Background to BMBF Foresight

The objective of long-term and demand-orientated strategy development is shared between the BMBF and many other governmental as well as private organizations.

The objective of long-term and demand-orientated strategy development is shared between the BMBF and many other governmental as well as private organizations. There are foresight processes in many countries, at a European level, at the United Nations, or in large private companies. For more than 20 years the BMBF has practiced in-house technology foresight processes. During this time the methodology has become increasingly sophisticated. With its cyclical approach, which regularly alternates between “technology push” and “demand pull” perspectives, the BMBF has now developed its own foresight approach. A BMBF Foresight cycle consists of a two-year search and analysis phase as well as the transfer and the preparation of a new search.

"Technology push" and "demand pull"

Most innovations are based on two basic mechanisms – ”technology push“ and ”demand pull.“ Technology-driven innovation is the result of the dynamics of scientific progress. It often stems from the success of basic research that originally was not aimed at the development of marketable applications. “Technology push” is based not on usefulness but rather on possibilities. The risk associated with it is that innovation fails to meet genuine needs. The opportunity is motivated by a supply-led perspective to produce radical innovations which can give rise to entirely new markets and societal developments. The effect of the availability of Internet technologies is an example. The central focus of "technology push" is the identification of suitable applications for innovative technologies.

In contrast, the “demand pull” perspective is concerned with the demand side. Innovations are developed from the very beginning in response to specific market needs. The BMBF does not solely concentrate on demands in existing markets but more importantly strives to identify overarching challenges, such as needs resulting from demographic change or from the depletion of natural resources. The aim is to derive concrete needs from these overarching challenges in order to develop long-term sustainable solutions. The risk of this perspective lies in the possible neglect of radical innovation potential; its opportunities consist in the results of concrete missions within a goal-orientated innovation framework. The search for an innovative solution for a given problem is the guiding principle here.

The Foresight Cycle

BMBF Foresight is characterized by combining the two approaches in a cyclic process model. A cycle strongly influenced by the “technology push” approach follows a cycle that is mainly “demand pull”-orientated and vice versa. In this way, the results of each preceding cycle can be evaluated and further developed in the subsequent cycle from an alternative perspective.

In principle, each cycle is designed as an independent project that consists of three main phases. The search and analysis phase is divided into process steps according to the selected set of methods. This phase lasts about two years during which time new science and research topics will be developed in established research fields, and entirely new research fields will be derived from innovative connections between established disciplines. This process is applied iteratively, insofar as analysis results in continuous feedback to help steadily refine the search process. The search may focus on future challenges on a national or global scale, track dominant and hidden trends, or model unpredictable results with the help of developments in simulation. The collected information will be continually evaluated and summarized. The results form the database for a Foresight report which will be made available to the public.

The transfer takes results from the search phase and feeds them into internal BMBF processes, for example into long-term programme planning for innovation policy. For this purpose the results undergo a reality check as a form of quality assurance. In an international monitoring process they are validated or refined if necessary. In addition to the BMBF and its departments, Foresight results can also be used by other Federal Government departments. Moreover, the results are aimed at research support institutions in Germany, at the science ministries of the Länder, and at private sector companies.

Each Foresight cycle concludes with an in-house reflection phase in which the subsequent Foresight cycle is prepared. The analyses from an evaluation strand which accompany the activities during the search and analysis phases as well as the transfer are also used in the conception of the next cycle. The BMBF Foresight methodology is to continually adapt to new developments. The methodological spectrum is wide and it is continually developed further in international future research. The preparation phase ensures that the next cycle is carried out using up-to-date instruments. BMBF Foresight is a "learning" strategy process and the preparation phase systematizes this learning.