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Five key features of foresight are:
1. Structure, Rigor, and Creativity
Foresight is based on careful analysis of the current situation, trends and expected impacts of possible developments and disruptive events. Free-ranging discussion and debate are valuable but they are not enough. A critical part of foresight is assessing and putting together different sources of information and different points of view. At some critical stages, foresight relies on the power of imagination to think out different ways in which the future may unfold. Scenario-planning is particularly designed to do this but it is not an inevitable part of all foresight projects. If the creative part of foresight is seen as the only important part, there is a risk of trivializing the future, as much of foresight should be based on real data and analysis. Equally, the need for innovative approaches in the face of the unpredictable nature of the future requires the use of some creativity.
Foresight methods are designed to expand considerably the information sources and contributions to the planning effort. Japan’s national technology forecasting surveys consult several thousands of experts. The Thai project on developing a vision of “S&T2020” included over one thousand people from all sectors of the economy. But participation does not necessarily mean large numbers, it refers more to the breadth of input. Planning cannot be left to the planners alone, but must include representatives of all people who have relevant expertise and all those with a keen interest in the outcomes. This broad group is often referred to as “stakeholders”. One of the first steps in any foresight project is establishing who should be involved (“stakeholder mapping”) and what the best tools for involving them are.
3. Focus on the medium to longer term
The purpose of exploring the future with foresight is to inform current decisions. What decisions should we take now (or soon) to have the best chance of being in a good position in say, 10 years time? What might happen over the next 10 years that we need to watch out for and be prepared to deal with? Most foresight projects look about 10-20 years ahead. Foresight projects very rarely look further ahead than 50 years, since beyond that time there is just too much uncertainty for explorations to yield useful insights. For a very short timeframe (say, under 5 years) traditional tools of action planning and strategic planning may be sufficient.
4. Interest in the interactions between science, technology, economy, society and environment
Foresight often examines a wide range of factors and draws on knowledge from multiple disciplines. In these cases, foresight works towards “big-picture” or “macro” level goals such as improved quality of life or increased economic competitiveness which depend on the interactions of many factors.
5. Intention to lead to action
Foresight is a waste of resources unless it leads to action. Foresight needs at least some political support, even if it has to manage opposition (for example, from “traditional” planners who see it as a threat to their role, or just too much extra work).