E‐collaboration tool for technology foresight exercise

Date01 June 2001
Published date01 June 2001
AuthorSanja Vranes,Branislav Opacic,Francesco Pizzio
Journal of Systems & Information Technology 5(1) Special Edition
Sanja Vranes
Branislav Opacic
Francesco Pizzio
ICS-UNIDO, International Center for Science and High Technology
Area Science Park, Padriciano 99, 34012 Trieste, Italy
Our multiparadigm software toolset (consisting of BATEV, DEBATER
and CyberDELPHI software tools) ena bles a h olistic forecasting exercise,
combining some good aspects of various foresight paradigms, based on both
panel activities (scenarios, recommendations, policy proposals, etc.) and a large
scale e-collaboration a mong wide expert base. The e-collaboration encom passes
“via-net” Delphi survey and software mediation and facilitation, based upon
intelligent group decision support paradig m. The combination of multiple
paradigms supplies a firm foundation for add ressing complex technology
foresight problem s more objectively. Following a brain-storming process
(assisted by BATEV technology repository, and DEBATER intelligent decisio n
support system for technology assessment) in wh ich potential future
opportunities for scientific and technological advances are identified, panels
engage in an extensive and collaborative consultation process, u sing the
CyberDELPHI e-collaboration software. The CyberDELPHI implementation is
very useful in reducing the time required to evalu ate the experts’ responses and
also help s to encourage experts to give as much detail as possible. It has been
used succesfully in the preliminary pha se of a Regio nal Programme on
Technology Foresight for Latin America, launch ad by UNIDO (United Nations
Industrial Development Orga nisation) and ICS (International Centre for Science
and High Technology).
The de bates about globalisation, the knowledge society and the increasing
dependence on knowledge-based technologies have put technology foresight on the
policy agenda throughout the world. Technolo gy foresight is a subset of futures
research. Futures research is an umbrella term that encompasses "any activity that
improves understanding about the future consequences of present developments and
choices" (Amara and Salanik, 19 72, p. 415). Technology foresight includes "all efforts
Journal of Systems & Information Technology 5(1) Special Edition
to project technological capabilities and to predict the invention and spread o f
technological innovations" (Ascher, 1979, p. 165). It offers a comprehensive overview
of future society as seen through the eyes of experts involved in research and
development of various fields. The main aims of any technology foresight exercise are
to search for the direction of technological growth in certain countries a nd/or
regions from a long-term viewpoint
to identify the emerging generic technologies and the underpinning areas of
strategic research likely to yield the greatest economic environmental and social
to contribute to the development of scientific and technological policies in the
to provide a reference for the dire ction of non-governmental scientific and
technological activities
to develop a strategic and coher ent view of the challenges, threats and opportunities
associated with each technological sector
to provide a reference for the dire ction of both governmental and non-governmental
investments in emerging technologies
to provide a country-wide (or region-wide) demonstration of the application and
value of technology foresight in addressing an issue of great and long-term
The above, demanding requirements can only be achieved if researchers,
business people and government officials join intellectual forces and (e-)collaborate in
order to assess their country's (or region's) current competitive po sition, and impacts of
likely global market and technological trends. However, the process in which these
experts with different backgrounds communicate and share ideas about longer term
issues, generate consensus, and collaborate with increased commitment in devising and
realising a national strategy, seems to be time and resource demanding (Martin and
Irvine 1989). Therefore, technolo gy foresight exercises of one type or another have been
undertaken mostly by the leading industrial countries, whilst the developing countries
have been left outside of the process. To remedy this situation, the ICS - UNIDO
(International Centre for Science and Hight Technology under aegis of United Nations
Industrial Development Organisation) has opted for the development of a software
toolset, which will help its target beneficiaries (co ming mostly from the underdeveloped
regions) to perform the exercise in a more cost effective and less time consuming
manner, using fast and cheap e-collaboration technologies.
Prior to designing o ur e-co llaboration toolkit, we have undertaken an extensive
analysis of available forecasting methodologies, comparing their respective advantages
and disadvantages, and frequency of application in exercises already undertaken and
published. It has been widely recognized that forecasting a technology is a difficult task
"beset with hazards" (Ayers, 1969, p. 18). Some of these hazards include: “the
uncertainty and unreliability of data, the complexity of 'real world' feedback interactions,
the temptation of wishful or emotional thinking, etc”. To o ffset the inherent ambiguity
and uncertainty of forecasting, technological forecasters have developed a set of
methodologies to assist them in their endeavour.
In general, as a technology moves from the early stages of laboratory
development to widespread accepta nce in the marketplace, the forecasting

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