The original Technology Foresight programme arose out of the White Paper on science and technology, Realising Our Potential – A Strategy for Science, Engineering and Technology, published in May 1993. The White Paper heralded significant changes in the Government’s approach to science and technology, including the creation of what has become the Government Office for Science, now within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
The White Paper emphasised the importance of science, engineering and technology to wealth creation and the quality of life in the UK. This continues to be a major theme in Government policy.
Underlying this policy is the belief that it is important to sustain a strong science and engineering base in the UK, but that we should also make better use of the results of that research. With this in mind, the original Technology Foresight programme set out to promote the exploitation of science and technology for wealth creation and the quality of life.
The first Foresight programme set out as an early goal to improve communications and links between the research community and those who are in a position to translate research into new products and services. Foresight set out to provide a forum that would “encourage greater communication and raise the level of mutual understanding”.
The White Paper indicated that the Government would launch a Technology Foresight Programme, led by the Chief Scientific Adviser. The aim would be to ensure closer interaction between scientists, industry and government through a programme, which sought to identify future opportunities and threats for science engineering and technology.
The first round of Foresight brought together experts from industry, government and academia. It operated though 15 panels related to particular sectors of industry. These panels explored opportunities in science and technology for different sectors of the economy.
The panels undertook widespread consultation, involving some 10,000 people, and published their first findings in 1995. These 15 reports – major contributions to our understanding of the way in which science and technology support different sectors of the economy – came up with 360 recommendations for action.
The Foresight Programme’s second round began in April 1999. In this phase, Foresight moved beyond the first round’s focus on technology. It set out to examine the opportunities that arose from the interactions between innovations in science and technology and wider social and market trends.
Once again, Foresight worked through panels of experts drawn from industry, government and the academic world. The panels dealt with business sectors or with particular themes and considered the implications of their findings for education, skills and training and for sustainable development.
In 2000, Lord Sainsbury, the former Science Minister, announced a review of the Foresight Programme. The aim was to build on the successes of the first two rounds, and to ensure that Foresight was in a position to understand future challenges.
The key findings of Lord Sainsbury’s review were that the programme should refocus on science and technology. The review also called for Foresight to be more flexible so that it could take account of emerging developments. Finally, it encouraged Foresight to focus its resources more clearly on areas where the programme could have a real impact.
As a result of the review, the Foresight Programme moved away from standing panels. So that it could quickly focus on important issues, in April 2002, Foresight began a rolling series of projects.
Foresight now operates through projects that set out to investigate the challenges and opportunities arising from emerging areas of science and technology, or that address major issues for society where science and technology have an important role to play.
Links to a list of published reports and current work can be found on the here