, with the reports being sold to cover printing costs and follow-up analyses being published in newsletters. Futur, in its current form, started in 2001 (the 1999 pilot was only internet-based) with a two year perspective. After an initial evaluation by an international expert panel, it was prolonged for the next two years (second phase of Futur). The third phase of Futur was still running in late 2005 after another international evaluation took place. Nevertheless, the future of Futur after 2005 is unclear.

Assessing previous and existing work in Futur

In Futur, the previous studies, their benefits and pitfalls were taken into account, but the direct lessons were limited as a different approach was taken; politicians felt it was very important for Futur to use a different approach to the previous studies.

An attempt was made to filter in Foresight results from the Delphi '98 into Futur, but they were not directly used. If a transfer of information of this kind is intended, it needs to be made very visible, explicit and given a direct application, be it on a workshop or in another methodology. There was also a noticeable resistance to Delphi among some participants in Futur, which meant that, in some cases, it was difficult to obtain participants. On the other hand, those participants who expected to see "data" like those from the previous Delphi surveys were disappointed. Therefore, the context of Futur has to be seen in relation to the historical development of Foresight in Germany (see Cuhls 2005). The same is true for areas in which foresight exercises had already been conducted. Whether participants can be encouraged to participate or not will depend on previous experience. The same is true for the acceptance and use of the results.

Collecting information

In Futur, the valuable information needed as an input was that brought in by the participants, namely their tacit knowledge. In the focus groups, so-called thematic advisors helped to bring in more information. In the first phase of Futur, external material such as a small trend analysis and a subject-related analysis of the previous Delphi '98 study were also provided, but this information was only used in a peripheral way during the process.

The second phase of Futur was mainly the topic generation phase, in which information was gathered and selected to find new fields of interest for further work. The thematic papers, which were the vehicles for information transfer from one workshop to the other or as conference preparation papers, included much information concerning the subject (mainly by VDI/VDE-IT). Additional information was also introduced in the final papers on the Lead Visions.

On the one hand, this information was necessary to inform the participants or the BMBF, on the other hand, most participants did not have the time to read the (relatively long) papers, others ignored them or missed those information they were personally not interested in. In spite of the papers, detailed information often got lost during the process. As a transfer process, from the Future Workshops to the Focus Groups, an attempt to solve this problem was made by inviting the same people for discussions, thereby enabling a transfer of knowledge via dialogue. This turned out to be helpful. Nevertheless, in spite of minutes and long documents, this remains a challenge.

Futur project team and organisation of the exercise

For a Foresight exercise like Futur, different disciplines and skills have to be mobilised and made to work together. For this reason, Futur was entrusted to a consortium. This consisted of:

  • IFOK (Institute for Organisational Communication, Bensheim/Berlin/Brussels), as the head of the consortium and responsible for the design and management of the process (including concepts, organising the different workshops, providing facilitators, etc.) and the communication flow.
  • ISI (Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research, Karlsruhe) which provided scientific advice, methodological know-how and international experience on Foresight. It was also responsible for process monitoring and acted as the scientific secretariat for the external evaluation.
  • IZT (Institute for Futures Studies and Technology Assessment, Berlin), with specific knowledge of futures studies and methodologies. It played a scientific advisory role, supporting particularly the "visionary" work by scenario writing and the realisation of Future Workshops (Zukunftswerkstätten).
  • Pixelpark AG, which advised the Consortium and BMBF strategically in all issues of public communication (Internet and print) and creates the different marketing media such as brochures, flyers, posters and the like. A main focus of Pixelpark's work is to create, design, support and host the public Internet websites of the Futur process and various extranets (workspaces).
  • VDI/VDE Innovation + Technik GmbH (Berlin-Teltow, short: VDI/VDE-IT, former VDI/VDE-Information Technology) is a project management agency belonging to BMBF, and which provided and organised technological expertise (expert papers, subject advisors), and supported the activities of the consortium on its subject matter, as well as acting as an advisor.

BMBF departments such as the strategic department and other people with knowledge of the subjects covered by Futur were also involved. The consortium met generally every six weeks (Konsortialtreffen) to discuss conceptual issues, next steps, milestones and the status of the process. Between these sessions, informal communication and co-ordination took place via e-mail and phone. The co-ordination between the consortium and BMBF LS 21 was also organised in six-weekly meetings (jours fixes) and by way of bilateral meetings of IFOK and LS 21. Here, all concepts and milestones were discussed. In general, all concepts, steps and results were delivered to LS 21 for its comments.

