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Foresight Analysis

What is International Science?

It is recognized that “International Science” has been used to describe a broad range of approaches to science—from bilateral to truly global approaches.  Fundamentally, such science requires (large scale) international collaboration of scientists in research and in research infrastructures.  The evolving nature of international science is one of the key areas to be explored in this foresight. The term “science” is understood to include all domains of science (i.e., natural, social, human, medical, and engineering sciences).

What is a key driver?

(Synonymous with "change driver" or "driving force") In a world of cause and effect, it is a cause. Drivers can be trends such as population change. They may also be thresholds that, once passed, release a latent trend—such as elements of climate change or environmental degradation [Adapted from Smith and Mason, 2009].  See the list of examples of possible key drivers in the context of this foresight analysis provided in the two-page summary of this process.

What are scenarios?

A scenario is a tool for ordering perceptions about alternative future environments in which one’s decisions might be played out (P. Schwartz, 1996, in The Art of the Long View; Currency Doubleday); it is a plausible image of the future, typically accompanied by a ‘future history’ that traces a pathway from the present to the future (often referred to as ‘explorative’ or ‘extrapolative’ scenarios) or vice versa (i.e. from the future to the present—often referred to as ‘normative’ scenarios). In any given exercise, several contrasting scenarios are normally developed that map out a ‘possibility space’. The number of scenarios developed varies from exercise to exercise, but three to five is typical. Given such a limited number of scenarios coupled with the objective of mapping out a possibility space, scenarios tend to differ markedly from each other, sometimes offering quite extreme (though still plausible) views of the future. Good scenarios often mix quantitative and qualitative elements.

Why not do the same kind of foresight as for the first strategic plan?

The first foresight exercise in 2002–04 scanned national science and technology foresight analyses and produced a list of priority research areas in which ICSU should engage. This list remains relevant, and from it only a subset of the priorities were possible to take up during implementation of the first plan. In addition, such data are now readily available through sources such as the European Foresight Monitoring Network database. The scenario approach complements this information, and steps back to test the fundamental role of ICSU and whether it needs adjustment over the course of the next two or so strategic plans.

What is the difference between the Earth system visioning process and foresight?

Both contribute to development of the next ICSU strategic plan and they are entirely complementary.  The major distinguishing elements are that foresight takes a longer view (20 years or more, versus the next decade), its outlook is across the full breadth of science rather than on global environmental change in particular, and its purpose is to test and inform decisions on the fundamental role of ICSU rather than guiding ICSU’s engagement in a specific area of science.

When will the foresight be completed?

The final product will be available around February 2012. But the aim is to repeat this process for the next ICSU planning cycles, thus building a series of flagship ICSU reports that explore the evolution of international science. The scenarios are thus living entities, subject to revision and replacement as the future unfolds and new drivers emerge. Because the process for this kind of foresight is as important as the product, especially for a member organization such as ICSU, there is a rich set of consultative steps—culminating in a consultation with ICSU Members at the General Assembly, in October 2011, on the implications for ICSU’s future that emerge from the analysis of plausible options for the future of international science.

How can I contribute?

The nature of your potential contribution depends on the current stage of the process. In general, individual inputs have been sought primarily during Step 1 with an open web consultation (until March 2010). After that, the shift was made toward seeking organizational perspectives (e.g., the more formal perspectives of ICSU Member organizations, partner organizations, and of other stakeholder organizations) .

by Jacinta Legg

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