The regional Government of Lombardia decided to launch a RDTI strategy, aiming at supporting the local scientific and industrial systems to achieve a strong competitive position at international scale in a few emerging technology areas. In order to provide this strategy with a reliable informative basis and the strong commitment of the most relevant regional players, a foresight study, named RISE (Research, Innovation, Economic Development) was commissioned in January 2002 to the regional socio-economic research institute, IReR, with the aim of assessing both the attractiveness of some technology areas (Advanced materials, ICT, Biotechnologies, Energy technologies, Nanotechnologies) for the medium-long term development of the regional industry, and the feasibility of developing these technologies given the scientific and industrial capabilities of the region.
The rationale of the exercise was the need for a systemic and selective research and innovation strategy, targeted to the large term economic and industrial deployment of the region and involving all the relevants actors (university, public research institutions, firms).
The main objective was to evaluate the regional interest and the scientific and industrial feasibility of developing new emerging technologies in some areas, in order to allow public decision makers and large firms to set priorities, in a rational way, for the allocation of resources to R&D with the aim of optimizing the impact of the regional economic development.
The time horizon was 10 years, as many firms involved in the project asked for a time horizon not too extended, coherently with their strategic planning process.
The exercise intended to provide public regional decision makers and financial institutions with an assessment of the fesibility of investing resources in the development of some emerging technology areas, with the aim of fostering the international competitiveness of the related industries.
The results of the foresight exercise have been used to design an Action Plan providing financial incentives and other support tools in order to promote the scientific and industrial development of the selected technologies. Therefore, beneficiaries are both large firms involved in some advanced R&D projects and SME, to which technology transfer actions are addressed.
The project covered the following S&T fields: ICT, Advanced Materials, Nanotechnologies, Biotechnologies, Energy Technologies. Within each technology area, families of technology have been identified and their Actractiveness and Feasibility were evaluated by means of qualitative and quantitative indicators.
The approach that was adopted is basically similar to the one used in many national critical technologies foresight studies, such as the Dutch ‘98 “Technology Radar”, the US ‘95 “White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, Critical Technologies 1995” and ‘98 “New Forces at Work – Industry views critical technologies – Office of Science Technology Policy, RAND Critical Technologies Institute”, the French ‘95 “Technologies clés 2000” and 2000 “Technologies clés 2005”, the Italian “Priorità Nazionali della Ricerca Industriale” (1 st Report 1996 and 2 nd Report 2004) the German ‘96 “Technology on the Threshold of the 21 st Century”, and finally the Greek ‘02 “Technology Foresight in Greece”. All these studies aim at the identification of key technologies, the selection of which is based on scoring a (long) list of technologies through a set of criteria, against which the importance or “criticality” of any technology can be evaluated. The evaluation is based on experts’ views to be collected in a variety of ways (direct interviews, panels, questionnaires, etc.).
The main limitations of this approach, however, are that the information so gathered is not able as such to support decision-making effectively, because it isn’t feasible to compare the values on the (many) indicators which translate the evaluation criteria.
Another weak feature of the methodology traditionally used in the national critical technologies foresight studies, is the quite limited number of criteria which are usually used, due also to the high number of technologies to be evaluated, which makes an intensive and extensive analysis too heavy and difficult.
A regional exercise, instead, as it focuses its themes on those connected to the socio-economic structure of the region and so lowers the number of technologies to be scrutinized, allows to use a larger set of criteria.
For these reasons, within the RISE project, a methodology has been developed in order to synthesize the many indicators which translated the notions of Attractiveness and Feasibility of a technology. This allowed to properly evaluate the “Position” of the R&D and industrial system of Lombardy against any “attractive” emerging technology, in terms of its capability to develop this technology from R&D to industrial implementation. At the end the output of the foresight process provided the informative basis to design an appropriate regional innovation policy.
A panel of experts was selected for the techhnology assessment process; ultimately the availabilty of firms and academic organitazions to provide these experts was a relevant support to the exercise, in terms of human, knowledge and financial resources.
Initiators and supporters of the RISE foresight project were:
- Lombardia Government;
- Fondazione Cariplo, a no-profit banking foundation, very active in supporting R&D;
Champion of the initiative was IReR in cooperation with Politecnico di Milano.
Supporters were the promoters of the process themselves.
A Steering Committee, in which all financing and promoting institutions were represented, built support from main local firms and academic and reearch centres. The Steering Committee also supervised the overall foresight process and evaluated its intermediate results.