In the third and most recent phase of Futur, Pixelpark and Fraunhofer ISI are, for various reasons, no longer involved.

Expected outcomes of Futur

The major outcomes of the process are intended to be interdisciplinary, problem-oriented "Lead Visions" (Leitvisionen). They are intended to reflect the demand for research and be translated into publicly funded research programmes or projects. Participation of a broader audience in various kinds of activities and the combination of different creativity, communication and analytical tools are additional characteristics of the process.

The Lead Visions, as the tangible output of the Futur process, are not intended to be utopian visions but to include pragmatic, normative features within a broader framework. They aim to:

Communication strategy in Futur

Communication is very difficult in such a large consortium. In Futur, the consortium, the participants and the BMBF had to communicate. This flow was organised via meetings (Jour Fixes) internally and externally via conferences, workshops, e-mails and internet (a workspace). Nevertheless, shortages of information occurred, even in the consortium. Maintaining communication flows was time-consuming and expensive. This factor should not be under-estimated when planning an exercise.

The communication with the participants took place mainly via e-mail, the internet and a variety of workshop formats. People were invited formally (mail) to participate in Futur. They were informed about Futur via e-mail (including a newsletter) and there was a homepage and a workspace for the more active participants. All in all, there was a flood of information. Some participants even lost the overview about the different events and work packages. Another new feature were online-votes, which were also regarded as a kind of communication about the topics proposed.

The communication in the different forms of workshops was facilitated by professional facilitators. This was very helpful in keeping the communication going and in directing the flow towards achieving the objectives.

However, it turned out to be very difficult to keep all the participants, the consortium and the BMBF informed. For this, "Jour Fixes", newsletters, an official internet page as well as an internal workspace were used. In such a complex process, that took a lot of time. The participants regarded this and the different information also as important. On the other hand, some of them were angry about the floods of e-mails and different information stemming from Futur.

Designing the methodology (methodological framework) in Futur

The design of the methodology was discussed in the consortium as an answer to a BMBF call for tender. It was intended to make use of a mix of methods with a focus on participation, therefore different methods were applied. In reality, more workshops and conferences were – at the request of BMBF – performed than originally intended.

Futur was relatively complicated. Different methods or better approaches (because no formal method was applied) were used and combined: different workshop formats, conferences, scenario writing, focus groups, online votes and online topic generation. For the topic generation, workshops (national, international, with futurists and other) and desk research were the method of choice.

Futur first phase

The Futur process started with workshops in June 2001. Eight workshops were organised, with a total of more than 400 people. The participants were grouped according to their background in "science", "private business industry", "societal groups" and "young professionals". The objective of the event was to generate a first collection of future trends, which will be important for society in 2020. The central characteristic of the workshops was the openness to results. No thematic fields were predefined, and the participants could openly introduce the fields and themes they considered important.

In the next step, the consortium summarised and structured the workshop results to prepare a base for the following event, which was the open-space conference. It was aimed to map the results without too much distortion, taking into account the complexity and variety of the themes. The results of the different groups were on the one hand structured in a two-dimensional matrix. Every idea was integrated in order to ensure none were lost. Some "clusters" of ideas, mentioned twice and more, emerged. At the same time the set was searched for "new ideas". These were clustered according to similarities. For these clusters, broad headings were formulated to classify them.

The major outcome of the structuring and classification of the workshop discussions by the whole consortium were 21 trend clusters, which summarised the central topics of the future society identified by the workshop participants. In order to use these results as a stimulus to discussion for the open-space conference, the consortium defined suggested headings which grasped the central themes of the trends. Under each of the 21 headings three sub-themes were listed and described, with a view to inspiring deeper discussions of the field.

The next step in the process was the open-space conference, which took place in Berlin on 26 September, 2001. The objective of the conference was to identify trends which will influence the future society and to condense these trends into profiles as a basis for subsequent more detailed discussion in focus groups. First groups were to establish themselves freely according to interest in a specific topic. Again, no thematic fields were predefined and the participants could openly introduce subjects themselves. The 21 trend clusters worked out after the workshops with their suggested titles were posted on "meta-walls" to inspire the group formation. Further, results of the study "Delphi ´98" (Cuhls/Blind/Grupp 1998 and 2002) and a trend-analysis, carried out by the Institute Prime Research, which summarised themes of some futures studies journals, were presented to stimulate the trend generation. In the end, formatted theme profiles had to be worked out by the group participants to record the results. The workshop results served as guidance or stimulus and could be restructured by the conference participants.

