Foresight Review

Foresight Review

Foresight Review

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is pleased to respond to the Department of Trade and Industry's request for comments on the Foresight Review. The RSE is Scotland's National Academy of Science and Letters, comprising Fellows elected on the basis of their distinction, from the full range of academic disciplines, and from industry, commerce and the professions. This response has been compiled by the General Secretary with the assistance of a wide cross section of Fellows.

The RSE has been an enthusiastic supporter of Foresight since its outset, not least as this programme encapsulates the RSE's aims of encouraging basic research and leveraging developments from the science base to economic advantage. There is, however, relatively low R&D investment by industry in Scotland, making it difficult for Scottish industry to become fully involved in Foresight. The RSE has, therefore, been stimulating greater involvement by holding an extensive series of Foresight seminars, since 1996 (See Appendix 1). These seminars bring together senior R&D executives from international companies, and representatives from local industry, commerce and academic sectors to inform relevant Scottish organisations on the strategic directions of large multinationals, with the aim of encouraging greater R&D investment by business in Scotland. They have also provided a Scottish focus/input to relevant Panels, especially when Scottish membership of Panels was lower than might be expected.

The aims and objectives of Foresight as stated still remain highly relevant but it is now appropriate to review the specific focus and structure of the programme in terms of its success against the time, effort and expense of the exercise to date. Relevant questions would include:

  • since several other countries have also undertaken "Foresight" exercises, are the main trends the same, given the global economy?
  • Have the trends identified in the UK exercise proven accurate?
  • Could the UK do as well by reading and acting upon the consensus views of other countries?
  • Given the need to improve the research base in Scottish industry, how can the specific focus and structure of the programme in Scotland be adapted to suit Scotland's interests? (In this regard the RSE welcomes the DTI's research and development tax credit for SME's. However, thought should be given in Scotland as to how financial incentives might be further used to address this issue.)

The specific questions of the consultation paper are addressed below, and while some are addressed specifically at Scotland, they may also be relevant to the other regions of the UK generally:

What is good about Foresight?

Foresight has helped to create a mindset, largely amongst academics but also in certain industrial circles, that looks forward with the aim of identifying latent technological potential in relation to existing or potential markets.

Many of the participants in the programme felt that this initiative was overdue. It brought the UK into line with technologically advanced countries such as the USA and Japan that have their own technology look-ahead methodologies, and placed us ahead of some others. The Foresight process was sometimes misrepresented as a forecast activity that attempts to predict the future. Hopefully, this misunderstanding has now been corrected, although work should continue to ensure that it is recognised that Foresight is concerned with alerting the business and academic communities to market and technology opportunities already on the horizon, and getting groups of people together to network effectively in future.

How might we improve Foresight?

Learning how to apply the knowledge of future trends will matter ever more in the future. Managing for innovation and change based on future scenarios should, therefore, be a key subject in any future Foresight programme. Live company projects should also be set up to tackle opportunities and issues, with collaborative ventures and partnerships to exploit new technologies and opportunities. In addition, there is a need to involve more young people more effectively in Foresight activities in schools, colleges and universities. In general, however, there would be merit in greater focus on the implementation and follow-through of the Panels' recommendations, possibly with the continued involvement of the Panels.

In Scotland, the RSE has also been actively involved in commercialisation initiatives addressed to similar constituencies of academics and business as Foresight. These commercialisation initiatives have succeeded better because all the key stakeholder organisations have come together and taken them forward with a sense of 'ownership' - they have not been 'owned' solely by Government or its agencies. The Foresight programme, however, has produced less of a sense of 'ownership' in Scotland and there may be merit, therefore, in developing a stronger sense of a Scottish approach to Foresight and a wider sense of 'ownership'.