A task force, made up by experts of IReR (The research institute of the local Government of Lombardy), designed the foresight process, made the operational programming, coordinated all the activities, provided background materials, edited the intermediate and final reports. The task force was composed by six researchers, working part time on the project.
The main steps that were carried out in the RISE project were:
- selection of emerging technologies, potentially interesting for Lombardy
- definition of the evaluation criteria indicators of Attractiveness and Position
- synthesis of these indicators
- cross-correlation of Attractiveness and Position indicators
- evaluation of the indicators for each technology
- design of the most appropriate R&D and innovation policies for the most promising technologies .
At the start some emerging technologies were selected within the following areas: Advanced Materials, ICTs, Biotechnologies, Energy Technologies and Nanotechnologies, on the basis of a survey on scientific literature and other recently foresight studies (first of all, the then on-going one of Fondazione Rosselli). The “granularity” of the selected technologies was set at “family” level, i.e. rather aggregate, given the exploratory feature of the process: as an example, in the “Advanced Materials” area these technology families were selected: Superconductors, Semiconductors and Metal Matrix Composites; Structural Ceramics and Ceramic Matrix Composites; Polymers and Polymer Matrix Composites; Materials for Photonics and Magnetism; Modelling, Material Engineering & Material Recycling.
For each technology family its stage within the life cicle was assessed both at the current time and a 10 years horizon.
As mentioned before, a set of indicators (qualitative and quantitative) were defined in order to evaluate the Attractiveness and the Position (Feasibility) of a technology. Attractiveness refers to the capability of the technology of fostering economic development, specially in industry; it depends on its expected impacts, on economy and society. Position links a technology with a specific socio-economic systems and its capability of developing this technology from R&D to industrial implementation. The Position of a socio-economic system in relation to a technology has to take into consideration the position of other systems, which are in competition.
The (qualitative and quantitative) indicators for evaluating the Attractiveness and the Position of a technology in relation to the regional socio-economic system of Lombardy, were defined as shown in the following tables. Some aggregate indicators were defined in the first place (Table 1); they were then split into more specific indicators, and a methodology was designed to evaluate the aggregate indicators from them.
Table 1: Aggregate indicators
It proved to be very difficult to use all the Attractiveness and Position indicators as such, in order to have an overall view of the feasibility of generating the scientific knowledge at the basis of a technology and of transferring it into industrial applications, both in absolute terms and in comparison with other technologies. It is necessary to reduce their number by aggregating them into more general indexes, without missing the most of their information content. This aggregation can be achieved through a weighted average of the values of a proper subset of indicators. Obviously the composition of the subsets and the weights are arbitrary to a certain extent, even if its possible to make some rational and reliable assumptions. Validation of these assumptions can be done by carrying out a sensitivity analysis of the results of the aggregation procedure.
First of all a workshop took place in Milan at the begenning of the exercise, in January 2002, in order to describe and discuss with the main promoters and participants the goals and the methodology of the foresight exercise. Afterwords each expert filled out three questionnaires, referring to his research or industrial activities and capabilities. Questionaire, made up by experts of IReR, listed tha main criteria of Attractiveness and Feasibility developed for the technology assessment.
The Steering Committee nominated the experts, almost sixty, involved in the project, selecting according to these criteria: recognised expertise, vision, autonomy.
Approximately 60% of participants came from the research community and 40% from large firms and industrial associations. All the participants had a scientific and technical expertise.
The task force, constituting the core team charged with the responsibility of running the foresight project, edited the intermediate report and the final one that were communicated both to the experts and the Steering Committee, in order to have their feedback on both the new methodology that was implemented and a validation of the results that were achieved. Communicating and discussing the methodology and intermediate results allowed to achieve a stronger commitment and consensus on the results, since all the stakeholders and experts involved could recognise their contribution and their role in the technology assessment process.
An in depth analysis of recent foresight exercises, both at regional and national level, was carried at the very beginning of the project. This analysis was aimed at providing
useful basic information on both the methodology to be used for the technology assessment and the main technology families to be evaluated.
As in the Pre-Foresight phase, emphasis was put by the Steering Committee on managing the foresight process and monitoring its results. Information on the exercise was disseminated by the participants in an informal way.
