Institutionalising foresight studies in Russia
In the latest OECD Science, Technology and Industry Outlook, the Higher School of Economics’ annual international academic conference ‘Foresight and STI Policy’ was listed among the most prominent international events promoting foresight methodology and best practices. Technological foresight, as was repeatedly noted by the conference participants — Russian and international theorists and practitioners of foresight — is gradually institutionalising, developing specific rules and traditions.
HSE foresight experience
Demand for foresight studies by various participants of the national innovation system is growing all the time, noted in his opening speech Leonid Gokhberg, first vice-rector and director of the NRU HSE ISSEK; he presented the HSE’s key long-term foresight projects implemented this year.
In January the many years’ work on the Russian S&T Foresight 2030 was completed, the results officially approved by the RF prime minister. It was the first time ever a foresight study was endorsed in Russia at such a high level. The federal law on strategic planning approved in July names the “S&T Foresight” as one of the most important strategic documents. In turn, the law itself became a major milestone in institutionalising foresight studies in Russia, and integrating their results into the national policy-shaping system in the framework of the unified S&T Foresight system.
The work on updating S&T development priorities and the list of critical technologies for the Russian Federation, undertaken by the RF Ministry of Education and Science with methodological and organisational support by the HSE, is entering its final stage. According to Leonid Gokhberg, their approval by presidential decree next year will complete the current cycle of the S&T foresight. The next cycle will involve a wider range of research tools, and focus on various aspects which haven’t been studied before.
Presenting new topics, Leonid Gokhberg among other things mentioned a pilot NRU HSE project in the course of which, for the first time in Russia, the experts applied foresight methodology to social sciences and humanities. The HSE participates in a number of projects aimed at adjusting development strategies of leading universities (university foresight studies). New approaches to education policy and educational programmes are being developed, taking into account the results of the long-term foresight; the objective is to “grow” professional skills which will be in demand in future. The number of various-level foresight studies is increasing, while the range of their participants and “consumers” is extending. First vice-rector noted the increasingly applied, pragmatic approach adopted both by the expert community and by decision-makers.
Systemic S&T foresight
Now all the prerequisites for making government policy based on a solid scientific foundation are in place, noted Alexander Sokolov, director of the HSE ISSEK International Research and Educational Foresight Centre. On the one hand, it’s emergence of new global trends, markets, value chains, production platforms; on the other, shrinking of geographical space and wider horizons for making strategic decisions help stakeholders to get a deeper understanding of S&T development dynamics. Growing demand for new knowledge and skills creates new incentives to apply the results in everyday life. A user-driven innovation phenomenon has emerged: large population groups are changing their behaviour models much quicker than they used to. Social aspects of scientific development play an increasingly important role in S&T foresight projects.
To find adequate answers to new socio-economic, political, and technological challenges, it’s important to regularly update the system of national S&T priorities. In Russia, a project to update the list of S&T development priorities and critical technologies is implemented every four years, subsequently approved by presidential decree.
Alexander Sokolov commented on the current project. At its start, based on the president’s addresses to the Federal Assembly, the government’s and individual ministries’ action plans, and the system of strategic documents and programmes, the following was formulated: a) key socio-economic objectives (80 altogether); b) products and services particularly relevant for accomplishing these objectives (evaluated according to their potential contribution to GDP); c) S&T areas progress in which would promote production of relevant products and services.
National-level experts participated in this work — representatives of major education and research centres, innovative companies, and government agencies. A network of industry foresight centres is being created on the basis of leading Russian universities and research institutes; it already comprises over 300 organisations. Development of national, and potentially global network of experts is a fundamental element of the S&T foresight and monitoring system, noted Alexander Sokolov.
During expert discussions the project participants made suggestions on priority selection, which subsequently have been sent to relevant ministries and agencies for comment. New expert panels were held to discuss the ministerial feedback, plus a series of interviews with top-level experts — to further validate the study results.
The new list of S&T priorities is different from the previous one both in structure and composition. E.g. the Life Sciences priority area was divided into Medicine and Biotechnology. Transport Systems and Space Systems are now seen as two different areas. A totally new priority area appeared, “Next-Generation Materials and Production Technologies”. Priorities and critical technologies identified by the S&T foresight system have set milestones for developing the R&D sector during the next 10 year period.
Alexander Sokolov also mentioned tools for implementing the priorities. After national-level priorities are set, industry-specific technological roadmaps are developed, and then specific action plans based on them — including market application and resource estimates. Next projects with high innovative component are launched, some of them jointly with real sector companies; national projects and national S&T initiatives (e.g. photonics, neurotechnology); federal programmes are adjusted (such as Development of Science and Technology), and development institutes’ programmes. The key document of the S&T foresight system, the basis for identifying global challenges, breakthrough technologies, priority areas and new markets — the long-term Russian S&T foresight — is also regularly updated. In the next round it will cover the period until 2040.
National S&T foresight system is becoming more stable due to regular coordination of national, industrial, and corporate priorities. Alexander Chulok, deputy director of the Foresight Centre, commented on how foresight studies of various levels strengthen each other.
The main purpose of a foresight study is to help with decision-making. Accordingly, the key issue here is practical application of long-term foresight studies’ results — and not just in federal-level decision-making but all the way down to individual companies.
A discussion at the recent meeting of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs demonstrated how important the business community’s demand for foresight studies is. Foresight is becoming an indispensable tool for answering questions like where the company should invest, and how to make its strategy really efficient.
The expert described how national-level forecasts are reflected in industry-specific documents in terms of translation, accumulation, and implementation. Industry-specific foresight appears as a series of legal documents — subordinate legislation for the federal law “On strategic planning”, which sets the framework for adjusting various lower-level documents, such as methodological recommendations on preparing innovation-based development programmes for companies with public participation, strategic research programmes for technology platforms, etc. The foresight system should include monitoring of global technology trends, national and sectoral innovation-based development, roadmaps, analysis of technology forks, key performance indicators. Assessing efficiency of foresight studies themselves is also very important.
According to Alexander Chulok, Russia has already reached critical mass of long-term foresight projects — which allows to move on to systematising and analysing their results, and specifically to designing standards for the national S&T foresight system. Right now there’s a window of opportunity in Russia, providing a chance to set up the right system of coordinates and axiomatics for foresight studies.
By Ilya Kuzminov, Elena Gutaruk