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Foresight Courses in Manchester: Evolution of HSE Expert Participation

The annual foresight courses which have been running at Manchester University since 1999 are considered some of the most prestigious and important for researchers of the future. In July 2015 two researchers at the Foresight Centre at ISSEK who have been students on the courses themselves have been invited this year to come and teach.

The annual foresight courses which have been running at Manchester University since 1999 are considered some of the most prestigious and important for researchers of the future. In July 2015 two researchers at the Foresight Centre at ISSEK who have been students on the courses themselves have been invited this year to come and teach.

Alexander Chulok, Deputy Director of the Foresight Centre at ISSEK; Senior Research Fellow at ISSEK Research Laboratory for Science and Technology Studies, says ‘Staff from ISSEK have been going to the courses in Manchester for more than a decade. One of the first was the director of our Foresight Centre, Alexander Sokolov. Since then more than 15 of our colleagues have been.

Two years ago my colleague Liubov Matich and I went there as auditors but when, in the course of the group work, the organisers found out about the foresight projects we were working on they asked us to tell the entire gathering about it. It was the first time on the courses when a ‘student’ suddenly took on the role of ‘lecturer’. This year, Konstantin Vishnevsky and I set off for Manchester no longer as students but as teachers. We’ve been put in charge of a special section on two subjects - using foresight in the interests of key stakeholders and on technological road maps.  

We presented an overview of theories and best practices. We asked the students, in a business game format to feel their way about how to create maps, which pitfalls to avoid and how to use the results to make decisions. After the practical exercise many of our colleagues reconsidered their own approaches to formulating foresight, and took a different view of decision making on the basis of their results. For example, when scanning a client’s demands (of a ministry for example), you need to understand what their task is, their mandate. It’s important to anticipate (good foresight must always anticipate) the problems your customers might encounter and suggest solutions, to be proactive.

Every year about 20 people come together on the Foresight courses in Manchester. Recently many of them have been experts from BRICS countries, South Korea, China, Taiwan and Bangladesh. This year the ‘students’ were mainly practitioners — from government ministries, companies, research institutes, in particular, KISTEP (Korea Institute of S&T Evaluation and Planning) and the National Centre of Government Science and Technology Expertise of Kazakhstan and from Barbados and Tanzania.

Our students were intrigued by the concepts of interactive technological road maps that we are working on at the Foresight Centre. They asked how we use them for analysing development and about the prospects for applying them in healthcare, nanotechnology, managing water resources, security, etc.

We had lively discussions about approaches to formulating national long-term prognoses, how to get a broad circle of specialists involved, bring in international experts, and construct a more effective science and technology policy on the basis of foresight. We agreed to continue the discussions at the annual HSE Autumn Conference on Foresight, which usually draws more than 100 leading researchers of the future. More and more countries are getting interested in the work we are doing. Just recently, we’ve had specialists from Brazil and Vietnam visiting our Foresight Centre.’   

Our students were intrigued by the concepts of interactive technological road maps that we are working on at the Foresight Centre. They asked how we use them for analysing development and about the prospects for applying them in healthcare, nanotechnology, managing water resources, security, etc.

Konstantin Vishnevskiy, Head of Department of the Private-Public Partnership in Innovation the Sector at ISSEK; Senior Research Fellow at ISSEK Research Laboratory for Science and Technology Studies, says ‘We showed them concrete examples of integrated road maps in nanotechnology, which qualitative and quantitative methods are important to use in developing them and then we played a business game. In the game the participants created their own road maps for sustainable development trying to mark out four layers — technology, products, markets and trends and establish connections between them. They began with the most important trends in the short, medium and long term. Then in relation to these horizons they found the most important markets. For each market they determined key innovational products. The next level was the technology connected to specific products.    

After the game we analysed the mistakes that had been made and recommended solutions to the participants. In particular, several groups had it that the technology would be ready in 2017 but the product would come onto the market in 2016. Obviously there are different points of view: one and the same piece of technology is predicted by some for 2017 and by others for 2019, and fiery discussions ensue. But in the end, when the map is ready, you need to go over it again and make sure that it follows the sequence of technology-product-market-trends in the right order because a product cannot come onto the market if the technology needed to make it isn’t already there.

Another mistake is when the different levels are marked out on the map but unfortunately they are not interconnected at all. Or the developers move away either from the technology or the market (technology push/market pull) and either way it gets lopsided: to see only what various organisations can produce, not thinking about who will buy it; or selecting some products, saying they will be in demand but giving no thought to the question of whether the technology is there to make them.

Our approach is combined: the integration of technology push and market pull. We analyse what will be in demand on the market in the short, medium and long-term, and we look at what production capacities and other resources are available to help the product find its buyer. I hope that students of our courses and business game go away with a clear idea how to map out the whole chain to the market.

This methodology for creating a road map has been registered by HSE as know-how. We often discuss it at international forums and it is recognised as a good innovator’s approach. For example, at the beginning of April I was in London with Ozcan Saritas at a session of the OECD working group on road maps. There we met Robert Phaal, the world’s leading methodologist on road maps. When he realised who we are he said that he describes our method in his lectures as one of the best in the world and uses some of our techniques himself. That was a clear sign for us that we are not working in vain, that our results are in demand beyond Russia, and of interest to the global research community.’ 

Our approach is combined: the integration of technology push and market pull. We analyse what will be in demand on the market in the short, medium and long-term, and we look at what production capacities and other resources are available to help the product find its buyer. 

Nadezhda Mikova, Research Fellow at the Department of Private-Public Partnership in the Innovation Sector ISSEK; Junior Research Fellow at ISSEK Research Laboratory for Science and Technology Studies, says ‘It was five days of courses with a very full programme. The first part of the day was theory, the second intensive practicals. We were divided into groups and worked on specific projects throughout the courses. Almost all of us chose to work on projects about sustainable development. Our team started from zero to develop a project on the influence of climate change on health. We identified out two key issues - providing the population with food and clean water. Focusing our attention on water resource management we examined the drivers of trends from the point of view of various stakeholders: society, governments, companies and non-commercial organisations. We spent the entire second day on methods of revealing trends, weak signals and jokers. The speaker Ozcan Saritas, Leading Research Fellow at the Research Laboratory of Science and Technology Studies at ISSEK and Senior Research Fellow at the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research (MIoIR), presented another HSE methodology which we are using at the moment on the monitoring global technology trends project. 

Besides the courses there was a great cultural programme. We were taken on a trip to the XVIII century Quarry Bank Mills textiles factory. As everyone knows the industrial revolution began in textile manufacturing of which Manchester was the centre. One of the first railways was built here. And now Manchester is one of the most lively university cities in Britain.’