Science, Technology and Innovation Foresight (STIF)

Science, technology and innovation foresight (STIF) programs are perhaps the oldest form of formal foresight activity for governments. Starting in the 1960s, such programs were developed to guide large scale allocation of research resources and funding toward those research and development areas, often in the interstices between scientific research and industry-based commercialization, that were considered to have the greatest potential or were a matter of national strategic interest. Examples of STIF programs include the US Critical Technologies Program, French Key Technologies Programme, Czech Foresight Exercise, UK Technology Foresight Programme, Technology Foresight Towards 2020 in China and Japan’s long-standing MITI Technology Forecasting. They have been fundamentally connected to supporting national innovation systems. They entail a process of high level policy and priority setting which are “designed to inform Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) decision-making around the world” (Miles, 2012). Or in Georghiou and Harper’s (2010) characterization:

“The predominant focus of foresight is frequently national research policy and strategy, usually with the broad aim of selecting priorities for research investments.” (Georghiou, 2011, p.243)

Because this type of futures research entails understanding the development of science and technology in specialist domains, STIF often uses expert based approaches to futures research such as Delphi forecasting. Yet, STIF focused foresight has in some cases broadened to encompass systemic social concerns (Urashima, 2012) connecting stakeholders in STIF processes for coordinated exploration and articulation of strategic foresight. Miles (2012) explains how STIF approaches have evolved recently to incorporate more systemically complex, wicked (problem) and participatory approaches to exploring technology forecasting. He characterized more recent approaches as “fully-fledged foresight” which

“combined prospective analysis (futures studies’ insistence on the importance of relating present choices to awareness of long term future prospects, and to the need to pay due regard to agency, uncertainty, and the associated scope for alternative futures), with a participatory orientation (paying due regard to the dispersion of knowledge and agency across multiple stakeholders, whose insights and engagement need to be mobilised), and a practical relevance being closely related to actual decision making and strategy formation actions…” (Miles, 2012, p.71)

Miles ranking of priorities and objectives for STIF programs around the world reveals that such approaches have evolved considerably since their beginnings: 37

  1. Orienting policy formulation and decisions
  2. Supporting STI strategy- and priority-setting
  3. Fostering STI cooperation and networking
  4. Generating visions and images of the future
  5. Triggering actions and promoting public debate
  6. Recognising key barriers and drivers of STI
  7. Identifying research/investment opportunities
  8. Encouraging strategic and futures thinking
  9. Helping to cope with Grand Challenges (Miles, 2012, p.72)