Spanish Technology Foresight Exercise

Online Foresight Guide




The Spanish System of Research is characterised by a tradition of lack in the recognition of the political and economical relevance of science and technology (Muñoz, 1998). Going back to the 1960s, the fields with a higher contribution to the wealth of the country were based on areas with reduced connections to R&D activities; this was the case of building, tourism or the traditional sectors of textiles, agriculture or fisheries . During this period, the government intended to include for the first time, in the Policies for Strategic Development, R&D activities as key targets, h owever, the public system of research was still characterised by a lack of strategic relevance in R&D activities for economic and technological development and by a limited coordination within the Public System of Research, with the main role, played by the ministry of Education and Science.

The First National Plan for Development, which was launched in 1964 and lasted for four years, was designed to meet the most urgent needs of the Spanish economy; however and due to the strong reliability on traditional sectors R&D followed a trend of scarce influence on economic progress. Following the first Plan, a Second one was launched in 1968, this time aiming to increase the resources devoted to science and technology. But an economic crisis occurring in the 1970s provoked strong budget restrictions and a reduction in the impulse on science and technology.

In 1978 the Centre for Industrial and Technological Development (CDTI) was created. This centre had as main target the funding of projects related to the last steps of the process of technological development and the promotion of technology and innovation, being transformed into a society of public nature, in 1983.

In spite of the efforts done in S&T, it was not until 1980, after the death of Franco and the setting-up of the democracy, when research activities started to be included in the government agenda. But even then, Spain continued embedded in an imbalance between the level of basic research and the level of industrial innovation. Industry at the same time remained no interested in scientific or technical activities and did not develop much innovation capacities.

No specific function for R&D existed in the General State Budget until 1986, when a new framework for the definition of political implications of science and technology was materialised in the Law of Promotion and General Coordination of the Scientific and Technical Research, colloquially referred as the Law for Science, the same year that Spain joined the European Union.

One of the consequences of the Law of Science was the creation of the inter-ministerial commission for science and technology (CICYT), which integrated representatives from different Ministries, with particular focus on industry, energy, education and science. Its main objective consisted on executing and promoting R&D activities in public organisations and universities, as well as giving incentives to the industries that participated in the activities defined by the National Plan.

The main targets of this law were the inclusion of science and technology into the political agenda and the fostering of the coordination between the public systems. An outcome of this law was the establishment of the National Plan for Scientific Research and Development and later on, the first National Plan for Research and Development (P.N. I+D), the main mechanism for funding research. This approach generated great enthusiasm within the scientific community, but it was too ambitious and failed in carrying monitoring and evaluation. This failure converted the program into a funding agency for academic research activities.

As a result of the execution of the Law of Science, during the following years R&D activities within academy increased, however, there was not enough transference into innovation and therefore, the imbalance between the level of research in science and the innovation capacity within the industrial sector remained stagnated.

The National Plan for R&D has been running since then around four axes: science, technology, business and society, being updated every four years. At present, the promotion of innovation is among its key objectives.

Reasons for using Foresight

In the mid 1980s, under the context of the reform of the science and technology, specific policies recognised technology foresight as an important element for defining research trends and for setting scientific priorities.

In Spain around 1985, during the period in which the scientific law was being drafted, the first foresight efforts were made. These consisted on the construction and analysis of scenarios to produce information for future decisions and on informal consultation processes that thanks to the interaction among researchers and academics, contributed to the settlement of priorities in the most relevant scientific fields.

In 1987, the CICYT (Inter-ministerial Commission for Science and Technology), created the national agency for evaluation and foresight (ANEP), and in 1994, within it, a new foresight unit launched a few sectoral exercises, with the participation of external experts.

Until that time, two organisms, the National Scientific Research Council (CSIC) and the National Agency for Evaluation and Foresight (ANEP), were responsible of developing foresight activities in Spain. However, as both agencies and their actions were linked to the Ministry of Education, they remained far from the industry.

