Royal Society of Edinburgh Response, August 1998
The Royal Society of Edinburgh is pleased to respond to the Foresight Consultation document. The Society expressed its views to OST during the pre-consultation period and appreciates that a number of these have been incorporated in the proposed plans for Foresight II.
The RSE has been closely involved with Foresight since its inception, and indeed the Scottish launch of the first phase took place at the RSE. We have subsequently supported many Foresight initiatives and have organised a very successful series of Foresight Seminars during which senior executives of multinational companies share their corporate Foresight with representatives of the Scottish science base.
In addition to supporting Foresight the RSE has worked closely with Scottish Enterprise on Technology Ventures, a strategic initiative aimed at encouraging the commercialisation of relevant research output from Scottish universities. The RSE will continue enthusiastically to support these complementary activities as far as is practical within the objectives and remit of the Society.
The Royal Society of Edinburgh welcomes the introduction of a thematic element to the Foresight programme. In addition to their technical merits, themes such as 'Future Cities' and 'Ageing Population' that emphasise quality of life issues will capture the public’s imagination. Well-chosen themes will also attract commitments from other government departments that otherwise may be relatively detached from Foresight.
The introduction of themes should not be presented in a way that devalues the role of sectoral panels. Wealth creation is the primary driver for business enterprises and the likelihood of gaining industry’s full participation in Foresight II will be enhanced if a sectoral panel structure is maintained. In general, business will gain more from, and can contribute more to, sectoral activities.
In order to encourage broad participation in Foresight II the RSE believe that thematic and sectoral panels should be presented as complementary activities. Both are directed towards the twin goals of wealth creation and quality of life with sectoral panels having a greater focus on the former, and themes on the latter.
a) Choice of Themes
The themes identified in the consultation document address important topics that have a high public profile and that presumably have the support of relevant government departments. However, the two or three word descriptions given in the document do not allow a critical assessment on the merits or demerits of particular themes. While their scope will undoubtedly be clarified as the programmes evolve it is important that some elaboration is given at an early stage. For example, 'Sustainable Development' covers widely differing subject areas and has a number of possible interpretations, and 'Education, Skills and Training' may be seen as cutting across ongoing UK initiatives.
b) Approach to dealing with Themes
As indicated above, themes and sectors should be equal partners in the Foresight process. Thematic objectives should be clarified and expanded. Themes should be led by nominees put forward by the relevant government department (e.g. Health & Social Security for 'Ageing Population', and Home Office for 'Crime Control'). It is too early to be prescriptive about the mechanisms for handling themes, and in any case different themes will require different approaches. We would anticipate that in general thematic panels would mutually agree action plans with the sector panels most closely associated with their theme.
a) Basis on which Sectors should be defined
OST wish to re-examine the number and composition of sectoral panels, primarily because the introduction of themes will put additional demands on government resources. While there is scope for merging and realigning the work of several sectoral panels it will, as the consultation document suggests, be difficult to achieve a consensus on how these changes might be made.
Possible approaches to this difficult problem include: merging service and industrial sectors where there is a clear alignment of technology interests; giving preference to sectors with high growth potential, especially those with a high research and development intensity; realigning some sectors on a market basis; realigning some on a technology basis. As an example of the latter, Pharmaceuticals could be separated from Chemicals and realigned with Healthcare (market basis), and Chemicals and Materials merged to form a new sectoral panel (technology basis). The net result is one less panel.
b) Number and focus of Sectoral Panels
On the assumption that resource constraints require a reduction in the number of sectoral panels it is recommended that this number should be not less than ten with the proviso that all key interests continue to be accommodated. While this latter requirement may entail an increase in membership of individual panels the financial impact on the cost of supporting a panel should be minimal. Sectoral panels should continue to focus on market and technology trends.
c) How to involve interests not explicitly covered by a Sectoral Panel
Independent organisations, such as the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which have cross-sectoral membership and well-established networks can be very effective in communicating the opportunities afforded by Foresight to a wider audience. The successful RSE Foresight Seminars have demonstrated how this can be achieved. Trade-related organisations with focused sectoral interests can play an important role. An effectively managed and publicised Knowledge Pool will assist in improving the visibility of Foresight and hence attract people who may otherwise be remote from the process. The remit of the thematic panels should include the responsibility of ensuring that sectors and interests not explicitly covered by the sectoral panels are included in Foresight.
d) Arrangements for supporting Sectoral Panels
From an external viewpoint the support given to Foresight I by OST was effective. However, those directly involved - especially panel chairmen and secretaries - will have a different perspective and substantial weight should be given to their views.
It would be inappropriate to ask panels to organise Delphi exercises. The last one was singularly unsuccessful and alienated many of those who participated in the process.
The panels should be given guidance on a pro forma for their final reports - the last exercise resulted in reports of varying quality and format. Dissemination actions should be agreed at the outset of Foresight II. Awareness of these will allow panels to tailor their activities and ensure that their final output is consistent with the dissemination process.
a) The value of the Knowledge Pool
The RSE welcomes the proposal to establish an easily accessible database, or pool, of information relevant to Foresight. However, its value will only become apparent once it has been in operation for some time.
It should be borne in mind that the use of electronic communications is not yet ubiquitous and some potential contributors to Foresight may feel disenfranchised. Many quite sophisticated individuals are happier with the printed word and OST should be sensitive of the need to ensure that they don’t suffer an information deficiency. In addition, a not unusual consequence of electronic communications is information overload - it can become quite difficult to separate the meaningful from the trivial. However, the Internet is here to stay and Foresight should be seen to take advantage of forefront technology.
b) How should it be set up and managed
A Foresight WEB site, managed by OST, for the Knowledge Pool is appropriate. It may be cost effective to sub-contract construction and day-to-day operation of the site. It will almost certainly require OST staff to exercise some editorial control over the input; otherwise it will be open to abuse which may discredit Foresight. Access via passwords should be restricted to bona fide contributors.
COMMUNICATING AND ACTING ON RESULTS
a) Balance of Effort between Business, Government, Academic, and other Participants
Business, science base and government sectors should be represented on all sectoral panels and involved in all themes. It is likely, however, that themes and sectors will have different membership distributions. Themes will benefit from a strong government - academic focus and sectoral panels should have effective business representation. Government nominees, preferably from academe, should lead the themes; business people should be encouraged to chair the sectoral panels. Regionalinterests and gender should be taken into account when selecting panel and theme membership. For example, Scottish Enterprise are developing an industrial cluster strategy and Scottish representation on themes and panels which have a strong bearing on this strategy should be encouraged.
b) Range and balance of outputs
The outputs as described in the consultation document are appropriate.
c) Arrangements for debating draft outputs
It is pleasing to note that this time around drafts will be circulated widely for debate and comment prior to publication.
d) Maximise the Impact of Results
Suggestions on how this might be achieved include:
Ensure that regional, as well as national, contexts of action plans, findings and overarching summaries are available.
Views on Timetable
The timetable is aggressive but achievable. Because the focused and consolidated findings will be debated by ‘Foresight participants’ and by ‘key stakeholders’ it is worthwhile identifying (in generic terms), at this early stage, who these might be.
Further information is available from the Research Officer, Dr Marc Rands