Foresight & Scenarios Background 

Foresight is a way of looking into how the future might evolve in order to inform present day decision-making. Several definitions of foresight exist, for which Miles et al. (2008) summarized major, common features:

 

- Long-term orientation, aimed at informing ongoing decisions in the present […]   and grounded in the assumption that the future is in many ways open and can be shaped in positive ways by improved understanding of opportunities and threats, driving forces and underlying processes of change;

 

- Use of a range of formal tools and techniques for developing long-term analyses – including survey methods like Delphi, scenario workshops, and more explorative trend analysis, and often drawing on the results of modelling, SWOT studies, and many other methods […];

 

- Involvement of a wide pool of expertise, and often stakeholders more generally, to access relevant knowledge, to engage more participants in the policy process, and to establish networks for ongoing coordination of action and sharing of information;

 

- Crossing disciplinary boundaries and professional compartments, to be able to address emerging real- world problems that know nothing of these impediments. This often requires extensive “translation” and fusion of knowledge from different sources. (Miles et al. 2008: 14)

Scenario development is among the most widely used methods in foresight (Popper 2008). Scenarios are used as explorative as well as normative scenarios. Explorative scenarios, on the one hand, represent different possible futures that ideally give indications of the space of possible developments. Normative scenarios, on the other hand, show possible futures that realize specific norms, for instance the most sustainable versus the least sustainable scenario. 

 

The word scenario is often used in an abusive manner to qualify any particular set of hypotheses. (Durance and Godet 2010). But they are more than that. For instance, Herman Kahn, who is often cited as the one of the crucial figures in the development of scenario planning, defined scenario as ‘‘a set of hypothetical events set in the future constructed to clarify a possible chain of causal events as well as their decision points.’’ (Kahn and Wiener 1967 in Amer et al. 2013 and in Durance and Godet 2010). The IPCC states that “A scenario is a coherent, internally consistent and plausible description of a possible future state of the world. It is not a forecast; rather, each scenario is an alternative image of how the future can unfold.” (IPCC 2013)

In the BonaRes Centre we are doing foresight on agricultural soil management, including the development of management scenarios. We have three sets of reasons for doing so:

 

- Looking at how soil management may develop in the future gives us indications on what research questions are relevant to be addressed by soil research to assess risks and opportunities of emerging technologies and practices to inform decision-making.

 

- The foresight can inform other scenario activities in collaborative BonaRes projects so as to use a common framework of assumptions for socioeconomic and integrated scenarios that allows for comparability and connectivity of different assessments.

 

- The foresight scenarios are also being developed to inform external stakeholders about potential development paths and reasons for actions. The scenarios which will be created in collaboration with stakeholders are enriched by using their information on soil management as input for modelling activities in the BonaRes Centre. Together with the soil modelling and the sustainability assessment activities, we create comprehensive scenarios to support decision-making. 

Amer M., Daim T.U., Jetter A. (2013): A review of scenario planning. Futures 46:23-40. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2012.10.003

 

Durance P., Godet M. (2010) Scenario building: Uses and abuses. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 77 (9):1488-1492. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2010.06.007

 

IPCC (2013) http://www.ipcc-data.org/guidelines/pages/definitions.html. Last access 11 June 2018

 

Miles I., Harper J.C., Georghiou L., Keenan M., Popper R. (2008). The Many Faces of Foresight. In: Georghiou L., Harper J.C., Keenan M., Miles I., Popper R. (eds). The Handbook of Technology Foresight and Practice. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK


Popper R. (2008) How are foresight methods selected? Foresight 10 (6):62-89. doi: https://doi.org/10.1108/14636680810918586 (pdf)