At the same time, and in spite of the considerable level of organisation of foresight activities in Spain, these did not embody important outcomes for policy making until in 1997, the Observatory for Technological and Industrial Prospective (OPTI) was created.

OPTI was constituted by an initiative of the Ministry of Industry with the aim of carrying foresight exercises focused on industrial areas. These areas correspond to the most influencing industrial sectors of the Spanish economy.

In 2000, with the creation of the Ministry of Science and Technology, OPTI acquired the status of foundation, under the presidency of Secretary of State for Science and Technology Policy. Since 2004, OPTI belongs again, as in its origins, to the Ministry of Industry.

OPTI operates as a network of 9 centres that conform its board, with a central body. Each centre is independent, has its own technological capabilities and is responsible for the thematic foresight studies in their area, having also strong linkages with industry, in particular with SMEs.

The board is conformed by six private Technological Centres that have been created by sectoral industry initiatives, a research public institute and a public foundation. This combination of expertise confers OPTI the capacity of focusing in a broad variety of areas under an eminent industrial perspective.

The centres and linked specialised areas are the following:

Spain still needs to incorporate technologies to industrial processes in order to improve competitiveness and push its presence on the market. Therefore, the main objectives of OPTI are:

The generation of a knowledge data base which encloses the main about technology trends for Spanish industry as well as other factors such as their influence on industry, employment and competitiveness.

To be a support in strategic decision-making processes carried out by public administrations and private companies, in critical areas for industrial development.

Positioning in the policy cycle

OPTI is sponsored by the Ministry of Industry although it has previously been sponsored by the Ministry of Science and Technology, who was the main S&T policy funding body.

At present OPTI has an industrial approach, and although sponsored by the Ministry of Industry, the results are being used for defining priorities in S&T and innovation, actions defined by the current Ministry of Science.

Designing the exercise

Setting the objectives

The management of science and technology and the application of technologies to industrial areas are key elements for the economic development of a country. Spain however, has suffered the “European Paradox” (Sanz, 98), implying a reasonable acceptable level of basic research but a lack of industrial capacity for assimilating technologies and improving competitiveness. This has been accentuated by the industrial restructuring that occurred during the 1980s, during which industries demonstrated little interest towards technology and innovation. Therefore, the promotion of scientific development and innovation during this time was one of the main policy objectives to modernise the science and technology system.

To achieve these targets it was necessary to count on the information about the evolution of technology and the impact that it had on industrial development; and to some extent as well, in technology foresight.

Determining the coverage (focus and scope)

In Spain, OPTI launches for the first time a fully-fledged foresight program, not only with the objective of setting R&D priorities, but also with a focus on the technological trends and needs of the Spanish industry looking at 2015.

The main objective was to get an insight, in a period of three years, of the technological aspects which were more relevant for the development of the technological areas.

This approach is mainly motivated by two reasons:

The industrial focus of OPTI implies a high involvement of the organisation within the economic and technological aspects that affect the development of business.

This way of operation enables both, the Ministry of Science and Technology (currently Ministry of Industry) and the rest of the industrial sectors improve their decisions related to technological trends, acquisition of technology and assessment on the impact on business.

In sum, these exercises are directed in first place to the needs of industry and in second to the public administration who make the decisions on which technologies should be adopted and who tracks the evolution of technologies within the industry.

The context in which these technologies are placed is defined by socio-economic aspects, which in last term are the main drivers of the evolution of technology. OPTI as a central body assessed the coverage of the exercise attending at some socio-economic criteria affecting technology:

The measurement of these variables led to the emergence of eight sectors that set the baseline for OPTI’s foresight activities: agro-food, energy, environment, chemistry (4 sub-sectors), information and communication technologies, transport (air, rail, ship and car), basic and transforming manufacturers and traditional industries (footwear, textile, toys, wood and furniture, glass and ceramic and jewellery).

In 1998, OPTI first approached foresight launching an ambitious project that lasted for three years. This project, known as the First Spanish Foresight Program (1998-2000), covered the eight most relevant industrial sectors:







Technologies for the conservation of food.


