Science, technology and innovation policy

Workshop on Re-imagining the Future: The Role of Foresight and Anticipatory Governance in STI-led Transitions


 6 April 2021  Virtual event



The aim of this workshop was to learn more about latest thinking and practices in foresight and anticipatory governance.

12:00-12:25 - Welcome and background to the debate

The Chair of the CSTP (Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy), Yongsuk Jang (STEPI, Korea), welcomed the participants. Michael Keenan and David Winickoff (Science and Technology Policy Division, Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation) provided background to the debate.

12:25-13:45 – Foresight: Co-imagining sociotechnical futures

Science, technology and innovation (STI) have essential roles to play in transitions towards more sustainable, inclusive and resilient economies and societies. Despite their urgency, transitions will take several years, if not decades, to achieve, since they involve reconfiguring sociotechnical systems. The future is uncertain, with little guarantee that sociotechnical reconfiguration will unfold in desirable ways. Still, transitions imply an active view of the future, i.e. a belief that the future is largely shaped by the actions we take in the present.

Foresight practices share this active view of the future and help articulate desirable scenarios and pathways for achieving them. Foresight is also used to explore multiple, alternative futures, including less desirables ones, to raise awareness of threats and opportunities, and to improve organisational agility. Foresight exercises typically involve a wide range of actors who are expected to bring diverse perspectives to thinking about the future. Foresight is also action-oriented with implications for policy and strategic planning today, and is often expected to lead to the emergence of multi-actor coalitions to enact change.

Several national research ministries and funding agencies have used foresight in recent decades to help them set research priorities, organise new configurations of actors, and become more agile as organisations in times of uncertainty. Two decades ago, it was fashionable for governments to organise large, national, multi-sectoral exercises covering entire STI systems. While such exercises still exist in some countries, they are rarer today, and foresight practices are instead typically embedded in existing strategic planning processes, making them less visible but perhaps more influential.
The climate emergency and COVID-19 crisis contribute to a sense of growing uncertainty about the future, leading to renewed interest in foresight practices. The pandemic, in particular, presents a disruptive moment when previous assumptions may no longer hold, and the near-future may look considerably different from the recent past. Foresight could help shed light on possible futures. It could also indirectly reduce uncertainty by promoting collective action around widely shared future visions, for example, around sustainability transitions.

This panel will explore the interface between foresight practices and ambitions to enact transitions towards more sustainable, inclusive and resilient futures. The panel will include country presentations of recent and ongoing foresight exercises in STI planning settings, highlighting what works well, what needs improving, and how foresight might be used in the future to help better orient STI policies to support system transitions.

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2:25-12:50 – Conversation with Matthias Weber

  • Matthias Weber is Head of Center for Innovation Systems and Policy at AIT Austrian Institute of Technology GmbH. Matthias will be interviewed by Michael Keenan (senior policy analyst, OECD)

12:50-13:40 – Panel debate with Q&A

  • Thérèse De Groote, Senior Policy Advisor, Stakeholder Engagement and Advancement of Society, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canada
  • Asako Okamura, Senior Research Fellow, National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP), Japan
  • Mlungisi Cele, Acting Head: National Advisory Council on Innovation, Department of Science and Technology, South Africa

Guiding questions for the panel

  • How can we use foresight to help direct STI policy towards sustainability transitions
  • What measures can we take to ensure the results and insights from foresight influence policy-making and decision-making more broadly?
  • How can we use foresight to engage with diverse values and perspectives – from different actors, disciplines, etc. – in STI policymaking?

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14:00-15:15 – Anticipatory governance: pathways to inclusive transitions 

Many of the barriers to enabling emerging technologies lie not in technology per se, but in technology governance. For some, governance is too complex and onerous. For others, governance systems fail to protect key human values, leading to a crisis of public trust in technology. For still others, governance fails to produce the necessary alignment of technology development with the largest human goals. The OECD’s recent work in technology governance – especially the Recommendation of the Council on Artificial Intelligence and the Recommendation on Responsible Innovation in Neurotechnology -- taking an upstream approach to technology governance. Within these instruments, the goal is to enhance societal capacities to imagine, understand, communicate on, and shape technology through the course of development so that technology might advance under conditions of trust and help realise social goals.

This panel will explore recent experiments in the upstream governance of emerging technology. It will examine how if designed well, anticipatory mechanisms -- like foresight and narrative; public engagement and science communication; and “governance-by-design”– might help produce a kind of innovation that is more productive, responsive to social needs, and socially robust.

14h00-14h25 – Conversation with Dave Guston

  • Dave Guston is Director, School for the Future of Innovation in Society at the Arizona State University. David will be interviewed by David Winickoff (senior policy analyst, OECD)

14:25-15:15 – Panel debate with Q&A

  • Yuko Harayama, Executive Director, RIKEN, Japan
  • Lyric Jorgenson, Deputy Director for the Office of Science Policy at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), United States.
  • Erika Widegrin, Chief Executive of Re-Imagine Europa (RIE), Sweden

Guiding questions for the panel

  • How can we better ensure that emerging technologies are ethical and trustworthy?
  • How can we design a technology governance approach that is more anticipatory and works with innovators?
  • How can governance frameworks encourage an innovation system that is more inclusive in terms of who benefits and who innovates?

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  • For further information please contact Michael Keenan indicating "S&T Policy 2025" in the subject line.


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