- Being Clear on Reasons for Using Foresight
- Setting the Focus and Objectives
- Setting the Time Horizon
- Determining the Users
- Determining the Coverage
- Assessing Previous and Existing Work
- Mapping Available Resources
- Building Support
- Building a Team
- Designing the Methodology
- Selecting Methods
- Organising the Exercise
- Identifying and Selecting Participants
- Planning Communications
- Collecting Information
- Processing Information
- Managing Time
- Managing Relationships
- Keeping Everyone Informed and Up-to-date
- Day-to-day Monitoring
- Tangible Outputs
- Scenarios: directions for use
- The resulting room for manoeuvre
- Five local and global questions
- Intangible Outputs
"Food, agriculture and the environment: a prospective review on future research" aimed at building a strategy for INRA. INRA is the French National Agricultural Research Institute. This public sector institution for scientific and technological research, conducting research in the fields of food, agriculture and the environment. In 2002, INRA had:
- 8,633 employees, including more than 4,000 researchers and engineers at 21 regional research facilities
- A total of 260 research units, more than half of which are associated with other research establishments or higher education institutions.
- A budget of 574 million euros.
- Many collaborations and exchanges with the international scientific community (other European countries, the United States, Canada, Japan, North African countries, Brazil, China, etc.).
In a little more than one half century, INRA had pushed science forward in a number of fields, established solid collaborations, and contributed to numerous innovative discoveries. In a fast-changing world, the Institute needed to adapt its strategy, mould its logistics and redefine the boundaries of its activities—as it had done throughout its history. What were the possible options for the Institute? How could it develop a long-term strategy for a research institute working in the field of agriculture, food and the environment? What kind of future could it construct for French agricultural research? It was to shed light on these questions posed by the officers and collaborators of the INRA that President Bertrand Hervieu launched a process from 2001 through 2003 in which a foresight exercise entitled INRA 2020 was run.
Foresight is considered an open-ended endeavour aimed at exploring the range of possible options for the future. By identifying major tendencies—and also any "weak signals" which might prefigure significant changes—the process makes it possible to define margins for manoeuvre and spaces for investment choices and promotion: it was therefore a tool to help the decision-making process which was particularly useful for an institution like INRA which has been trying to shape the future since its beginnings. This initiative also contributed to the general discussion about the role of public sector research and how it ought to be organised.
The history of INRA especially that of the broadening of the scope of its activities represents a mirror of the various events that have marked not only agriculture but also French society since the middle of the Twentieth Century.
- The 1950s and 1960s and the modernisation of agriculture: at its creation in 1946, the INRA was charged with providing scientific expertise to enable France to become self-sufficient with respect to agricultural production.
- The 1970s and the changing world of agriculture: with quantitative targets largely reached, the emphasis switched to the transformation of raw agricultural materials and product quality as a way of enhancing the competitiveness of a rapidly expanding food processing industry.
- The 1980s and academic excellence: the INRA changed status to come out from under the complete control of the Ministry of Agriculture, and became partly affiliated to the Research Ministry. This change was associated with a switch to state-of-the-art fundamental research, notably in the field of molecular biology.
- The 1990s and new skills: crises associated with contaminated agricultural products and other issues of food safety led the INRA to turn the spotlight onto the preservation of natural resources and the land, and the links between food and health.
Four questions in particular concerned the INRA and warranted a prospective review:
- What was the Institute's job: to produce knowledge, contribute to innovation, provide expertise, help with education and promote dialogue between scientists and society. Would these jobs have to change? How could they all be done at the same time?
- What was the Institute's position: what was the place of a national institution when much of the funding for research came from European institutions and when local and regional power bases were being reinforced?
- What were the Institute's scope, skills and scientific strategy: what ends needed to be emphasised? Which disciplines needed to be reinforced? Which Skills? Which scientific collaborations?
Links needed to be forged with which partners: to promote social and economic development, what kind of collaborations did the Institute need to establish with the world of agriculture, industry and independent societies?
These questions focused the foresight process for INRA and came largely as an outcome of the first phase of dialog and diagnosis (directed by JC Flammand, see “mapping the resources” and “building a team”) which goal was to make sure the foresight objectives would address the main questions of INRA's staff.
When the foresight exercise was conceived in 2001, 2020 was chosen as the time horizon of the exercise because:
- By 2010, more than the third of the current personnel of the institute would be retired which would represent a major rupture in the history of the institute.
- This long-term reflection allowed to give different answers to the questions raised by the medium-term strategy.
- It was necessary to have a long-term reflection on the place and role of a national research institute as European construction and regions develop.