Biotechnology applied to the food sector.


Traditional-process technologies. Technologies applied to the use of sub-products.



Renewable energies.


Fossil fuels. Energy production and new conversion technologies.


Energy storage



Management of industrial residues


Treatment of Environmental equipment.


Sewage Sludge treatment. Instrumentation and control.



Fine chemistry


Pulp paper. Basic Organic chemistry. Agro chemistry.


Basic inorganic chemistry. Plastic and transformation chemistry (soap and detergents)


Information and Communication Technologies

Digital-related industries.


ICT and the emergent digital economy


Infrastructures for the telecommunication sector





Train and Naval


Automobile industry


Basic and Transformation sectors

New technologies for producing metal materials.


New technologies for plastic production


Capital goods for manufacturing of metal and plastics


Traditional sectors

Design technologies


Automation technologies


Clean technologies


As a result of the accomplishment of the First Foresight Program, a series of technology trends were summarised in a collection of reports in the different areas: agro-food, chemistry, energy, transport, information and communication technologies, manufacturing technologies and environment. These reports embodied the principal ideas which emerged from the foresight exercises that composed the Foresight Program.

After the accomplishment of this first program (1998-2000), OPTI implemented and even expanded its existing areas of coverage in its following activities. From 2001, new foresight exercises were developed in both, existing and new sectors that, although considered important in the first program could not be tackled at that stage, mainly because there were no specific institutions in certain areas, such as the case of biotechnology, which however was later included as a key area.

From this moment, OPTI continued its foresight activities, however, including a few changes in the style of operation. The foresight exercises acquired a new format and the fully-fledged activities were divided according to sectors and were carried out independently in time and space. The main implication of this was that there was no need of coordination among the panels in different sectors as the exercise would be carried out and the results published independently. From this stage, OPTI continued focusing on an increasing number of technological areas.


FORESIGHT exercises 2002 – 2005




Formulation Chemistry



The impact of Biotechnology on Health

The impact of Biotechnology on Agriculture, Farming and Forestry


Health Sciences. The future of Biomaterials

Health Sciences. The future of non-invasive surgery

Information and Communication Technologies


The Future of Communication media and the impact of new technologies

Micro technologies and Microsystems

Manufacturing Technologies

Materials for Transport and Energy


Civil Construction

Technologies from the Sea


Sea environment-watching

Transforming Industry

Fishing Technologies

Defining the users

The major user of the Foresight exercises is the Ministry of Industry, although there have also been, more recently, other users for specific exercises, such as the Regional Governments such as the case of Navarra, Madrid, Murcia, Galicia or Canarias.

Approach to design decisions

These foresight studies were originated from a process of observation and a deep analysis into the reality of the Spanish industry, which lead to the identification of the key technologies that would most influence the industry, as well as the barriers and challenges that technology would face and would have to overcome in order to develop new technologies or adapt old technologies to future needs. Therefore, these exercises were undertaken under a bottom-up approach, which would lead to the settlement of priorities at three levels:

Setting the time horizon

With the creation of OPTI, the Ministry of Industry intended to orientate S&T policies towards industrial development with a time horizon of 15 years; however, technologies are assessed in each exercise within periods of 5 years.

Setting the timeframe

As a first approach to a fully-fledged exercise in Spain, the First Foresight Program was designed to run during a three-year period, although each year, a certain number of annual assets needed to be covered. Since 2001, the fully-fledged approach was replaced by a series of sectoral exercises, each of which has an average duration between no more than 9 to 11 months.

Costs and funding

Each of the sectoral exercises that OPTI promotes has an average cost of 60.000 Euros.

Skills and competencies

Within the network of OPTI, the members of the central body provide the methodological approach to the rest of the participants in the network, as they have a wide experience on the application of foresight tools in science and technology.

