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Foresight is a Platform to Solve Development Issues

Immediately after the meeting of the Inter-Departmental Commission on Technology Foresight during the XV April International Academic Conference, most of the experts invited to the special HSE ISSEK workshop took part in the round table discussion on setting up the national S&T foresight system.

Immediately after the meeting of the Inter-Departmental Commission on Technology Foresight during the XV April International Academic Conference, most of the experts invited to the special HSE ISSEK workshop took part in the round table discussion on setting up the national S&T foresight system.

In recent years the number of foresight studies in the country was growing exponentially, noted the first vice-rector of HSE, director of ISSEK Leonid Gokhberg. What should be the main objective of the national S&T foresight system, the beginnings of which were established by the RF presidential decree № 596 of 7 May, 2012? According to Leonid Gokhberg, efficiency of all foresight projects could be increased if their results are synchronised (e.g. in terms of timeframes and identified priorities) and integrated into the national strategic planning decision-making system. This cannot be accomplished without regularly discussing relevant issues by representatives of all key stakeholders including authorities, the business sector, development institutes, the R&D sphere, and the general public.

The Higher School of Economics as the coordinator of the Russian long-term S&T foresight initiated a discussion of the country’s innovation-based development prospects and strategies with participation of representatives of various expert groups, systematically involving them in this work through establishing a network of industrial S&T foresight centres based at six leading Russian universities. More important, integrated steps aimed at further development and strengthening of the expert network were proposed in the framework of the national S&T foresight system. As to the role of technology platforms which was discussed at the meeting of the Inter-Departmental Commission (IDC) on Technology Foresight, the first vice-rector noted that “we must ensure more broad involvement of private companies in developing the S&T foresight system”.

Platform solutions

The business sector’s need for long-term forecasts is obvious, believes Evgeniy Kuznetsov, director of Strategic Communications department of the Russian Venture Company. To illustrate his point he used the term “economy of readiness”, for which he provided the following explanation: “traditional approaches to developing innovation projects, and their subsequent understanding through analysis, no longer have time to work: the number of discoveries and new solutions, ideas and technologies is growing faster than the actual “milestones” come about — the ones we’ve identified and set as starting points. The priority today is the speed of understanding the new environment”.

The biggest marginality is noted in areas where not products but platform solutions are developed, stressed Evgeniy Kuznetsov, giving as examples the Android platform, platform solutions in neurobiology and robotics. “Platform solutions here act as foundations on which any number of players can implement their plans and ideas. Such ideology must be understood in terms of our administrative and economic realities; in future we must make our own tools, to serve as drivers for the country’s industrial development”, insisted the expert. “Switching to platform solutions may significantly contribute to modernising the whole management system, more efficiently attract individual developers, and generally make the foresight studies more strategically intensive”.

The national foresight system in this perspective should also be seen as a “platform solution”, since successful integration of its results into the strategic management system (on the national, regional, and large companies’ levels), including aspects connected with institutional development and removal of barriers, requires not so much forecasts as institutional cooperation of various stakeholders, to conduct the foresight study. According to Evgeniy Kuznetsov, numerous high-tech areas need novel approaches to administration based on these principles. E.g. modernisation of basic energy structures requires application of smart grid technologies, which in turn will lead to changes in residential patterns, etc.

Ian Miles, professor at the University of Manchester and head of the NRU HSE Laboratory for Economics of Innovation, agreed with the above “platform-based” approach to foresight development. Professor Miles, an established authority in the service sector research, shared his observations of the evolution in this area, specifically noting, firstly, emergence of new links between producers and users, and secondly, erasure of clear borders between industries due to merging of goods and services. The professor highly appreciated the role of the Inter-Departmental Commission on Technology Foresight whose members are dealing with “complex issues outside of individual agencies’ spheres of responsibility”.