- This remote date allowed the personnel to dominate their fears vis-à-vis changes to come.
Moreover 2020 was not too far away, meaning that with this time horizon it was possible to remain matter-of-fact and not to be too abstract. 2020 was also not too near, it allowed everyone to give free rein to their imagination.
The main users are the people promoting the exercise, thus the people from the Institute INRA. But the aim was also to publish the exploratory foresight to share the possible futures of the relationship between food, agriculture and environment with a larger audience. Both INRA's directors and INRA's personnel have benefited from the outcomes of the exercise: its directors to develop their medium- and long-term and prepare the institution and its personnel to the changes to come and its personnel to understand better the changes to come.
The institute's personnel took part in the debates organized within the framework of the 21 regional centres of the INRA (first phase) to bring out hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses, and the major questions to which the institution had to find answers. Thus, the personnel became really integrated in the foresight exercise.
The foresight had to take into account the different scientific fields that could drive the research dynamic in agronomy and agriculture but also the different geographical playground and partnership options for INRA. Thus also the institutional positioning of INRA is European or French, the scientific fields of interest are bound to a European and a world context.
The coverage of the exercise was the perimeter and its possible evolution of INRA itself, as a research institute trying to develop a long-term strategy and to prepare its personnel to the changes to come.
Foresight had seldom been used previously in French research organisations, except, to a certain extent, in CIRAD (the tropical agronomy research institute), which activity was well known by INRA, including through the role of Futuribles (external consultant) in both exercises.
Time, people to design and run the exercise, people to participate in the exercise and money are needed to carry out a foresight exercise.
The duration of the exercise was two years from October 2001 to October 2003.
The exercise was designed (three-phase approach) and run by people belonging to INRA but for the exploratory foresight phase (phase 2) where a few external experts participated.
Thus the cost of such a foresight is mainly the time of the people from INRA: three persons dedicated half their time to the project for one year and a half, and about 6 other spent an estimated 20 % of their time, on an informal basis.
The foresight exercise was conceived and launched by the president of the INRA himself who could have the necessary financial resources and mobilize the personnel.
A three-phase approach was adopted for the exercise INRA 2020 and one person was chosen to lead each phase:
- Jean-Claude Flamant, Director of the Agrobiosciences mission and former President of the INRA Centre of Toulouse, for the debates (phase 1, September 2001- to April 2003). He wrote a report of all the debates in which almost 2,000 people took part.
- Hugues de Jouvenel , Director General of the Futuribles group, for the exploratory foresight (phase 2, January 2003 to July 2003) helped by Nicolas Durand, INRA Présidence / mission communication). He led a working group of about ten persons who worked on the exploratory foresight and the scenarios. Most of them were from INRA, but for Rémi Barré, Professor at the CNAM (Conservatoire national des arts et métiers), former Director of the OST (Observatoire des sciences et des techniques), expert in public research policy in Europe and Lucien Bourgeois, Responsible for economic studies and prospective at the APCA (Assemblée permanente des chambres d'agriculture), expert in agricultural policy.
- Bertrand Hervieu, President of the INRA, for the strategic phase (phase 3).
Bertrand Hervieu co-ordinated also the exercise as a whole.A back-office team was also dedicated to the project, consisting of Nicolas Durand (a special assistant to the president Hervieu) on a part time basis, plus a secretary.
The methodology was designed to meet the objective. It was chosen by the president of the INRA in agreement with the leaders of the three phases of the foresight exercise.
A three-phase approach adopted covered : discussion and debates to define the main issues, scenario building and strategy
- Debates organized within the framework of the 21 regional centres of the INRA, bringing together the institute's staff and its principal partners — debates in which almost 2,000 people (INRA's staff and partners) took part and which enabled them to bring out hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses, and the major questions to which the institution had to find answers (phase 1, September 2001- to April 2003).
- A simultaneous exercise in exploratory foresight carried out by a working group using the scenario method (phase 2, January 2003 to July 2003).
- The presentation and debating of the conclusions of this process among the governing bodies of the institute, and the proposal of choices for strategy.
The scenario method used during the second phase of the foresight exercise consisted in:
- exploring how the external environment of the institute might develop;
- exploring how INRA itself was going to develop, given its internal dynamic;
- and, lastly, making a cross-impact of the possible futures of the INRA and the possible futures of its external context, in order to highlight the major issues with which the institute was likely to be confronted and explore the various strategic options.
This foresight exercise had a long duration (two years) and involved a lot of people through debates and meetings. As from the beginning of the exercise, a time-table of the whole operation was designed by the president of the INRA in agreement with the leaders of the three phases of the exercise.
