The Handbook of Technology Foresight

  • Georghiou L
  • Harper J
  • Keenan M
 et al. 
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Abstract

There are probably as many views of foresight as there are practitioners. One of my favourite ones is that foresight is about cross-fertilising visions leading to jointly informed/envisaged action. This Handbook of Technology Foresight (edited by L. Georghiou, J.C. Harper, M. Keenan, I. Miles, and R. Popper) does a very good job at elucidating the various views/definitions/ practices of technology foresight (TF), placing particular emphasis on the ways in which foresight activities have been organised/ interpreted in different parts of the world. The emphasis is not so much on building or reviewing the analytical underpinnings of TF, but rather on presenting a large canvas listing a variety of different approaches to TF, across time and space. Different handbooks can aim at answering different sorts of questions: there are those that address what we know about an area, as a well-established base on which to build, and what are the open questions facing us—they emphasise 'vertical' questions. Then there are those that provide a large panorama of views and practices—through 'horizontal', encyclopaedic approaches. Both are necessary; this handbook falls largely in the latter, panoramic category. At its heart is a large quasi-Linnaean classification exercise—which has become increasingly herculean as views and practices of foresight have multiplied over the last few decades. As the preface indicates (p. xvii) the aim is to combine a collection of first-hand practitioners' thoughts and experiences, with an attempt to provide own syntheses. It is a delicate balance, which the authors strike quite well, in general. In the synthesis part, extra analytical emphasis might have been welcome, for instance, through using lessons from organisational politics (cf. literature building on Allison's work since the seventies—whence the quip " on any issue, where you sit is where you stand "). In all fairness nevertheless, as mentioned above, this would not be easy to wed with the handbook's panoramic, horizontal approach. Note however, that both in the introductory pages, as well as in the closing chapter, very interesting nuggets appear, regarding the sociology of interaction, links with e-democracy processes, etc. The preface, on the other hand, ends with a very strong cautionary note about not resorting to TF, where it cannot be tailor-made to its context (presumably its social, political, economic, cultural etc. context). Implicit in this is the use of theories/lessons from economics, sociology, etc. that would indicate whether this tailor-making can take place or not. Another example comes from an excellent observation made both by Remi Barré in his chapter and by Luke Georghiou in the closing chapter, about the importance of both " analytic and societal models of foresight " and TF's epistemological status—an observation pregnant with implications about methods and approaches. In this epistemological regard, it would be interesting to apply some of the concepts of the book to the book's arguments—e.g. Kolb's circle on p.232 (in Kolb's terms they would be more on concrete experiences and observation and less on models and testing). The book presents a nice review of the evolution of TF concepts and approaches and schools of TF thought/practice. The central part of the book is the part dedicated to TF experiences around the world, which takes up about half of the book. This is a very useful review, which in itself would make the handbook worthwhile. The issue of 'vertical' approaches and theoretical underpinnings emerges as a question here again. How are different practices to be assessed? How are mix-and-match approaches to be pursued? How have we produced, or could we produce, a set of propositions that would help guide us? The closing part presents valuable reflections regarding future challenges, methodological and assessment issues. Occasionally, as mentioned above, hints are given regarding analytical underpinnings, but they are not elaborated further. Prominent among them is the (unexplored) relationship of TF with economic analyses. There is a quick reference on pp. 18–21 to market failures generally, with an additional reference to system failures, including a reference to evolutionary economics, but nothing going much deeper than that. The emphasised importance of 'value-for-money' would be nicely served by a deeper analysis of economic rationale and incentives. Similarly useful would be further elaboration regarding criteria for benchmarking foresight exercises (p. 335), as well as regarding product (tables, figures, reports, etc.) vs. process (wiring-up the national innovation system) orientations (p. 367) in TF. Although the subject is not always easy to write about attractively, the language is generally crisp and even inventive (p. 370 a rural region cannot 'foresight' its way to becoming a nanotech hub) or wittily tongue-in-cheek (e.g. p.356 " Time is nearly always a resource in short supply in foresight ").

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Authors

  • L Georghiou

  • J C Harper

  • M Keenan

  • I Miles

  • R Popper

  • Edward Elgar

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