OPTI has developed its own methodology, which needs to be transmitted to every counterpart of the net in a way that its application is homogeneous in all the exercises, especially taking into account that each exercise is carried out by independent institutions. The strict application of a same methodology provides a systemic way of working and ensures homogeneity among the results.

Assessing previous and existing work

As the foresight activities developed by OPTI were the first approach at a national scale in Spain, the consideration of previous work relied on international experiences. Among others, OPTI analysed European cases such as France and Germany but it focused thoroughly in the cases of the UK and Japan. The UK was of particular interest as it had expertise in the method and had previously carried out national Delphi surveys. The interesting issue relating Japan was the systematic adoption of a Delphi methodology for the assessment of science and technology since the 1970s.

Project team and organisation of the exercise

The foresight exercises have four main physical executors:

Steering committee

As each of the foresight exercises is carried out independently, the same steering committee is not involved in every exercise. Each exercise has its small but independent steering committee, composed by a member of the central body of OPTI and the director of the foresight exercise in the specific technological area. The steering committee meets from two to three times along the exercise and sets out the final conclusions and policy implications.

Communication strategy

The foresight exercises have been carried out under a holistic approach, integrating different areas and providing a global vision of technology. However this activity of integration is carried out by OPTI as the central management team, and not by the interaction among panels. Each on of the centres who carries out foresight is independent and only in some cases, as with “Materials for Transport and Energy”, trans-panel interaction has occurred.

Communication within the panels (internal communications)

During the foresight exercise each panel meets twice on a regular basis. The purpose of the session is to get an insight of the whole exercise and cover all the technologies that might be of interest. However, sometimes during this meeting, some of the experts divert into very specific problems that escape from the interest of the exercise. The director in this case is responsible for guiding the discussion.

If eventually during the panel meeting, there is an issue that seems to need more attention, the creation of sub-panels is considered.

Designing the methodology (methodological approach)

The methodology used in the First Spanish Foresight Program was based on expert panels, brainstorming sessions, Delphi surveys, key technologies and deskwork.

The methodological approach the exercises consisted on:

A Literature Review carried out by the working group on the exercise. During this process, similar international reports are analysed. The purpose of it is the enumeration of a list of key events and/or technologies relevant to a certain area, and the definition of the socio-economic background in which these technologies are embedded. The outcome of this process is a working document that is available for the experts previous to the first meeting session.

An Expert Panel meeting (First Meeting) that has duration of one day. During this meeting, the socio-economic background is discussed and the experts assess and prioritise the events or technologies that have been considered in the first approach. The experts also implement the existing technologies or discard the less relevant ones. This meeting is crucial for the rest of the process, as the focus of the study relies on the experts’ opinions. During this session, the Delphi questionnaire is also presented for getting feedback and comments.

After the first Expert Panel meeting, the initial working document is enriched with some of the visions from the experts. This draft is sent with the Delphi questionnaire to the rest of experts involved in the consultation process.

The analysis of the questionnaire gives the first conclusions.

In the Second Expert Panel Meeting, the steering committee presents the results of the questionnaires. This leads to a further discussion among the experts and the steering committee and the conclusions and the first recommendations are drafted.

As a result of the second panel meeting, the working group and the steering committee draws a final document. This document must be circulated to all the experts.

It must be noted that after the completion of the First Foresight Program (1998-2000) and having seen that the variations within the results obtained in the first and second rounds of the survey were frequently non significant, the type of questionnaires was changed. Therefore, the two-round survey was replaced by a one-round survey, which simultaneously reduced costs and optimised time.

Role of the panels and problems in its execution

The panels in the exercises were selected by expertise in a technological area. Previous to the first meeting, the leading group of the exercise prepares a working document, which mainly defines socio-economic drivers, technology trends and critical events and/or technologies.

During the first meeting, the members of the panel are asked to give opinion on the socio-economic aspects, but mainly on the selection of the trends and technologies which they consider more important for the industrial sector their expertise contributes to, as well as assess the technologies in which they consider Spain is more competent, discarding the less relevant ones. The main scope of the first meeting is to transform technological events into coherent statements, which can only be done by experts who widely know the area.