25 theme profiles were generated from the conference. Most of the groups and themes met the criteria given. As it was only possible to continue the discussion of 12 themes, a broad selection process was organised to select 12 profiles for a continuation of the discussion. For the selection, the following procedures were taken into account:

  • Online voting by participants,
  • A short assessment of the technology content of the themes,
  • Workshop of BMBF divisions,
  • The Innovation Council was informed and gave a short statement on the themes,
  • Workshop of the consortium and BMBF Z 22.

On the basis of the different votes, the background information and the suggestions by Z 22, the final decision was taken by the minister Mrs. Bulmahn. After the selection of the focus themes, focus groups were organised. Their objective was:

  • To focus and to concretise the subjects in accordance with the Futur criteria,
  • To identify key factors for the development of the field and evaluate them according to their relevance, uncertainty and interaction with other factors,
  • To identify the demand for research,
  • To develop basic ideas for respective lead visions and scenarios.

The work of the focus groups was prepared by an online-workshop, followed by three one-day-workshops. The first two workshops were realised for the twelve focus groups. After the second session, a second selection process was initiated, where the five most advanced and promising focus themes were selected out of the given 12 themes. These five favourite themes were the objective of a third session of the corresponding focus group.

Parallel to the online-workshop, five future workshops (Zukunftswerkstätten, as conceptualised by R. Jungk, see Jungk/Müllert 1996) were conducted in Berlin in November and December 2001. "Future workshops" is a method to develop "desirable" (normative) futures in an open room without hierarchies, and to look for concrete chances for their realisation. Methods for visualising, brainstorming and creativity methods are applied. In Futur, the future workshops were used

  • To develop visions of possible futures which could be used for the work of the focus groups,
  • To support the prioritisation of the themes,
  • To develop ideas on how research and development could possibly support the realisation of the visions.

The following graphics try to summarise the first phase of Futur.

Click to enlarge    


The second phase of Futur

The second phase of Futur was relatively complicated. Only a figure is shown here. For a more in-depth explanation see Hafner/Cuhls 2004.

Click to enlarge

The most important changes made within the process between the first to the second phase of Futur were:

  • Topic selection was carried out on a continuous basis, parallel to the other Futur activities. New topics were generated continuously and subsequently further elaborated during the different stages of the process.
  • As an additional input to topic generation, two workshops with "futurologists/ futurists" were organised. These workshops were supposed to incorporate additional expertise and unconventional, up-to-date thinking about upcoming topics in Futur.
  • The selection process of participants was modified: there was no institutionalised co-nomination process any more. The participants were nominated by the consortium, by other Futur participants and they could apply themselves. In addition, there were additional nominations to bring necessary expertise into the Focus Groups. Furthermore, there is just one pool of participants, the former division into "inner" and "outer" circle was abolished (see identifying and selecting participants).
  • Prior to the Futur conferences and to the first Focus Group sessions, the participants received thematic input to facilitate more informed discussions on the outline of the topics.
  • A steering group was implemented within the Focus Groups (facilitator, PT/division representative, subject advisor).
  • Expert presentations were given to the Focus Groups where necessary.
  • The results of the Future/Creativity Workshops were incorporated more explicitly into the Focus Group process. In order to achieve this, the final documents of the Future/Creativity Workshops were handed over to the Focus Groups and a certain number of participants attended both the Future Workshop and the Focus Group meetings. Finally, the core ideas of the Future Workshops were written on "metaplan" cards and used as input in the second Focus Group session.
  • Futur is developing a new tool, the Future Dialogues. They aim to involve different stakeholder groups and to discuss future topics in a broader and more open way.
  • Additional public relations and communication tools, as the Futur congress and the Panorama of future questions ("Panorama der Zukunftsfragen") were provided.
  • Different micro websites were created for special target groups (youth) and/or purposes (information about new Futur topics). Links to them were placed on the Futur home page.


Main challenges and learned lessons from the Futur design

The different approaches mentioned above and their organisation all have their pro's and con's. Some worked well, others had problems. A special difficulty occurred at the interfaces of the different approaches, e.g. by transferring the information from the future workshops to the focus groups or from the focus groups to a lead vision paper acceptable by a BMBF. The different workshops themselves were organised very well by IFOK.

Running the exercise

Managing the process in Futur

The whole process was monitored by Fraunhofer ISI as part of the consortium. People from ISI took part in nearly all the events, the Jour Fixes and consortium meetings. For the conferences and workshops, questionnaires were used to get immediate feedback. The aggregated monitoring results, as well as a small survey at the end, were used as information material for the international evaluation panel.