The latest round of Foresight has also resulted in an overwhelming number of publications from and piecemeal national launches of the different Foresight Panels, so that even committed enthusiasts have found it hard to keep track of progress. The flow of information about the Foresight programme and its results could, therefore, be improved. While Scottish commercialisation strategies have attempted to target key stakeholder individuals, Foresight has attempted to embrace a wider public. As a result it is often seen as something abstract, complicated, large and unwieldy. In Scotland, therefore, it could be timely to bring together key Foresight stakeholders and individuals to present the core outputs from the recent Foresight Panel reports in terms of what they mean for Scotland, and to consider how to reduce the barriers to their implementation, with strategies driven by a wide range of stakeholders from the 'bottom-up'.

What impact has Foresight had?

Foresight has provided a useful framework for exploring key issues regarding science/industry links, and the processes have produced useful and interesting material. Networking has been greatly enhanced and many of the outcomes of Foresight have been incorporated into Government policy documents. Attitudinal changes, however, take a long time to develop and the RSE believes that significant change is still at an early stage. In particular, Foresight appears to be playing little role in the current efforts to co-ordinate research and development in Scotland and to create a shared agenda between stakeholders in the research process. Finding optimal ways of involving SME's is also still a crucial challenge for Foresight.

The strongest real impact has been to influence the programmes of the Research Councils, with applicants needing to know the relevance of their work to Foresight priorities. However, there are dangers in the outcomes of Foresight acting as too rigid a guide in awarding grants, and care should be exercised in applying the priorities so as not to exclude other areas of potential. An overemphasis on the priorities of Foresight in the Research Assessment Exercise could similarly be counter-productive.

It will be difficult in the long-term to de-convolute the relationship between economic success, lifestyle improvements and the Foresight process. However, this should not prevent attempts being be made to do this. Possible metrics include trends in: the industrial relevance of science base R&D; the technological balance of payments for the UK; health and other quality of life statistics; patenting activity; number of high-technology start-ups; business expenditure on R&D.

What should the main aim of Foresight be?

Foresight has been, not about quick fixes, but about changing fundamental attitudes and making people aware of opportunities. Foresight has to become part of management culture and training, and part of the regular knowledge and networking scene among companies.

Key aims of Foresight should be to create mindsets that look forward with the aim of identifying latent technological potential in relation to existing or potential markets, and to recognise and harvest outstanding technology at British universities and research institutions.

What areas do you think Foresight should focus on now?

Foresight should now focus on major growth areas. In Scotland, however, Foresight should identify panel activities which are most relevant to Scotland's cluster strategy and other areas of Scottish strength. Such considerations will need to include the choice of themes; how the sectors are to be defined; the focus of panels; how to involve related interests; the balance between business, academic, Government and other groups; the arrangements for debating draft outputs and how to maximise the impact of the outputs and involvement of the media.

Additional information

In responding to this consultation the RSE would like to draw attention to the following Royal Society of Edinburgh papers and responses which are of relevance to the review: Technology Foresight Programme - Proposed Methodology (February 1994); The Next Foresight Survey (December 1997); Foresight Consultation (August 1998); The Scottish Dimension of Foresight (February 1999); Are We Realising Our Potential (June 2000); Commercialisation in Scotland – A Blueprint for Foresight? (January 2001) and the Are We Realising Our Potential Inquiry (January 2001). 

Annex 1: Summary of RSE Foresight Seminars

The Scottish Semiconductor Industry: First Foresight Seminar - 18th February 1997.
Keynote Speakers - Dr Bertrand Cambou, Senior Vice-President and Director, Sector Technology, Motorola Corporation, and Professor Jim Cairns, FRSE, University of Dundee.

The Scottish Oil & Gas Industry: Second Foresight Seminar - 17th April 1997.
Keynote Speakers - Dr Reid Smith, Senior Vice-President and Director, Schlumberger Cambridge Research and Professor Brian Smart, Head of the Department of Petroleum Engineering, Heriot-Watt University.

The Pharmaceutical Industry: Third Foresight Seminar - 28th October 1997.
Keynote Speaker Dr George Poste, FRS, Chairman of Research & Development, SmithKline Beecham Plc.