The technology assessment process lasted less than on year: both the sponsors and the representatives of the firms and the stakeholders involved in the project asked for a quick completion of the assessment process, as they needed the results in order to elaborate and to carry out their R&D policies.
The Steering Committee had the task, among others, to solve conflicts among the participants, concerning different issues, such as different evaluations of the relevance of each technological area and, among the same area, of each technological component. For this goal, were elaborated specific criteria of evaluation, based on the drawing up, through weighted average, of the answers given by the experts by the filling out of the questionnaires.
Keeping Everyone Informed and Up-to-date
Fondazione Rosselli, a research institute based in Milan from which came some of the researchers who constituted the Task Force, based on the long experience in Foresight, provided documents on the main foresight exercises carried out recently in the most advanced industrialized countries.. A literature search provided data about the main regional competences and skills in the technological areas.
The Task Force carried out a continuous monitoring of the process and its advance, informing the Steering Committee and relying on his support in order to respect the schedule program.
Formal outputs were produced, such as reports (intermediate and final), CD, papers and publications.
Beyond the Action Plan, there was also, as an outcome of the exercise, a growing awareness among participants that building a positive future for the regional industry system could be achieved better through a collective effort of all local stakeholders. Even if most of entrepreneurs were used to cooperate with other entrepreneurs for solving specific industrial problems of their own, at the end of the workshops it became apparent, and agreed upon by most participants, that an “individual” or “small group” approach was unsuited to cope with the “new” problems that the regional industry is going to face in the medium-long term. Cooperation of all local stakeholders is needed and has to be based on a common vision of how the regional industry should be in the future.
In the RISE exercise all the relevant stakeholders and representatives of the main firms involved in the project were informed of the results, as they were supposed to take them into account in the elaboration and carrying out of their research policies and strategies. Beyond these players, a conference took place and the final report was disseminated through both CD and hard copy at the end of the project, in order to make the results available to a broad set of players, including SMEs, entrepreneurial associations operating in the main province of the region, and so on.
Sponsor and the research team, at the end of the project, were committed in assuring a proper and effective dissemination, understanding and implementation of the results of the technology assessment process, therefore promoting the elaboration of coherent R&D strategies by both policy makers of the Region and local firms.
Participants, mostly the Regional government who sponsored the project and the representatives of local firms involved in the technology assessment, were supposed to use the results of the process, embedding them in their R&D policies and strategic actions.
The methodology elaborated for the RISE Project can be useful to provide an effective blueprint for designing policies or setting priorities for S&T and as an instrument to define the research agenda of the innovation system of a region. The main limits of this methodology are:
1) the experts tend to concentrate their contribution on a specific technology family, giving less attention to its interactions with others;
2) quantitative information is not always available to the experts; the contributions given by them are mainly qualitative and on Likert like scales;
3) this qualitative information is somewhat biased by personal and subjective factors;
4) the indexes used in the data analysis are defined subjectively and thus are biased even if they can be assessed by the experts and a sensitivity analysis can be performed.
Despite these drawbacks the process is suitable to provide very useful outcomes if there is a participative approach, the experts have a broad experience and are able to interact positively and to integrate their knowledge and to mutually validate their views, basic quantitative and statistical data are available for each technology family and finally if the researchers in charge of the foresight process have a strong experience in managing panel of experts.
The output of the foresight process can be used in variety of ways as a basis for designing a regional R&D and innovation policy.
In the first place, for the indexes “Competences of the research system” and the “Level of industry competitiveness”, it is possible to take into consideration two situations: “leadership” and “followership” for the former and “high” and “low” for the latter.
By combining these situations, four possible configurations are derived, which are represented in the matrix of Fig. 1. For each configuration one can adopt an appropriate and, potentially, effective strategy, as briefly represented in Fig.2.
Groups of scientific excellence
Competences of the research system
Investments in selected technology
Participants of all types of stakeholders were convinced of the usefulness of foresight as a tool to explore the future, not only by relying on own resources and knowledge, but by sharing and integrating resources and knowledge in a collective effort. A barrier emerged in this integration process when the knowledge was felt to be crucial to the competitiveness of a company in the short term. When looking at medium-long term problems and issues, cooperation and sharing of knowledge took place in an open way. On this regard, it is worth noting that, at the end of the exercise, industrial organizations changed their attitude towards foresight activities, as they were quite suspicious and sceptical at the beginning on its effectiveness: the ways RISE exercise was implemented, dispelled fears and doubts.