Part 1 was based on about 20 one-day long meeting in the various regional offices of INRA ; part 2 meant about 25 half-day long meetings of a core group of about 12 persons, plus 4 extended meetings with other scientific experts.
The debates had an educational virtue helping people to understand what was really at stake for their institute; and they allowed the INRA's staff to appropriate the exercise as a whole.
During this phase (phase 1), three kinds of debates were organized:
- debates in the regional centres of the INRA to speak with the staff, partners and people from the citizenship about the future of the INRA, a national institute, vis-à-vis the development of regions and Europe;
- thematic meeting with heads of department and their main collaborators to speak about the current scientific dynamics and the organization of research;
- meetings with young researchers (about forty) and with a panel of about fifty employees of the INRA to speak about the working conditions and the image and identity of INRA.
To build the scenarios (phase 2), the working group was established by choosing people with complementary scientific competencies and representing the diversity of INRA as well as 2 external experts (see also “building a team). It analysed the existing bibliography, interviewed key people of the scientific community and used the report of the debates which took place between September 2001 and April 2003.
Phase 2 was organised around a core group of about 12 participants, consisting of the president, his assistant, the consultants (H. de Jouvenel and R. Barré), plus 8 persons from INRA, selected on criteria of representation of the various areas of the institute, of ability to invest some of their time during an 18 months period and of their readiness to “play the game” of foresight.
Phase 3 was organised on a dual basis, the core group of phase 2 holding some sessions to discuss the strategic issues under the chairmanship of B. Hervieu ; then, B. Hervieu would work with N. Durand to produce the texts.
It was chosen to disseminate widely the results of the three phases of the exercise: various paper publications were published by the INRA itself and Futuribles, reports could be downloaded at the INRA website, conferences on the foresight exercise were organized. Thus the results were available to any other stakeholder or people interested in the future of research in agronomy, but without pushing the communication outside the institution.
To build the scenarios, the working group analysed the existing bibliography about foresight applied to research organizations but also foresight about the future of agriculture, interviewed key people of the scientific community and used the report of the debates which took place between September 2001 and April 2003.
The working group identified and analysed the relevant information, since each meeting would end with a repartition of tasks to be performed for the next meeting. The consultants could bring the attention on the results the relevant foresight exercises having taken place in other areas or countries (including the Futuris exercise which started at about the same moment).
Following the scenario method, the past evolution of the variables influencing the system was described together with possible future hypotheses (see scenario method). The work on crucial variables was done by the working group itself by analysing the existing bibliography and interviewing key people of the scientific community.
A main originality of this exploratory foresight exercise is that 2 sets of scenarios were built and challenged: itself was carried out by breaking down:
- scenarios of the external context built onto four essential “components”: the global environment, the social demand with regard to the life sciences, environmental sciences and corresponding social sciences, the general scientific and technological dynamic, and the organization and management of public research in France and Europe;
- scenarios of the internal dynamics of INRA and also built onto four “components”: the strategic aims and objectives of the institution, its human resources, its partnerships and finance, its organization and management.
By cross- impacting these two families of scenarios, it was possible to test how the possible futures of INRA might prosper more or less well when confronted with the possible developments of the operating context and, conversely, how these latter might influence INRA's own dynamic.
As the foresight exercise involved a lot of people and had to finish before the setting-up of the four-year plan, it was important that the time-table defined in the beginning of the exercise was followed. A careful planning was assigned to the exercise by the President. The leaders of each phase were responsible for the deadlines and in case of delay, an agreement had to be found with the president of the INRA.
The leaders of the three phases were in continuous relationship between themselves and with the president of the INRA.
Each leader of each phase and his assistant (the President assistant most of the time) for the exercise managed the relationships with the people involved in the exercise.
In fact, the final report on phase 1 was ready not long before the end of the exercise itself, so that everything was made public at the end.
The president of INRA and his personal assistant along with the consultants would be involved in the day to day management and monitoring.
The tangible outputs of the INRA foresight exercise were the various publications on the exercise. In particular, the scenarios on the external context, the scenarios on the internal dynamics to 2020 and their cross-comparison to identify scope for manoeuvre
There were four scenarios as to how the context may evolve towards 2020
Gulf stream : a monopolar world carried along by a faith in progress
- A monopolar world to be dominated in the foreseeable future by the United States.
- Nanotechnology and biotechnology triumph and public confidence in progress is restored.
- Anything which is scientifically possible is allowed.
- A few multinational companies have a quasi-monopoly on all innovation, notably in the field of biotechnology.
- A "global research space" gradually emerges.
- Centres of interest focused on innovation bring together public and private sector research institutions together with establishments of higher education.
