Foresight for responsible transform-ability

by | 4 Nov 2021 | Foresight, Responsible research and innovation | 0 comments

Author: Effie Amanatidou

Having gone through five generations (Georghiou, et al, 2008), foresight has proved its value in designing for the future and contributing to evidence-based policy-making. The value of foresight is highlighted in contexts of high uncertainly, while the exploration of wild cards has increasingly been included in the foresight approaches.

Going through the COVID-19 crisis, uncertainty takes on a whole new meaning. Never before in our lifetime, have we seen the whole world at a halt to prevent the spread of a virus. Never before were we unable to plan ahead for a month or even a week. Never before have we felt the value of relationships and contacts with our friends and loved ones.

Several studies have been done on the consequences of the pandemic on the economy. Numerous views have spread on the lessons that should be learnt from the pandemic for the future. [1]

In times of crises, it is not unusual to be confronted with the question ‘why did we not see it coming?’ only to be followed by answers like ‘we did but no-one paid attention’. The recent financial crises, the environmental crisis that has now become chronic and the societal unrest we are experiencing do present valuable lessons for those who want to pay attention.

Responsible research and innovation has been around as a concept for many years. (Von Schomberg, R, 2012) Besides its value for mitigating risks and benefits, is it enough? How responsible is it to buy a new phone and then replace it in less than two years? How responsible is it to apply and endure the so-called ‘planned obsolescence’? How responsible is it to exploit third countries by exporting our plastics and electronics in their landfills without any assurance that these are not dangerous for the people that live there and their surroundings? How responsible is it to support systems that exploit human lives and destroy the environment in extracting rare minerals for our precious transformative innovation policies? How responsible is it to keep focusing on innovation-based growth?

de Saille et al. (2020) discuss the concept of responsible innovation in the context of secular stagnation which seems to be the context of innovation for the foreseeable future. In such a context ‘responsible innovation offers a pathway towards embracing our responsibilities to the future, the earth and each other’. Moving from the transactional to the relational, Albertson, et al. (2021) suggest the concept of relational innovation reflecting research in ecological economics and community economies, for example, that show that there are diverse socio-economic relationships beyond the transactional that enable people to secure their livelihoods and to engage in innovation in a way that does not rely on conventional markets. The meaning of innovation needs to change. Responsible innovation must be judged by its impact on both material returns and the agency of the most vulnerable – including the agency of future generations.


“A commitment to the relational, rather than the transactional, makes space for renegotiating and humanising our ways of understanding growth, progress, development and knowledge, innovating in support of (rather than in spite of) environmental dependence and planetary limits. It emphasises the development of agency of all participants and the respect of local culture, rather than the imposition of a globally homogenising transactional worldview.” (Albertson, et al. 2021)

Foresight cannot remain untouched. Albeit the technology assessment tradition, how many foresight exercises have focused on the negative consequences of innovation on the environment, and society and thus the economy? How many reports consider, let alone pose concerns, about how used artifacts should be recycled, reused, or disposed alongside the key emerging technologies? How many foresight exercises pose challenging questions revealing the other side of the coin? Does it make sense to invest in saving the environment, if we keep consuming as much? Does it make sense to promote yet another wave of technological innovation for solving the environment without prioritising what can already be done by changing practices? The belief that technology can provide solutions for everything is not only misleading but dangerous. Responsibility cannot be limited to research and innovation but where does responsibility for foresight begin and stop?

Daimer et. al (2021) examine how societal aspects are taken into account in research and innovation activities in four different scenarios about society, research and innovation in the EU up to 2038, giving emphasis on the political conditions of the interactions among actors. The scenarios are valuable pictures of possible futures and while a specific scenario is characterised by citizens participating directly in decision-making, others feature failed democratic values or technocratically coordinated strong states. The paper highlights the point that ‘meaningful interactions between lay people and professional actors in an innovation system can be safeguarded even in the harshest ideological and political framework’. Then the question rises why such interactions are not taken for granted in any scenario instead of being variables with different values across the different scenarios? Why is an alternative a-growth conception of innovation based on co-creation and collective intelligence not accompanying any search for solutions to address societal challenges? Why is participatory foresight considering and empowering society as agents of change not the norm?

Georghiou and Harper (2013) argue that for foresight to play a role in enabling a better understanding of complex situations and in defining effective policy responses appropriate foresight practices are needed, instead of seeking to manage away uncertainty. These need to align different approaches and consider users’ perspectives, divergence and social shaping. The transition phase with the high uncertainty and risks that we are currently experiencing provides not only threats but also opportunities. In his book (2020), Ravetz argues this crisis/opportunity calls for a collective creative intelligence to realise the future now emerging and that the main question is how the world can best respond to fundamental choices, between a ‘bounce back’ to inequality and alienation or some kind of ‘bounce-forward’.

Foresight practices should incorporate the perspective of relational innovation alongside conventional innovation and ask questions about who benefits, who is impacted, who is engaged and how. Underlined by values of care, stewardship, social welfare and sustainability, foresight should take up a normative role in building visions of progress that promote multiple forms of human and social affluence considering all sides of the coin, addressing the needs and enhancing the agency of the most vulnerable. Foresight should not only be oriented to producing intelligence and help policy making. It should also be underpinned by certain values to direct our actions responsibly for society and the environment. It should make policy-makers pay attention! It should help them see and co-create alternative solutions with the non-usual suspects! Foresight should be used to get us out of our comfort zone because this is not a responsible place to be anymore!


Albertson, K., Stevienna de Saille, Poonam Pandey, Effie Amanatidou, Keren Naa Abeka Arthur, Michiel Van Oudheusden & Fabien Medvecky (2021): An RRI for the present moment: relational and ‘well-up’ innovation, Journal of Responsible Innovation, DOI: 10.1080/23299460.2021.1961066

L. Georghiou, J.C. Harper, Rising to the challenges-Reflections on Future-oriented Technology Analysis, Technol. Forecast. Soc. Chang. 80 (3) (2013) 467-470

de Saille, S., F. Medvecky, M. Van Oudheusden, K. Albertson, E. Amanatidou, T. Birabi, and M. Pansera. 2020. Responsibility Beyond Growth: A Case for Responsible Stagnation. Bristol: Bristol University Press

Georghiou, L. Cassingena Harper J. Keenan M. Miles I. Popper R. 2008 The Handbook of Technology Foresight Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham UK.

Ravetz, J. (2020), Deeper City: collective intelligence and the synergistic pathways from smart to wise. NY, Routledge.

Stephanie Daimer, Attila Havas, Kerstin Cuhls, Merve Yorulmaz & Petar Vrgovic (2021): Multiple futures for society, research, and innovation in the European Union: jumping to 2038, Journal of Responsible Innovation, DOI: 10.1080/23299460.2021.1978692

Von Schomberg, R. (2012) ‘Prospects for Technology Assessment in a framework of responsible research and innovation’ in: Technikfolgen abschätzen lehren: Bildungspotenziale transdisziplinärer Methode, P.39-61, Wiesbaden: Springer VS



Effie Amantidou

Dr Effie Amanatidou, Honorary Research Fellow, Alliance Manchester Business School, The University of Manchester, UK