After the meeting and the experts’ opinion expression, the working group merge and delete statements and technologies according to the experts’ judgements until they produce an enriched and coherent document. In this document, technology statements are also grouped in broader technology trends. The reason for this is contributing to understanding as the audience to whom the exercise is targeted is not all expert in the field and might not fully understand certain technological statements. The final purpose of these foresight exercises is to provide clear visions to scientists, but also other audiences such as policy makers, who would be in last term responsible of the application of technologies at a higher level.

For understanding purposes, the exercises carried out by OPTI include a brief description of the final key technologies with examples and industrial applications.

Execution of the Delphi

The execution of the Delphi is a responsibility of the working group, although the steering committee is informed at every stage of every step undertaken.

After the expert panel has met to discuss the most relevant technologies and after the socio-economic trends are put into place, the Delphi survey is the next step to accomplish. As the first part of the exercise requires active thinking and, the launch of the survey is more systematic.

The questionnaires are sent by post and by email, an only from recently, they can be filled them out in a webpage.

For the consultation process, a database is prepared. This database consists on experts with different backgrounds (industry, academia or administration) within a same area. The questionnaires are sent by post and by electronic format.

During the First Foresight Program, the consultation process involved more tan 5000 people. Since 2001, as foresight activities were divided by sectors, the foresight reports were undertaken at a smaller scale and the number of consulted experts varies from the broad range from 100 to 500.

Processing of Delphi outcomes

After the questionnaires were answered and the data was analysed, the results were exposed to the experts in a second meeting. The experts discuss whether the results resemble coherent and make additional comments. Eventually, they have to make specific remarks to results than appear to be ambiguous

The results of the survey provide quantitative data relating the variables set by OPTI:

Impact on:

Industrial development (to what extent it is going to influence Spanish industry)

The answers there were excluded according to the degree of knowledge of the expert consulted. This avoids technical misconceptions and ensures better results.

Learned lessons from the exercise design

The Delhi method is a tool for looking at new ideas and for elaborating opinions about technology in this case. It also offers a mechanism of interaction among experts in specific areas.

The technical characteristics of the experts consulted play an important role during the process.

The elaboration of the questionnaire is crucial for the outcome of the exercise; however, it is not an easy task to carry out, as it is time consuming.

Some of the advantages of the application of this methodology include:

It “forces” the scientific community to think in a systematic way about the evolution of technology and about its relation with socio-economic aspects, providing a broader vision of technology in relation with the environment.

The enrolment of experts from industry and administration enables the projection of technology trends into future innovation areas.

As a Delphi covers broad aspects of science and technology, it enables the global interaction of specific issues.

It facilitates the discussion about the future of science and the medium-term development of technology, and promotes the engagement among private and public sectors.

It contributes to the analysis of how social conditionings influence the development of technology.

Running the exercise

Managing the process

The process of Foresight is clearly defined by OPTI; therefore it is undertaken in a systematic way.

Adaptation of the process

The method and the process are pre-designed by OPTI; therefore, the adaptation process only consists on its application to the different areas of coverage of the exercise.

Preserving the learning aspect

Foresight activities implied an important learning process mainly because of the process itself. As OPTI was the first Spanish institution giving broad coverage to foresight activities, it contributed to the presentation of this technology to different social spheres and to the diffusion of its value, in particular among the experts taking part in the expert panels.

Managing time

Managing time is important along the process, which frequently take from 9 to 11 months. During this time, the feedback of the questionnaires seems to be a critical point, as experts frequently do not show particular interest in answering. During this time, a few remains are sent. In total, the average degree of answer to the questionnaires is usually around 30%. Currently, OPTI uses an electronic questionnaire, optimising time.

Managing relationships

People with different background and expertise compose the expert panels. During the meetings they actively share knowledge, interests and expectations, leading sometimes to the establishment of linkages of collaboration and to the settlement of future projects.


