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Posts Tagged ‘foresight’

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what about a GIF alert with 12 frames on the evolution of COVID-19?

March 26, 2020 Leave a comment

This blog post on the COVID-19 crisis aims to provide timely evidence-based alerts and sound advice to multiple stakeholders. 

In the last few days, many of us have been locked in our own disbelief for the lack of adequate and timely actions from key actors such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), and many other (inter)governmental organisations. I have been reading BBC News and other mainstream media everyday since the first case was reported. However, it was really surprising to see Italy asking and receiving help from Russia, China and Cuba, while at the same time European media outlets (except Italian) decided to suppress what can only be seen as humanitarian and lifesaving actions, regardless of who is actually behind them.

My frustration for the lack of trustworthy information drove me to make my own analysis of the situation based on freely and publicly available data about the most difficult to manipulate and closest to the reality figures, i.e. number of deaths and the weekly death rate. Thus I am grateful for the almost real time work carried out by people at WHO producing the Situation Reports (as provided by national authorities), as well as the OECD Artificial Intelligence Policy Observatory and an interactive web-based dashboard hosted by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. Of course, it is important to have a panoramic overview of the number of confirmed cases, but the truth is that these figures are definitely not reflecting the reality on the ground for several reasons, including lack of tests, different diagnostic and case confirmation definitions, and the quarantine itself, to name a few. Having said so, knowing the weekly death rate and the number of officially confirmed cases is enough to recognise the situation is not under control (except for China and South Korea, with 0,02 and 0,62 most recent weekly death rate respectively).

The animated GIF image below includes 12 frames showing in 3 minutes the timeline of the the COVID-19 evolution, with highlights from decisions and actions that were often not (or wrongly) taken. The last frame offers some recommendations for civil society, government, business, and research and education actors.

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With all of the above in mind, and following recent reflections I shared in LinkedIn and Twitter, I strongly believed that now more than ever policy analysts, scientists and foresight practitioners should raise their voice and reach out to their networks so as to mobilise a critical mass capable of alerting policymakers about the urgent need to upgrade (sometimes ‘old but still gold’) future-driven recommendations into practical and transformational policy actions and priorities.

In the foresight and innovation research community, some of us are trying to raise awareness with the help of specialised and responsible media in Finland, such as Tekniikka&Talous, and we hope that this kind of blog posts in professional social networking platforms will help us reach out to beyond-the-obvious audiences in business, policy, and other circles. Collective and timely actions can play a key role in taming wild cards such as the unexpected and impactful consequences of the current Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.

If you would like to look at the frames in detail and have more time to see the evolution of the pandemic and early (lack of) response, please feel free to use and/or circulate the images below.

 

What if the European Union would have acted upon the results of its own research on wild cards, which foresaw a Coronavirus-like scenario 10 years ago?

March 20, 2020 Leave a comment

Over a decade ago the European Union invested around 1 million Euro to fund the iKnow project as one of the so-called Blue Sky forward-looking activities. The project aimed at interconnecting Knowledge on issues and developments potentially shaking or shaping the future of science, technology and innovation (STI) in Europe and the world.

In the early 2000s there was a general consensus that the identification and analysis of Wild Cards and Weak Signals (WI-WE) and their effects on European and global science, technology and innovation (STI) policy often remained out of the policy radar and therefore deserved more attention in foresight and forward-looking activities.

Wild Cards are the kind of issues that can potentially shake our present and future, like the way the current Coronavirus is unfolding. While Weak Signals are ambiguous events, often referred to as seeds of change, providing advance intelligence or hints about potentially important futures, including Wild Cards, challenges and opportunities. Weak Signals lie in the eye of the beholder and are generally influenced by the mental frameworks and subjective interpretations of individuals with limited information about emerging trends, developments or issues in a particular time and context. Their weakness is directly proportional to levels of uncertainty about their interpretations, importance and implications in the short-medium-to-long-term. Thus, Weak Signals are unclear observables warning us about the possibility of future game changing events.

