Accepted paper:

Futures limited: innovations pathways in public foresight


Petra Schaper-Rinkel (Austrian Institute of Technology)

Paper short abstract:

Public foresight as a policy practice to imagine and anticipate alternative futures produces often very 'limited futures'. The mainstreaming of possible futures towards innovation, jobs and growth is a result of processes and actors that are conceptualized to represent the public.

Paper long abstract:

This paper analyzes how public foresight processes limit the anticipation of alternative futures. Foresight is used to create scenarios and visionary concepts and to promote cooperation between and among agencies, departments, academia, and stakeholders. Foresight and especially technology foresight processes shape and define research and innovation agendas and (re-)establish science-industry-society networks. Whereas knowledge and expertise related to future technologies (such as nanotechnology, SynBio or blockchain technology) is clearly connected to specific disciplines and research fields, the knowledge related to social and societal dynamics is not associated to disciplines and research fields. Instead it is linked to the public and to policy, not to knowledge but to a specific representation of the public through citizens or civil society organizations.

The aim of the paper is to show how the anticipation of alternative futures is limited by a specific and narrow definition of the representation of the public in public foresight. The paper offers a framework for understanding the limitations of today's public anticipation practices. Anticipating a future other than an extrapolation of the present needs to discuss disruptive events and path-breaking developments but the dialogic practice of public foresight reproduces innovations pathways limited by the policy frame of creating innovation, jobs and growth.

In conclusion, we discuss the implications of these findings for the epistemic and social development of anticipation practices that can overcome the limitations. Finally, the paper discusses approaches for the future development of public foresight towards societal futures.

panel F10
The public imagination of the future