In futures studies, especially in Europe, the term “foresight” has become common as of 2005, embracing activities of
- critical thinking concerning long-term developments,
- debate and effort to create wider participation in decisions,
- shaping the future, especially by influencing public policy and strategic decisions (European Commission Foresight Website 2005; FOREN project; FORERA)
- making an impact (“shaping the future”)
In the last decade, scenario methods, for example, have become widely used in some European countries in policy-making (van Steenbergen 2005). the FORSOCIETY network brings together national Foresight teams from most European countries, and the European Foresight Monitoring Project is collating material on Foresight activities around the world.
In addition, foresight methods are being used more and more in regional planning and decision –making (“regional foresight”). At the same time, the use of foresight for companies (“corporate foresight”) is becoming more professional and widespread (Ratcliffe 2005, Neef/Daheim 2005). It is not only used in strategy development, but also increasingly in innovation development as well as marketing and generally in R&D. Foresight differs from much futures research and strategic planning. It encompasses a range of approaches that combine the three components mentioned above, which may be recast as:
- futures (forecasting, forward thinking, prospectives),
- planning (strategic analysis, priority setting), and
- networking (participatory, dialogic) tools and orientations.
Much futures research has been rather ivory tower work, but Foresight programmes were designed to influence policy – often R&D policy. Much technology policy had been very elitist; Foresight attempts to go beyond the “usual suspects” and gather widely distributed intelligence. These three lines of work were already common in Francophone futures studies going by the name la prospective. But in the 1990s we began to see what became an explosion of systematic organisation of these methods in large scale TECHNOLOGY FORESIGHT programmes in Europe and more widely.
Foresight thus draws on traditions of work in long-range planning and strategic planning, horizontal policymaking and democratic planning, and participatory futures studies – but was also highly influenced by systemic approaches to innovation studies, science and technology policy, and analysis of “critical technologies”. Many of the methods that are commonly associated with Foresight – Delphi surveys, scenario workshops, etc. – derive from the futures field. So does the fact that Foresight is concerned with:
- The longer-term – futures that are usually at least 10 years away(though there are some exceptions to this, especially in its use in private business). Since Foresight is action-oriented (the planning link) it will rarely be oriented to perspectives beyond a few decades out (though where decisions like aircraft design, power station construction or other major infrastructural decisions are concerned, then the planning horizon may well be half a century).
- Alternative futures: it is helpful to examine alternative paths of development, not just what is currently believed to be most likely or business as usual. Often Foresight will construct multiple scenarios. These may be an interim step on the way to creating what may be known as positive visions, success scenarios, aspirational futures. Sometimes alternative scenarios will be a major part of the output of Foresight work, with the decision about what fuure to build being left to other mechanisms.
Foresight is also the name of a journal active in this field; and the term is used in the name of the International Journal of Foresight and Innovation Policy. The latter journal has played a useful role in documenting activity in Foresight programmes that was previously recorded in a wide variety of locations.