INRA (French National Agricultural Research Institute) 2020

Online Foresight Guide

Designing a Foresight Exercise

Running Foresight

Implementation and Follow-up

Following-up on Foresight


Designing the Foresight Exercise

"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:


Being Clear on Reasons for Using Foresight

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.

Setting the Focus and Objectives

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.

Four questions in particular concerned the INRA and warranted a prospective review:

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.

Setting the Time Horizon

When the foresight exercise was conceived in 2001, 2020 was chosen as the time horizon of the exercise because:

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.

Determining the Users

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.

Determining the Coverage

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.

Assessing Previous and Existing Work

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.

Mapping Available Resources

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.

Building Support

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.

Building a Team

A three-phase approach was adopted for the exercise INRA 2020 and one person was chosen to lead each phase:

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.

Designing the Methodology

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

Selecting Methods

The scenario method used during the second phase of the foresight exercise consisted in:

Organising the Exercise

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.

Identifying and Selecting Participants

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:

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.

Planning Communications

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.

Running Foresight

Collecting Information

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).

Processing Information

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:

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.

Managing Time

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.

Managing Relationships

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.

Keeping Everyone Informed and Up-to-date

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.

Day-to-day Monitoring

The president of INRA and his personal assistant along with the consultants would be involved in the day to day management and monitoring.

Tangible Outputs

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

Cloudy sky : innovations for the safety and comfort of independent regional blocs

A new climate : global administration for sustainable development

Microclimates :a fragmented world focused on local development


There were five scenarios as to how the INRA might evolve towards 2020

Pre-eminence of generic knowledge in the Life Sciences

The Triplet establishes itself in Europe

Focus on food

Realignment on French agriculture

- 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.

Towards sustainable development

Scenarios: directions for use

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.

The resulting room for manoeuvre

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

Five local and global questions

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.



Intangible Outputs

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 .

Implementation and Follow-up


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.

Other Stakeholders

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.

Following-up on Foresight

Positioning in the Policy Cycle

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.

Diffusing Foresight Practice

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.