Technology Foresight can be seen as “a systematic exercise aimed at looking into the longer-term future of science, technology, and innovation in order to make better-informed policy decisions” (Pietrobelli and Puppato). The speed of technological change and the emergence of disruptive technologies continuously transform regional industrial structures. As a result, Technology Foresight emerged to respond to this rising complexity to foresee, shape and direct potential future orientation of technological change. Technology Foresight involves a wide range of actors such as the public sector, experts, industry, and civil society to define and to prepare for a joint vision of the future.
Technology Foresight involves a wide range of activities such as panels, scenario workshops, brainstorming, consensus building, horizon scanning, trend analysis, anticipation, forecasting, systematic looking ahead, forward-looking activities, strategic intelligence, futures research, or technology road mapping (Pietrobelli and Puppato). The activities aim to predict the future, influence technology direction and hence to “make the future happen” through a participatory approach to ensure the inclusion of a wide range of actors to build legitimacy (Miles). This approach for collectively exploring, anticipating and shaping the future can be pursued at international, national, regional, local or sectoral level (Nesta).
Foresight can serve to provide guidance in shaping innovation policies and can be used as a tool to support measures such as prioritisation, networking and/or articulation of challenges (Nesta). Foresight exercises can reorient and update innovation policies while anticipating emerging technological changes and grand societal challenges. Technology Foresight exercises can, however, face failures. For instance, coordination and communication drawbacks arise when stakeholders have different knowledge and views on the importance of research and innovation on a given territory. Market and political failures can also happen due to short-sighted and short-term interests and gains compared to the long-term perspective needed in research and innovation policies (Pietrobelli and Puppato).
Many local and regional policy makers in Europe make use of technology foresight to develop innovation policies. Interreg Europe projects such as HIGHER, INNO INDUSTRY, S3CHEM and STEPHANIE allowed them to exchange on their approaches and to learn from the experiences of others. They have learned from successful initiatives with tangible and measurable results that have the potential to be transferred to regions, and in some cases their increased knowledge has brought to the introduction of policy changes in their own territory.
Technology Foresight can be used in the Entrepreneurial Discovery Process (EDP) to select the right granularity of the regional Smart Specialisation Strategies (RIS3). In S3CHEM, the Roadmap for the Regional Agenda of Sustainable Materials for Asturias aims to prioritise activities in the sector of sustainable materials. The Economic Development Agency of Asturias (IDEPA) and the Association of Chemical and Process Industries of Asturias (AIQPA) launched a roadmap to draft the Regional Agenda for Research and Innovation in Sustainable Materials that included working groups involving the most relevant regional stakeholders to identify the main markets and value chains in sustainable materials.
Technology Foresight can rally a wide range of actors to work together on S3 priorities. In HIGHER, the Strategic Research and Innovation Partnerships (SRIPs) are long-term partnerships focusing on nine areas related to Industry 4.0, the digital economy, and the circular economy, that involve quadruple-helix actors—private companies, public institutions, universities, and civil society. The nine areas were selected according to the Slovenia Smart Specialisation Strategy (S4). The SRIPs work on each thematic area to coordinate R&D activities, network internationally, share capacities and knowledge, and develop human resources. Each SRIP, which is piloted by different institutions, must devise its strategic roadmaps to achieve a higher competitive position not only through technological foresight but also through identifying regulatory framework changes.
Technology Foresight can offer a systematic methodological approach for the strategic design of S3. In STEPHANIE, Strategic planning through stakeholders’ involvement describes the methodology adopted for the strategic design of Tuscany’s Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3). The design methodology has involved regional stakeholders through a 5-step model for strategic planning that included (1) a foresight exercise by innovation poles on regional, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) to develop scientific and technological roadmaps, (2) external experts assessments of the roadmaps, (3) thematic workshops to validate roadmaps, (4) drafting the S3 with institutional contexts, priorities, and action plans, and (5) validation of the S3 by international peer regions. The S3 strategic design included many meetings, workshops, and sessions forming the core of the Entrepreneurial Discovery Process (EDP). The good practice highlights the importance to engage external experts to validate and legitimate strategic choices in the roadmaps and foresight exercises and limit vested private interests.
Technology Foresight can be used to identify future skills for innovation. In INNO INDUSTRY, the National project Sector Driven Innovations (NP SRI) is an initiative to monitor labour market needs, labour shortages, to identify how technologies will affect the labour market, to perform foresight exercises on future of jobs up to 2030 and the impacts on job functions, employment levels and skills. The initiative is piloted by the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of Slovak Republic and is managed by the private agency Trexima Bratislava Ltd. The initiative also strengthens 24 Sector Skills Councils (SSC) to enable them to identify and anticipate relevant skills and human resource strategies in specific sectors. The good practice offers many insights for policymakers who aim to design an integrated strategy to perform foresight exercises on the future of jobs in specific sectors. Additionally, it also informs on a potential way forward to make evidence-based decisions on concrete strategic measures and actions to upskill or reskill workers such as with higher education institutions and vocational schools.
Technology Foresight can strengthen clusters. In REGIONS4FOOD, ART-ER introduced a policy change to strengthen the Clust-ER Agri-food. ART-ER, the regional development agency in Emilia Romagna (IT) coordinates the Clust-ERs, communities of public and private entities for interdisciplinary knowledge and strategic opportunities. Learning from Interreg Europe partners from REGIONS4FOOD—namely good practices such as the Masters in Digital Agriculture and Agri-Food Innovation from Andalusia, Spain, and the Agro Living Lab in South Ostrobothnia, Finland—ART-ER identified the need to foster collaboration between the Clust-ER Agrifood and other relevant stakeholders, such as the Clust-ER Innovate, to promote quadruple helix cooperation from the farm to the fork, and to identify multidisciplinary skills and profiles. ART-ER and the regional government introduced a call for Clust-ERs in July 2020 to promote inter-Cluster-ER collaboration, skill foresight analysis and multidisciplinary skills through training for quadruple-helix actors.