The iKnow project had two interconnected objectives: 1) To develop and pilot conceptual and methodological frameworks to identify and analyse Wild Cards and Weak Signals (WI-WE); and 2) To assess the implications and impact of selected WI-WE on, science, technology and innovation (STI) and key dimensions of the European Research Area (ERA). There are plenty of outcomes resulting from the project, including reports, a pioneering early warning system for the co-creation of strategic intelligence, the first open bank of wild cards and weak signals and more, all publicly available at http://news.iknowfutures.eu/. However, the rest of this blog will address the following question:

What if the European Union would have acted upon the results of its own EU-funded research on wild cards, which foresaw the Coronavirus 10 years ago? 

Back in May 2010, together with some colleagues and health experts from Germany, we organised a workshop  in which we discussed what we then called a Killer Virus, described as a highly infectious and lethal virus (that) appears and spreads out around the world fast due to the high mobility of the world population. The number of casualties is high and rises constantly, leading to massive social problems. The impacts are vast on all areas of life.

The Killer Virus was only one of some 44 wild cards we decided to feature in the iKnow Policy Alerts (2011) report. Interestingly it was the first wild card discussed and fully analysed with surprising wild features, key actors (i.e. early warners, shapers and stakeholders), potential impacts and, most importantly, potential actions for policy, business and research actors. We also provided some weak signals indicating that prospective mutations of such viruses could lead to large numbers of casualties.

An innovative contribution of the iKnow project was the effort devoted to “tame” the wild cards and with the help of weak signals and a systematic methodology to explore implications for science, technology and innovation (STI) policy.

With this in mind, for each of the featured wild cards we emphasised the ‘recommended research‘ that needed to be funded by the European Union. This advise was provided in the form of an imaginary “Call for proposals” following the same style used by the European Commission in its Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. In other words, we clearly specified the 1) Thematic Area (Health); 2) Research Topic (Prevention of pandemics: Awareness reading and surveillance systems); 3) Objective (To increase the probability of virus detection at the earliest possible stage. It is also to prevent behavioural patterns from accelerating the rapid spread of a virus); Expected Impact (To reduce the risk of delays in detecting lethal viruses; To facilitate behavioural interventions to control the effects of a virus; and To help to control and contain the infection within a region or population and before it reaches pandemic scale); and Importance for Europe (Europe is one of the world’s largest traffic junctions and is therefore especially vulnerable to the appearance of a lethal virus. Europeans are highly mobile both for business reasons and tourism. New viruses often originate in tropical regions, which Europeans are increasingly likely to visit).

Unfortunately, we can fast-forward 10 years from the completion of the iKnow project and find ourselves in the current Coronavirus pandemic with no effective awareness raising or surveillance systems in place. This is definitely not the first example of highly relevant research and policy advice that policymakers did not act upon. However, the evident inadvertence or lack of foresight from European and other stakeholders capable of doing the ‘right thing’ at the ‘right time’ shows that it is not sufficient that EC Project Officers congratulate Project Coordinators for the successful completion of their projects! There are cases where follow-up actions are crucial, especially when recommendations can help to build resilience and readiness towards grand societal challenges.

Hopefully this blog will help to create the ‘right momentum’ to mobilise a critical mass capable to reach out to policymakers with the power to introduce a much-needed set of “foresight-driven” mechanisms or instruments that will allow us to act upon very explicit and timely reported ‘Policy Alerts’ that can literally shake our societies in Europe and the rest of the world. While projects like iKnow would certainly deserve some kind of ‘aftercare’ funding to continue generating strategic policy advice, our efforts would only translate into further frustrations if politicians driving us to the future continue to be asleep at the wheel.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this personal blog do not represent the views of my past or current employers. These are my own reflections as a foresight practitioner and a true believer that change can also happen if individual or collective authoritative voices reach out to the right people through impactful channels. Social media can become a powerful instrument to “undust” the results of such a large-scale foresight study combining evidence, expertise, interaction and creativity to support decision makers in policy, business and research circles. Despite these views, I am a strong believer in the wide-ranging benefits of European Commission Framework Programmes for Research and Innovation, thus I remain an active player in many projects, some of which are still ongoing.