Cloudy sky : innovations for the safety and comfort of independent regional blocs
- Repeated crises drive the reinforcement of regional blocs.
- Research is devoted to food safety, and alimentary and energetic self-sufficiency.
- The understanding of systems (both natural and social) advances.
- European integration leads to consolidation of Europe-based research at the expense of national institutions.
- European funding and evaluation agencies are created in order to enhance competition between research institutions and higher education establishments.
A new climate : global administration for sustainable development
- World government becomes established on environmental and developmental principles.
- Society becomes involved in choosing research topics.
- Social demands steer life science research towards questions of health and the environment.
- Knowledge advances across the board in all aspects of how living organisms are organised.
- An ambitious national R&D policy is implemented in France.
- The "French model" of R&D is gradually reformed and adapts to a European context in which national programmes maintain a key role.
Microclimates :a fragmented world focused on local development
- The international community fragments, to the profit of inward-looking national strategies based on independence.
- Social demand in the matter of research is limited to "well-being" and "local innovations”.
- The scientific and technological dynamic disappears in the life sciences.
- French public sector research returns to domestic priorities.
- The public sector research capability draws in around a few research institutions.
- Employee numbers and investment levels in French public sector research drop massively.
There were five scenarios as to how the INRA might evolve towards 2020
Pre-eminence of generic knowledge in the Life Sciences
- The INRA makes a priority of the acquisition of generic knowledge, notably by means of genomics research.
- Agriculture becomes an indirect and remote end: the information generated should be usable for developing innovative products in the fields of food, pharmaceuticals, energy, etc.
- To develop such innovative products, close collaboration with multinational companies will be essential, in the form of resource centres with all the major equipment necessary (such as Génoplante).
- Tenure is only obtained by researchers at a relatively late stage of their careers, with limited contracts become the rule.
- The number of employees at the INRA stabilises at around 4,000 (including 40% researchers) after a major decline.
- State funding accounts for only half of the overall budget, the rest coming from the European Union, regional administrations and, most importantly, the private sector.
- The INRA splits into a national institution for expertise and funding on the one hand, and autonomous "areas of interest" on the other.
The Triplet establishes itself in Europe
- Agricultural research in Europe is mobilised in the service of the production of "public commodities": expertise, knowledge and innovative products in the fields of diet and the environment.
- The INRA, with all its trump cards, becomes the national pivot of this European strategy (three-quarters of its contractual funding coming from the European Union).
- Its human resources are stable (with about 8,500 employees), including a large proportion of foreign-born employees and increased flexibility in career management.
- Investigation of the agriculture-food-environment triplet and its interfaces is conducted in a resolute fashion.
- Extensive research is devoted to controlling complex systems and integrating knowledge to the service of agriculture, food technology and protection of the European environment.
- Despite the construction of Europe and regionalisation, the INRA preserves the consistency of its directions, and of its human and material resources.
Focus on food
- Alimentary self-sufficiency and the quality and safety of foodstuffs are becoming major priorities in Europe.
- The INRA redirects its emphasis to food and its links with agriculture, at the expense of its interest in environmental questions.
- The focus is placed on generic research to match the diversity of the demand for food.
- The INRA's human resources remain stable (at about 8,500 employees): the fields of nutrition science and dietetics are reinforced.
- Two types of centre emerge: regional centres focusing on local development, plus centres of excellence in specific areas of research built around facilities offering heavy equipment and services.
- State funding diminishes (down to 70% of the total budget) and community funding increases.
- INRA management is largely decentralised but the Institute's national identity is preserved.
Realignment on French agriculture
- The INRA realigns its interest towards national agricultural production, because of:
- the failure of its plan to invest in the "agriculture-food-environment” perimeter;
- its return under the sole aegis of the Ministry of Agriculture as a result of a crash in public funding for research and development.
- The Institute abandons food research and then environmental research.
- Disciplines and skills relevant to agricultural production return in force.
- Agricultural links are revitalised which results in incorporation with technical agricultural institutions.
- After a massive reduction, staff numbers stabilise at about 4,100 (including 15% researchers).
- The INRA is integrated into an overall agricultural research, training and development body
- Over 200 sites and 26 centres (smaller in size).
Towards sustainable development
- The sustainability of systems—in the North as in the South—is becoming a priority in agriculture and European agronomic research.
- The INRA puts its expertise and experience to work on these priorities.
- It sets itself the goal of advancing our understanding of biodiversity and ecological engineering.
- It contributes to the development of agriculture in the South in collaboration with other French research institutions interested in development issues.
- Its human resources remain at a high level (8,500 employees) with a balance maintained between cognitive and applied research.