Managing time in Futur

The whole process (first phase) was timed to last two years, but as BMBF (with its administrative formalities) was involved, it was always difficult to keep activities on time. The deadlines for nearly everything were relatively short, which meant that in-depth studies could not be conducted. The time between workshops was always too short to prepare the papers and information properly. On the other hand, the time between start and output of the process was regarded as very long by the participants. This means there are always two sides to the coin: some regard it as too short, others as too long.

Managing relationships in Futur

In Futur, the relationships within the consortium and between consortium and the BMBF needed to be managed. But in certain workshops it was also important to manage the relationship between lobbies and BMBF. The internal relationships between the BMBF departments were a special case: some regarded Futur as important, others did not want to participate or were skeptical about the outcome. For this, special workshops in BMBF as well as for their project operating agencies were organised.

Identifying and selecting participants in Futur

In the first phase of Futur, there were still two circles of actors. The more active participants who took part in the workshops like focus groups etc., and the outer circle with people who were mainly invited to vote or contribute via e-mail or internet. The nomination was from publicly available databases (e.g. Internet, Hoppenstedt, Vademecum, etc.) and a kind of snowball sampling (not a formal co-nomination).

The level of experience needed depended on the event. In the workshops brainstorming on society in 2020, general knowledge was sufficient. The same was true for the Future Workshops, whereas in the Focus Groups, pre-existing in-depth knowledge about the topic chosen was necessary. As in the first phase of Futur, the expertise of the participants was not always sufficient to clarify the questions posed, in the second phase of Futur, the selection criteria for participation in the Focus Groups were stricter. People were nominated by consortium and BMBF according to their knowledge about the specific topic. During the online votes, all participants could take part.

Table 1 - Overview of the numbers of participants according to the different selection mechanisms (Status in May 2002)

Members of the inner circle

Members of the outer circle

Total number of members
Initiative circle 152 4 156
Nominated 194 120 314
Co-nominated 489 345 834
Self-application 30 125 155
TOTAL 865 participants 597 participants 1462 participants

Different methods were used to compile the pool of Futur participants in the second phase. First, the participants who took part in the first phase were asked if they were interested in further participation. Those who expressed an interest were then included in the pool of new participants. In the first phase this pool of participants had mainly been created by co-nomination. The pool of participants was then added to by nominations from recent Futur participants and from the consortium, as well as by self-applications of interested persons. In July 2004, the pool of participants contained nearly 1,150 members.

Table 2 - Overview of the numbers of participants according to the different selection mechanisms (Status July 2004)

Selection Mechanism
Number of Futur participants
Percentage of Futur participants
Futur phase 1 participants 574 50 %
Futur self-application 291 25 %
Futur phase 2 nomination by consortium 212 19 %
Futur phase 2 nomination by participants 67 6 %
Others 2 <1 %
TOTAL 1,146 100 %

The members of the pool of participants performed different tasks during the process. Some of them were more actively involved than others, e.g. in conferences, workshops, Focus Groups or online votes, depending on their interests, their time constraints and their expertise. The pool of participants was constantly changing as new members were added (e.g. people with specific expertise for Focus Groups) and existing members left. The consortium, advised by Futur experts, maintained and updated the pool, nominated additional participants and experts if needed, and it also decided, according to the above-described criteria, who was invited to participate in which of the different Futur activities. For larger events like the Futur congress, also young people were invited who were not steady members of the Futur participant's pool. All in all, the sample of participants ("interested public") resembled that of previous foresight activities with more people from the soft sciences as background. Laymen were not involved. The following figure summarises the pool of Futur participants in the second phase.


Tangible outcomes of Futur

In Futur, the tangible outputs were the Lead Vision papers, which contain:

Other outputs were regarded to be the different papers used for discussions and a lot of unstructured or structured material available in the workspace or the web site.


Intangible outcomes in Futur

Networking seems likely to be an intangible output from such a workshop-based Foresight exercise, but it is difficult to demonstrate. Interdisciplinarity seems to be supported as people from different communities and different disciplines have to work together. Fostering discussion about the future among the interested public was also an aim but Futur is still relatively unknown in Germany. Therefore, this effect was limited.

