Foresight unplugged: beyond any official targets, foresight is bound to serve democracy

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Abstract for the IFA seminar Title: ‘Foresight unplugged: beyond any official targets, foresight is bound to serve democracy’Purpose of the paper: Foresight is usually criticised for having a limited direct impact on policy-making. Although contexts play a significant role, this this may be true to a certain extent. It is also true, however, that the value of foresight has not been adequately explored. The purpose of the paper is to show the value of foresight in contributing to the development of more participatory societies irrespective of the specific ‘official’ objectives it is designed to serve (thus in an ‘unplugged’ sense). This is in line with the first theme, i.e. ‘Foresight’s role in supporting democracy targeted impacts’Methodology or description: The paper is based on the PhD research on ‘Assessing the contribution of Foresight towards more participatory, ‘knowledge societies’’. The methodology included a review of the main features of foresight (rationales, functions, and impacts) and their classification into three main groups highlighting the three main roles of foresight in relation to a) informing policy, b) networking and collective learning and c) public participation. These foresight features along with the associated pre-conditions and factors affecting its performance helped develop an impact assessment framework for assessing the contribution of foresight towards more participatory societies.Expected or achieved results and impacts: The new impact assessment framework was applied on specific national foresight exercises, i.e. the eFORESEE Malta and the FNR foresight exercises, among others. The assessment showed that although contributing to more participatory societies was not among the main aims of the particular exercise, eFORESEE managed to achieve significant, yet unintended, impacts in relation to increased public engagement. The intended and unintended impacts achieved clearly influenced the political culture showing clear sings of behavioural additionality.FNR foresight had totally different objectives than eFORESEE. However, as eFORESEE, it was not particularly oriented towards promoting public participation. Its assessment showed that it performed moderately for a number of reasons. Actually, it was the same reasons and factors that limited the achievement of its intended impacts that also deterred any (unintended) contribution to increased public participation. However, participants appreciated their embedding to policy-making through the foresight exercise and considered that the exercise helped people become more informed and concerned and helped reorient the science and innovation system towards societal needs.Major conclusions: Foresight exercises are ‘by default’ devised to promote democratic processes and public engagement in designing for the future. Irrespective of their particular rationales and objectives they can and do contribute to the development of more participatory societies. This is mainly done through the processes applied which may fit the purpose of the specific objectives but are also characterised by inclusiveness, openness, transparency, public engagement, and multi-stakeholder approaches. These processes lead to certain impacts in relation to increased public concern and participation that are valued by participants even though achievement of the intended impacts may have been less satisfactory.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationhost publication
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventInternational Foresight Academic Seminar - ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences
Duration: 16 Sept 201318 Sept 2013


ConferenceInternational Foresight Academic Seminar
CityZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences


  • participatory foresight


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