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UAE Space Delphi

October 17, 2019 Leave a comment

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The United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA), in collaboration with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, is conducting the UAE Space Foresight exercise supported by two expert workshops (at the 70th International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2019) in Washington DC on October 23rd and at UAESA Headquaters in Abu Dhabi on November 14th), as well as a Delphi survey. The work will be an input for a bigger foresight exercise led by UAESA.

The overall goal of the project is to assess a list of critical technology areas, critical issues, critical actions and sustainable development goals (SDGs) that may be shaping (inter)national policy agendas and roadmaps for future deep space missions, such as the UAE’s plan to establish human settlements on Mars by 2117.

The Delphi survey was closed at the end of 2019 and a White Paper is currently under preparation.

If you have any questions about the project, please contact the UAE Space Foresight project coordinators directly:

Dr. Rafael Popper – Rafael.Popper@vtt.fi
Dr. Khaled Al Hashmi – K.AlHashmi@space.gov.ae

Highlights from Skills for the Future: Managing Transition (Turin, Italy)

November 22, 2018 Leave a comment

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More than 350 people from 50 countries in Europe and beyond – entrepreneurs, training providers, policy makers, innovators – gathered in Turin, Italy to discuss the skills needed to prepare people for the job market in a rapidly changing world, with a new perspective: the one of transition and developing countries.

Read ETF Press Release

In the context of the 2018 UnConference (Nov 20) and Conference (Nov 21-22) on ‘Skills for the Future: Managing transition’ organised by the European Training Foundation (ETF), the EU Agency in charge of developing training and education in the EU neighbouring countries, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd and Sapar Oy prepared a Working Paper on The Future of Work and Skills that helped to frame some of the messages in the speeches of ETF Director (Cesare Onestini) as well as ETF Head of Operations (Anastasia Fetsi).

The objective of the VTT-Sapar-ETF Working Paper was to analyse the impact of global developments on skills demand in the ETF Partner Countries (PCs) and discuss implications for policy reforms to manage transition of education, vocational education training and life-long learning system of the future. The Paper was related to the provision of international and national expertise to support the ETF by:

  • collecting and analysing information, data and new ideas on the skills demands of the future in ETF Partner Countries, and
  • exploring responses for better managing transformation towards an inclusive future for the benefit of people and societies.

The Working Paper covered the following issues:

  • Key global drivers of change on economies, work, labour markets and skills
  • Impacts of global trends on work and skills in ETF Partner Countries
    • Impacts of global trends on ETF Partner Countries
    • Insights for future development of skills and education systems
  • Type and degree of changes identified in the regions of ETF Partner Countries
  • Strategies and policies to manage work and skills transformation in the ETF PCs

During the ETF events participants focused their discussions around four main topics:

  • Mastering global trends
  • Tackling country-specific challenges
  • Addressing the future of skills, education and training
  • Supporting the transition toward the future

To do so, at the UnConference ad hoc groups were asked to co-create an agenda around 12 topics that were presented by topic leaders and subsequently visualised by a professional artist. Group 11 discussedGlobal Trends‘ and explored possible ways forward to prepare a public report on the topic, as well as potential opportunities to promote a pilot project to better assess and manage identified global trends (see below).

Global trends impacting the future of work and skills

As a result of the Group 11 discussions, VTT and ETF representatives highlighted the importance of working towards a joint publication that will help to promote a more structured policy debate on future prospects of the impacts of the following global trends in ETF Regions (Western Balkans, Eastern Partnership, Mediterranean and Central Asia):

  • Globalisation
  • Demographics changes and ageing
  • Migration, mobility and brain-drain
  • Digitalisation, artificial intelligence and automation
  • Climate change and diminishing natural resources
  • FDIs and offshoring threatened by automation
  • Youth and women unemployment
  • Growing inequality and political instability

Overall, the ETF events addressed challenging questions such as: How do global forces interact with local realities and how does this affect the demand for skills? How should governments, businesses, social partners, civil society, research institutions, communities and education and training providers work together to manage change? What skills policies work in different contexts?

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All in all, the ETF UnConference and Conference were inspiring events demonstrating that the moment is ripe to co-create a shared #vision capable of translating #future #opportunities into an action roadmap assessing and managing the skills for the future, and consequently managing transition towards a more resilient, innovation-friendly and future-proof ‘education ecosystem’ across EU Member States and ETF PCs.