- Its funding, relatively stable, is mainly national but also partially European and international.
- A permanent dialogue is established with the users of the research.
Two different types of scenario have been described: on the one hand, "Context" scenarios which describe possible futures against which INRA research will have to be conducted (world government, climate and natural resources, relationships between science and society, scientific dynamics, organisation of public sector research, etc.); and on the other hand, "INRA" scenarios based on the Institute's internal dynamics and possible changes between now and the year 2020. The nine scenarios presented (four Context scenarios and five INRA scenarios) are not equally probable looking forward only as far as 2020. Some begin in 2004 and others not until 2010-2020. Finally, the two series of scenarios were compared in order to evaluate the reliability and relevance of the INRA scenarios.
It was observed that certain configurations could be particularly favourable to certain scenarios of change at the INRA. This is the case, for example, of an INRA focused on the “Preeminence of generic knowledge in the life sciences” in a “ Gulf Stream” context, or of a "Refocusing on French agriculture" in a “Microclimate” context. In contrast, a strategy of the "Towards sustainable development" type would be incompatible with or even contradictory to a Gulf Stream context.
Despite everything, whatever the strategy ultimately adopted and whatever changes occur in the context, the exercise showed what is the room for manoeuvre of INRA
And it strengthened the convictions, the ambition and the plan for the INRA and for French agricultural research
The future is not a field which is amenable to certainty, as amply demonstrated in this foresight exercise. On the other hand, it is possible, in the light of the various scenarios and the discussions conducted in the context of this exercise, to discern certain medium-term and long-term tendencies. Looking towards the year 2020, five major questions are going to become increasingly urgent at the local, regional and global levels.
- global food safety, notably by virtue of demographic expansion in the South and an increasing scarcity of natural resources;
- food safety and links between food and health that the globalisation of trade and the ageing of the population are going to steadily push to the top of the priority list;
- localisation of agricultural activities and more generally all productive activities because of the increasing globalisation of the world's economy;
- management of natural resources and territories as a result of the adverse effect—often very long-term—of growth on natural equilibria;
- the model of economic and social development with, in the background, the emergence of the new concept of sustainable development.
- HERVIEU Bertrand, FLAMANT Jean-Claude, JOUVENEL Hugues de (dir. by). INRA 2020. Alimentation, agriculture, environnement : une prospective pour la recherche. INRA, Paris, 2003.
- JOUVENEL Hugues de (dir. by). INRA 2020 : des scénarios pour la recherche. Alimentation, agriculture, environnement. Futuribles, TRP n°19, Paris, 260 p., janvier 2004
- HERVIEU Bertrand, JOUVENEL Hugues de. Prospective de la recherche. Agriculture, alimentation, environnement / Research Foresight. Agriculture, Food and the Environment . Futuribles, Coll. Perspectives, Paris, 88 p., 2005.
The intangible outputs of the INRA foresight exercise were its educational virtue for INRA's staff at all levels.
By means of INRA 2020, commitment has been made by the people of INRA to an ambition, the momentum of which it is now important to maintain both inside and outside the Institute, in order to build the place necessary for research in the economic and social development between now and the year 2020 .
Phase 3 set up a frame of reference for strategic thinking at the directorate level of the institute. Having been widely published, been presented in a press conference largely covered by the national media, they became an explicit and shared background for strategic thinking.
INRA 2020 has had a large number of participants (see “Designing the exercise” and “Identifying and selecting participants”) in its phase 1 which, hopefully, have been interested by the overall results of the exercise ; in phase 2, the working group, but also the participants to the extended meetings (presentation of the results od phase 2 and later phase 3) involved the hierarchy of the institute. They are all potential ambassadors of the results, albeit on an informal basis.
The foresight and its related strategy were formally presented to the scientific and to the administrative boards of INRA by M. Hervieu, the President of the Institute and the one managing the foresight process, where they have been discussed and approved. However, the mandate of M. Hervieu as president was not renewed after a change of government.
INRA 2020 has had a significant but indirect influence, through the internal dynamics it generated and through its results, which were appropriated by the directorate of INRA. It also constituted a springboard for a renewed foresight unit, for which Rémi Barré was called in as a director, thus reinforcing the linkages with the future foresight activities of INRA.
The foresight exercice was positionned to finish before the setting-up of the four-year detailed plan of the institution so that foresight would drive the first steps of strategy.
The results of INRA 2020 are a platform for much of the subsequent work of the foresight unit; they also constitute a crucial experience for foresight in a research institute, with attempts to do foresight on the substantive and cognitive aspects of research. INRA 2020 also helped establish the credibility of foresight in a research institute.