Identifying and selecting participants

The selection of experts, as a key element during the process, followed two criteria:

A self–recruiting process, which relies on each of the institutes carrying the exercise, mainly based in own knowledge, which normally ends with 15 to 20 nominations

A co-nomination process, in which pre-selected candidates were asked for nominating other potential candidates to whom the Delphi survey would be sent.

Motivating and keeping participants involved

The members of the expert panels were given by OPTI a symbolic reward; however there was no reward for the participants in the consultation process.


Building support

The support from these exercises comes directly from the desire of the Ministry of Industry to push industrial innovation and enable technology transfer, in particular in key areas for the economy of Spain.

Promotion of the exercise

All the foresight exercises are on the web page of OPTI ( Also many public events are carried out in different Spanish cities in order to present the results of the technology foresight studies.

Main challenges in running the exercise

One of the main challenges was to keep a balance between industrialists and researchers within the panel of experts, and to avoid the excess of leadership in some experts who tend to monopolise the debate.

Lessons learned while running the exercise

One of the main lessons learnt related methodology. After the accomplishments of the First Foresight Program the methodological approach changed in two points:

The fully-fledged exercise was substituted by sectoral exercises. The experience from the First Technology Foresight Program led to this change, as the work with 8 expert panels at the same time, and the simultaneous coordination of their actions, consumed an excess of time and resources, which could be optimised. Therefore, as each technological centre would be responsible in any case for a certain technology area, it was decided to proceed in the consecutive years at a smaller scale.

Also, the two round questionnaires, characteristic of a Delphi survey, were changed by a one round questionnaire. The reason for this was the small difference among the results in the first and second round.

The new methodological approach looks for key technologies and technological hypothesis and in some cases; there has also been an approach to the development of scenarios.

Tangible outputs

During the first Spanish Foresight Program 1998-2000, the outputs were 3 reports including 26 foresight exercises in 8 different sectors. During this program, 102 experts from different fields got involved in expert panels and 5,000 participants were consulted, with an answer rate of 32%, representing 1,600 people. After this exercise, more than 15 new sector foresight exercises were accomplished.

Also, as a result of the first Foresight Program, a series of technology trends was extracted. This leaded to 5 new reports of technology trends in:

Intangible outputs

Up to date, the foresight exercises carried out by OPTI have been used by national and regional governments, as well as industrial associations and private industries.

Implementation and follow-up

Diffusion and dissemination

  After the first Foresight Programme (1998-2000) and the series of sector studies that have been accomplished from 2002 until now, OPTI currently is expanding the coverage of its exercises, which implies a higher degree of involvement in all the foresight activities. Also its dedication to other areas such as technology watch is giving OPTI a more centralised position within the network.

The results of the foresight exercises are disseminated mainly by reports, directed to scientists, industries, government agencies but also general public.

Other activities relating the dissemination process are seminars, conferences and courses. These are both carried at a national and regional level. OPTI also publishes monthly bulletins with articles relating to foresight activities in Spain.


For the evaluation of the evolution of technologies, an annual report is published. This exercise is divided by sectors, and covers the most important technology indicators extracted from each of the technology foresight exercises.

Diffusing foresight practice

After the completion of each foresight report, there is a public presentation that covers the most important aspects of the exercise and is also used as a way of dissemination of foresight practice.

OPTI organised in 2004 a course on Foresight methodology but the main diffusion of foresight practice comes from the presentations of their exercises.


 Foresight exercises have had impact on:

Lessons learned

Since 1998, when OPTI launched its first Foresight program until now, through the application of foresight activities in the technological sectors, the range of technological coverage has expanded.

During the process, government has been actively involved and industries and research institutions have considered the necessity of the application of foresight tools for the exploration of future technological needs, therefore foresight has demonstrated to be a tool of increased interest.


Sanz Menendez L. et al. Policy choices, institutional constraints and policy learning: the Spanish Science and Technology in the eighties. J. of Technology Management, vol.10, nos 4/5/6, pp. 622-641