UCC-VTT News Bulletin 1: Inspiring futures beyond the obvious – Towards a circular economy and bioeconomy

November 22, 2018 Leave a comment

 

This News Bulletin reports on ongoing research and innovation (R&I) cooperation initiatives between the Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia (UCC) and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, with the support of the Embassy of Colombia in Helsinki.

Inspiring futures beyond the obvious on:

  • The need for science and innovation diplomacy
  • Scientific cooperation ideas between Colombia and Finland
  • Multi-stakeholder and high-level meetings with VTT and UCC
  • Opportunities in the areas of circular economy and bioeconomy
  • The way forward and future actions by UCC and VTT

ECLAC’s International Seminar on Planning for Development with a Vision of the Future (Santiago de Chile)

October 23, 2018 Leave a comment

eclac_70_banner_675x380_ingThis year the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) celebrates its 70th anniversary contributing to the forging of sustainable development with equality for all the peoples of the Latin American and Caribbean region.

As highlighted in an ECLAC’s press release:

ECLAC was founded on February 25, 1948 via resolution number 106 (VI) of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. It is one of five United Nations regional commissions and is the only intergovernmental body of the United Nations Secretariat in Latin America and the Caribbean. It acts as a bridge between global and national levels with regard to development. Since its inception, the Commission has worked to contribute to Latin America and the Caribbean’s economic development, coordinate actions aimed at its promotion, strengthen economic relations among countries and between them and other nations of the world, and promote social development.

In the context of the 70th Anniversary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC, aka CEPAL in Spanish), the Economic and Social Planning Institute of Latin America and the Caribbean (ILPES) organized an International Seminar on “Planning for Development with a Vision of the Future”. The seminar was held in Santiago de Chile during 22-23 October 2018 and hosted over 180 delegates from 15 countries.

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Luis Mauricio Cuervo (ILPES/ECLAC), Elena Diez (Alerta Democrática),
Cielo Morales (ILPES/ECLAC), Rafael Popper (VTT), 
Freya Windle-Wehrle (ESPAS, European Parliament) and Javier Medina (Universidad del Valle)

This year ECLAC invited researchers, scholars, experts, civil servants and public administration authorities to present and discuss research studies, cases and experiences related to the following thematic areas:

  • Foresight for development.
  • Territorial development.
  • Planning: Management of planning systems for development, experiences of synergies between planning and budgeting, participatory planning and/or with a focus on gender issues.
  • Building public leadership competences for development.

 

The plenary sessions of the seminar were structured around four panels where ECLAC and international experts were invited to make keynote presentations on the following topics:

  • Panel 1: Global drivers of change.
  • Panel 2: New technological revolution and its challenges.
  • Panel 3: Democratic governance and future challenges.
  • Panel 4: Agenda 2030 and foresight.

Panel 1 on Global drivers of change focused on the main long-term global change and transformation trends in demography, society and the environment. The panel was moderated by Luis Riffo (Senior Researcher at ILPES/ECLAC) and included three keynotes:

  • Keynote 1: Dynamics and challenges of demographic change in the LAC region by Marta Duda-Nyczak (Associate Officer of the Population Affairs at CELADE/ECLAC).
  • Keynote 2: Dynamics and challenges of climate change in the LAC region by Joseluis Samaniego (DDSAH Director at ECLAC)
  • Keynote 3: Dynamics and challenges of social protection in the LAC region by Lais Abramo (DDS Director at ECLAC)

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Panel 2 on New technological revolution and its challenges focused on the main impacts on the production and labour markets as a result of technological change and the digital economy. The panel was moderated by Luis Mauricio Cuervo (Economic Affairs Officer at ILPES/ECLAC) and included three keynotes:

  • Keynote 1: The digital era: opportunities and challenges in the production, labour and social spheres by Jürgen Weller, Rodrigo Martinez and Mario Castillo (DDE-DDS-DDP Working Group from ECLAC).
  • Keynote 2: Technological change and its potential impacts on employment in Latin America – Possible actions by Sergio Bitar (Chilean Foresight Council)
  • Keynote 3: Global technological changes – Challenges of the future by Rafael Popper (Principal Scientist in Business, Innovation and Foresight at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland)