Implementation and follow-up

Futur diffusion and dissemination

Futur was mainly undertaken on behalf of the BMBF. Throughout the process, the dissemination of information, intermediate results and ongoing activities to Futur participants, as well as the promotion of Futur among the interested public was regarded as an important task. Therefore, information for the general public was made available and distributed over the Futur website in English and German. Additional information was supplied to interested members of the public and Futur participants via a bi-monthly newsletter which is received by 2,791 subscribers (July 2004) and various print documents such as brochures (one brochure summarises the Futur process and first Lead Visions; a reader regarding foresight in Europe, a second one as documentation of the Futur congress is under preparation), flyers and hand-outs. To demonstrate future topics to the public at large and encourage a broader target group to think about the future, an additional website will be launched in the autumn of 2004 to visualise a so-called "panorama of future questions" (Panorama der Zukunftsfragen). Via the "Panorama der Zukunftsfragen" the broader public can influence and participate in the Futur process. Both sites contain virtual tools to comment on and rate Futur topics as well as name new ones.

To integrate young people in the Futur process, a scenario-writing contest with the possibility of winning exclusive prizes (invitation to Futur, a digital camera, a laptop, a handheld computer) was held in spring 2003 and in April/May 2004 and resulted in 23 essays. The Futur congress in June 2004 was also mainly oriented towards this target group. This congress was called "Open-future Day: Imaging the World of Tomorrow Today". It consisted of two strands, activities for young people and activities for traditional Futur participants. On the one hand, 697 students and young people took part in a plenary discussion with the Minister for Science and Education, the Minster of Health and another six secretaries of state from other ministries in several thematic future-related workshops with policy-makers and scientists, in Creativity Workshops and in other ongoing activities, like sending an SMS from the future to the congress participants. On the other hand, in thematic workshops which ran parallel to the congress, 139 Futur participants discussed 14 of the topics that were identified in the previous topic generation process.

Since winter 2002, Futur has been presented to interested institutions in Germany and internationally in about 30 speeches at scientific conferences and in numerous (bilateral) meetings. Finally, Futur was the subject of several print reports. Main subject was the above described Futur congress in June 2004. Altogether, 22 articles in regional and national newspapers, and 18 reports, primarily in future-oriented journals (e.g. Viewpoint Future, Wechsel Wirkung, Zukünfte), made Futur known to the interested public. Also, a radio report was broadcast and press releases accompanied all major Futur events.

In Futur itself, information about the first phase and the first Lead Visions were published in the form of a brochure for the general public. Flyers were published giving information about the process and contact details. A brochure will also be produced on the Futur congress 2004 (date of appearance: winter 2004). In addition, there were the IZT-WerkstattBericht Nr. 55 „Wie soll die Zukunft werden?" as well as five documents of Future Workshops (Zukunftswerkstätten). Nevertheless, Futur is relatively unknown in Germany beyond the confines of a specific community.

Futur evaluation

Futur was defined as a learning process. Therefore, monitoring with feedback and the evaluation of international experts was regarded as very important. The first and the second phase of Futur were both evaluated by an international evaluation panel (the members differed in both cases to a certain extent). The panels gave feedback via a report which was the basis for the decision to start a next phase of Futur. For the third phase of Futur, this kind of formal evaluation is not planned.

The reports of the evaluation panels are not published, but there are some publications about the methodology (Georghiou 2004; Cuhls/Georghiou 2004). A summary of the second phase evaluation is available at BMBF directly.

Futur impacts

Implementation of the Lead Visions in BMBF was also a big topic. In the second phase of the process, even a special priority-setting fund was established to finance the projects derived from Futur. But looking at such a huge process, the number of impacts to date has been limited (see Cuhls/Hafner/Rainfurth 2004).

Futur main challenges

The main challenges during Futur were:

Lessons learned in Futur

Futur was designed as a learning process and in-between many small and large lessons could be learned. Most of them are written down in the evaluation documents which are not published until now. But some major points are:

  • Futur is too complicated to be explained easily.
  • It is helpful if the objectives of a foresight are clear from the beginning and do not change in-between.
  • Futur got more and more expensive. Saving resources is sometimes difficult.
  • How much participation is wanted and needed has to be clarified.
  • It is very difficult to reach participants beyond the usual experts. And experts are needed as soon as complicated subjects are discussed.
  • Incentives for participation are needed since people invested a lot of time.
  • It should be clear from the beginning who decides what and when so that participants are not disappointed when their topics are not the "winners" of the selections.
  • Only informal methods are difficult to communicate.
  • It should be clarified what is foresight, and what serves other purposes, e.g. general public relations, large events.
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