How to overcome the “catch-up” development paradigm

Gennadiy Shepelev, department head at the Presidential Directorate for Science and Education Policy, gave example of a problem difficult to deal with through a “single government agency window”. In his opinion, technology platforms discussed by the IDC earlier, occasionally “skid” when it comes to developing promising products and technologies and attracting R&D investments. The expert reminded that the president, in his address to the Federal Assembly, stressed the importance of concentrating on applied research “based on technology platforms”, but with a proviso: “provided there’s demand for the results, and the projects are co-funded from extra-budgetary sources by the government and private companies”. In Gennadiy Shepelev’s opinion, only three or four platforms are currently capable of attracting extra-budgetary funding. Their work must be restructured because they do not yet provide systemic, integrated solutions. Since 2010, when this tool for facilitating innovation system actors’ networking and cooperation on the basis of public-private partnership principles was created, only just over a third of technology platforms have come up with strategic development programmes. “Ten platforms have no strategic programmes at all. It’s a major challenge for the whole S&T foresight system”, noted the expert.

Companies may be successfully conducting foresight studies without making much ado about it, remarked Maxim Nedzvetskiy, head of the S&T section of the Prospective Development department at Gazprom, Inc. Alexey Sorkin, Honeywell’s general director for Russia and head of the Technology Cybernetics department at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, took a somewhat different position: “Everybody is quite enthusiastic and quite open about foresight. It goes beyond commercial secrets”.

However, foresight studies’ results which affect investment decisions are reflected in large and medium-size companies’ corporate strategies in different ways; the emerging conflict between “openness and commercial secrets” was commented by Artyom Shadrin, director of Department Innovative Development of the RF Ministry of Economic Development. Having reminded the audience about the legislative framework for medium-term information disclosure (No. 223-FZ Federal Law “On goods, works, services procurement by certain types of legal entities”), he suggested that open innovations should be promoted more actively. Also, in his opinion it would be very important to consider logistics for testing cutting-edge designs in the course of upgrading innovation and investment infrastructure. Usually companies do find money for R&D, but not for testing experimental prototypes. Meanwhile failures at this second stage not infrequently “cross out” investments made at earlier innovation creation stages.

Igor Savelyev, head of the Strategic Planning service at KAMAZ, Inc., noted the important role of engineering centres. Also, in his opinion setting of priorities requires not just industry-specific analysis but assessment of particular product groups’ competitive potentials. E.g. despite the fact that Russian automobile industry mostly follows the “catch-up development” paradigm, certain products such as four-wheel drive vehicles for extremely tough operating conditions (and KAMAZ, Inc. is a leading manufacturer of such lorries) deserve targeted support. According to the speaker, national industrial competence centres should be established as quickly as possible.

Anatoliy Petrovskiy, vice-principal of research at the National Research Nuclear University (MEPhI), draw attention to the personnel issue: “Expert networks should be created with participation of all stakeholders including private companies, government agencies, and the university community”. He linked national-level S&T foresight studies with the “5/100” programme aimed at increasing universities’ international competitiveness. The leading universities’ ratings would in one way or another reflect the steps we take in accordance with the policies implemented in the country, believed Anatoliy Petrovskiy.

Comments by the international experts suggest that the setting up of the national S&T foresight system “attracts a lot of attention the world over”, as was noted by professor Ian Miles. Furthermore, “the rate of development of Russian foresight studies, and the amount of effort invested, are enviable”, admitted the professor. His colleague at the University of Manchester and at the Higher School of Economics, leading research fellow of the NRU HSE International Research Laboratory for Science and Technology Studies Ozcan Saritas was also impressed by the already achieved results. As a representative of the next generation of British foresight scientists, he spoke about the role of young researchers in creating the national S&T foresight system and increasing its creative energy.

Artyom Shadrin, director of Department Innovative Development of the RF Ministry of Economic Development, noted that technology development priorities must be taken into account when university curricula are put together, particularly for research universities. He also reminded about the opportunity to promote cooperation between the innovation systems’ actors (among other things to provide joint funding for experimental prototypes) in the framework of project consortia which can be established following technology platforms’ initiatives.

By Anastasia Chumak, HSE news service

Photographs by Nikita Benzoruk

Original news at the HSE portal