 

Panel 3 on Democratic governance and future challenges focused on the current state of democracy in the world and the LAC region with particular emphasis on future challenges for governments and the political system. The panel was moderated by Alicia Williner (Senior Researcher at ILPES/ECLAC) and included three keynotes:

  • Keynote 1: Shaping the Future – Strategic Foresight in the European Parliament by Freya Windle-Wehrle (Member of ESPAS, European Parliament).
  • Keynote 2: The future of democracy in Latin America by Elena Diez (Alerta Democrática)
  • Keynote 3: Governing the future – The pillars of a new State for citizens by Alejandra Naser (Open government and public management division of ILPES/ECLAC)

 

Finally, panel 4 on Agenda 2030 and foresight: theory and experiences focused on the linkages between the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the Agenda 2030 and foresight. The panel was moderated by Cielo Morales (Director of ILPES/ECLAC) and included three keynotes:

  • Keynote 1: International experiences in the use of foresight to implement the 2030 Agenda and SDGs by Catarina Tully (SOIF).
  • Keynote 2: Future scenarios for the region and challenges of the SDGs by Carlos Sandoval and Luis Mauricio Cuervo (ILPES/ECLAC)
  • Keynote 3: Challenges of foresight as a discipline and a tool to address current and future challenges of the LAC region by Javier Medina (Universidad del Valle)

 

Bioeconomy-led development: Opportunities through Nordic-Southern Cone countries cooperation

October 19, 2018 Leave a comment

As part of the Finnish University Partnership for International Development (UniPID) network activities, an International Seminar on Bioeconomy-led development: Opportunities through Nordic-Southern Cone countries cooperation was held on 18-19 October 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Seminar background

Since 2013 the UniPID network has coordinated the FinCEAL initiative aimed to support research and innovation cooperation between Finland, other European countries and the LAC region; and build on EU-CELAC STI policy priorities.

Seminar objectives

In order to support partnership building and increase the number of joint projects in specific themes of mutual interest, including bioeconomy, the seminar aimed at:

  • Increase dialogue and synergies between existing bilateral initiatives between the Southern Cone and Nordic countries
  • Incentivise new multilateral R&I cooperation projects in different bioeconomy subtopics
  • Promote collaboration between CIECTI, FinCEAL, Finnish Natural Resources Institute (LUKE), VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Lund University and other supporting organizations

The seminar included four plenary sessions on the following topics:

  • The meaning of bioeconomy for development;
  • Three central thematic areas;
    • Forest bioeconomy
    • Agro-based new technologies and innovative uses of agro biomass material
    • Blue bioeconomy 
  • Funding opportunities for R&I cooperation in bioeconomy; and
  • Prospective analysis on bioeconomy in the Southern Cone and the social impact of bioeconomy (on employment, skills, labor migration, etc.) as topics to expand the cooperation agenda.

7EBDC92B-A3EC-4D20-9BC0-84C85025AD8AIn addition to the plenaries, two parallel sessions were organized for each central thematic area. The sessions were not open to the public, but were convened by invitation. The thematic sessions were aimed to be constitute platforms for experts from the Nordic and Southern Cone countries to:

  • deepen the exchange started in the plenaries,
  • identify specific topics for concrete joint project ideas, and
  • connect relevant actors with the necessary expertise and interest to get involved in the projects that might emerge.

Key cooperation areas on ‘Forest bioeconomy’

  • Bioproducts and bio-refineries as options for the integral exploitation of the biomass coming from forest plantations
  • Non-wood forest products (NWFP) from the native forest
  • Forest bioenergy

Key cooperation areas on ‘Agro-based new technologies’

  • Sustainable agricultural intensification
  • Small-scale agro biorefineries

Key cooperation area on ‘Using sea biodiversity and sustainable use of water’

  • New technologies for the sustainable use of water and the production of new bioproducts

Next steps for all participating organisations

  • More precise definition of the topics for future projects as well as the experts and institutions that would be involved in each one of them