The Software Industry: Fourth Foresight Seminar - 26th November 1997.
Keynote Speakers - Dr Geoffrey Robinson, previously Director of Technology, IBM UK, and former Chief Adviser on Science & Technology at DTI, and Malcolm Atkinson, Professor of Computing Science, University of Glasgow.

The Optoelectronics Industry: Fifth Foresight Seminar - 3rd February 1998.
Keynote Speakers - Dr Andrew Rickman, Managing Director, Bookham Technology Limited, and Professor Wilson Sibbett, Director of Research, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of St Andrews.

The Chemicals Industry: Sixth Foresight Seminar - 25 June 1998.
Keynote Speakers - Bill Tallis, Technology Director, BP Chemicals Limited and Professor Jack W Ponton, Professor of Chemical Engineering, University of Edinburgh.

The Scottish Dimension of Foresight: 3 February 1999.
Keynote Speakers - Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, The Scottish Office Minister for Business and Industry; Stephen Spivey, Director of Foresight, OST; Professor John Sizer CBE, Chief Executive of SHEFC; Ray Macfarlane, Managing Director of SE; and Dr George Bennett, CBE, former Vice-President of Motorola, East Kilbride.

Nanotechnology and Micromachines: Seventh Foresight Seminar - 24 February 1999.
Keynote Speakers - Professor Geoff Beardmore, Microengineering Manager, Smiths Industries Aerospace and Visiting Professor at Nottingham Trent; Professor Steve Beaumont, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, University of Glasgow and Director of the Institute of System Level Integration and Ottilia Saxl, Director of the Institute of Nanotechnology.

Marine Technology: Eighth Foresight Seminar - 13 May 1999.
Keynote Speakers - David Goodrich, Chairman, British Maritime Technology, and Professor Mike Cowling, Director, Glasgow Marine Technology Centre, University of Glasgow.

The Food Chain and Crops for Industry: Ninth Foresight Seminar - 26 October 1999.
Keynote Speakers - Deirdre Hutton, CBE Chairman of the Food Chain and Crops for Industry Foresight Panel and Director of the Scottish Consumer Council and Professor Phillip Thomas, FRSE, former Principal and Chief Executive of the Scottish Agricultural College and current Chairman of the Government’s Advisory Committee on Animal Foodstuffs.

The Ageing Population: Tenth Foresight Seminar - 1st December 1999.
Keynote Speakers - Sir Stewart Sutherland FRSE, Principal & Vice-Chancellor, University of Edinburgh, Jim Stretton, Chief Executive, UK Operations, Standard Life and Chairman of the OST Ageing Population Thematic Panel and Professor Alan Newell, Head, Applied Computer Studies Division, University of Dundee, and member of the Ageing Population Thematic Panel.

Manufacturing 2020: Eleventh Foresight Seminar - 23rd February 2000.
Keynote Speakers – Mr David Martin, Technical Director, Xyratex and member of the OST Manufacturing 2020 Thematic Panel and Professor Brian Ashcroft, Policy Director of the Fraser of Allander Institute, University of Strathclyde.

Information, Communications and Media: Twelfth Foresight Seminar – 20 March 2000.
Keynote Speakers –Dr John Taylor, OBE, FREng, FRS, Director-General Research Councils, Office of Science and Technology, London and Professor Peter Grant, FREng, FRSE, Professor of Electronic Signal Processing, Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Edinburgh

Financial Services: Thirteenth Foresight Seminar - 6 June 2000.
Keynote Speakers - Mr Tim Jones, Chairman of the OST Financial Services Foresight Panel and Professor William P Rees, FCA, Head of Department, Accountancy and Finance, University of Glasgow, and a Director of the Scottish Institute for Research and Investment and Finance.

Healthcare: Pharmaceuticals, Biotechnology and Medical Devises: Fourteenth Foresight Seminar – 11th December 2000.
Keynote Speakers – Professor David Delpy, FRS, Professor of Medical Photonics University College London and member of the Foresight Healthcare Panel and Professor Graeme Catto, FRSE Vice- Principal of Kings College London, Dean of Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’ school of Medicine and former Chief Scientist of the Scottish Executive Health Department.


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