Jacintha Scheerder is exploring what challenges await the Netherlands in the next four decades. She is the projectleader for the project ‘2050 Horizonscan’. The project is initiated by The Netherlands Study Centre for Technology Trends (STT).
This is the second time that STT is involved in horizon scanning. In 2007, STT contributed to the Horizonscan of the Consultative Committee of Sector Councils (COS). The project started in 2012 and will be finished in 2014.
“The STT has always had a strong link with science and academia, and working with brainstorm or gaming methods was also well known. However, there was a clear need for more structural foresight methodology, like the classic scenario-analysis or the STEEP acronym for trend selection. I could bring this methodology from my experience as a teacher at the UVA Future Planet Studies.” As project manager, Jacintha is held accountable by the STT governing board, which consists of ‘high level members from industry, science, society and government’. Besides that, the steering committee (9 members) also advises her along the way.
Jacintha decided to start the Horizonscan project with scanning leading (national and international) publications on grand societal challenges. She complemented this desk research with expert-interviews. She then came up with a list of 150 ‘signals for change’ and seven Grand Societal Challenges. “We don’t necessarily focus on weak signals, like many other studies do. We want to imagine revolutionary changes that might be ‘near’ or even already starting to happen. The change itself is not the main focus, but the signals leading up to that change are.”
After summarizing the 150 signals for change, a group of 200 experts (of which 55% responded) was invited to give their view on the likelihood, desirability and importance of the signals, through an online questionnaire. These experts are mainly academics and foresight professionals. “The next step is to organize workshops with experts about our finding and possible implications. This of course is exciting, because we have some great experts in our network, but not every expert works well in an interactive setting.’ What will happen after the workshops is not quit clear. But it will involve a lot of writing. “What I do know is that in March 2014 the project will be finished. Hopefully we will present a book and a short movie on the results.”
“The process is very open, interactive and iterative. That means we have the steps lined out, but not a very strict project-planning schedule. Sometimes this makes it challenging to communicate with the governing board and the steering committee. How can I make the process transparent if it’s partly an organic process? Also we want to involve a lot of people, and the question is if they will come and participate in our workshops for example. If we don’t get enough input, we might have to organize extra activities.”
A year down the road, what advises can Jacintha give others who work on a horizon-scanning project? “First of all, be passionate about the subject. If you’re not, you won’t make it. It helps you through ‘tough times’ and also helps to get other people enthusiastic and committed. Second, you have to define your scope as narrow as possible, before you start. Try to stick to your scope: it might be tempting to expand your topics, but your deadline won’t grow along with you. And, third, be prepared to kill your darlings: you will undoubtedly take steps, which lead to nothing. It’s inevitable.”
“What I like about the project? A lot of course! First of all, working at STT gives a lot of freedom for this project: I get funds and a huge network to use for this project. Sometimes the possibilities feel overwhelming, where should I focus? But mostly it gives me opportunities and inspiration. Furthermore, I find it challenging to involve people who haven’t heard of the Horizonscan but who might definitely benefit from our findings. Third, I get a chance to lead a project that will lead to a vision on the Netherlands in 2050. Who wouldn’t want that?”
You can stay up to date on the HorizonScanning 2050 project through the STT website.
If you want to find out more about Jacintha: