Scenarios are simplified constructs that highlight different images of what the ‘thing we care for’ could look like in the future. The idea is not to produce ‘pragmatic’ scenarios, but to offer the users of such scenarios contrasted images of the future that will enrich the way they think about how to act ‘today’.
The thing we consider is ‘research and innovation activities’. Furthermore we have a dual focus: geographically, we focus on European level R&I activities; politically we are interested in the governance of these activities.
Principal assumptions guiding all VERA scenarios
Our scenarios are nested; that is, they are positioned within a global vision of Europe and of the world. In all exercises that deal with ‘specific things’, we have to take into account that the ‘thing’ that interests us is inserted in a wider context. The general trend in foresight analyses is to start from this global context, nesting the ‘thing’ within that context before presenting the different options we consider for it.
A number of studies have, however, shown that specific ‘things’ can behave in similar ways, while being inserted in very different global scenarios of the future. We qualify our ‘thing’ – future Research and Innovation activities and governance in Europe – to be to a reasonable extent robust against global developments. Therefore we have made the choice to focus on the European R&I landscape per se, defining four very contrasted scenarios. Thus, we aimed at ensuring the internal coherence of each scenario.
These scenarios take for granted three macro trends that are critical to explaining the landscape and the relative margins of maneuver of actors. We consider these trends to be present in all scenarios. In addition, we note that two drivers play a key role in the move towards one scenario or the other. We detail them below.
Three shared macro trends
- Most foresight exercises insist about the existence of a multipolar world, where Europe is one pole and Asia or BRICS become a new rising pole.
- We fully assume this trend, and its assumption that we will witness the rise of new key countries in the global scence: the so-called ‘dragons’ (with Korea at the forefront), China and probably some of the other BRICS (Brazil, India, or even Indonesia). We still think that in this rebalancing Europe as an economic zone (or a market) will remain a major player.
- This means that we locate our scenarios in a persisting state of affairs where peace prevails at the global level.
- We also endorse the view that the deepening of economic globalisation (goods, finance, IP and services) will continue into the future.
- Whatever scenario prevails, climate change and global warming will become increasingly prevalent. The differences among scenarios lie in they way this challenge is addressed: how it handle in policy programming and used to justify resource allocations. Scenario 4 does indeed take it as the major driving force shaping the R&I landscape.
Two important drivers for differences in the scenario logics
- The role of the public finance crisis in scenario shaping
Our scenarios take account of one major issue: whether Europe is over the public finance crisis in 2020. We have built two scenarios that assume Europe has the financial ability to address proactively the ‘societal challenges’ it has identified: scenario 2 makes a balanced effort between different societal challenges, while scenario 4 concentrates on the ecological transition. The two other scenarios take place in a constrained environment for public expenditure: scenario 1 recognises it and gives economic actors a wide responsibility in shaping directions, while scenario 3 corresponds to a fragmented search for solutions and the rise of local and regional answers.
- The rationale for societal progress
Scenarios 1 and 2 reflect none or incremental changes in the way societies define themselves. The paradigm of growth and creating jobs prevails. In scenario 2 this has some qualifications as the addressing of societal challenges becomes prominent. VERA scenarios 3 and 4 correspond to two types of transitions: towards new definitions of progress (“human well-being” and “sustainability”) and correspondent RTDI governance. They represent transformative structural changes.
It is very likely that the chances and the challenges of each scenario are perceived differently by individual researchers, research organizations, firms, funders, policy makers, disciplines or sectors. For this reason VERA engages in a dialogue with individual stakeholder groups to assess what the scenarios mean for them.
In the ERA Scenarios report you can read more about the making of the VERA scenarios.
Critical policy issues emerging from VERA scenarios
The ERA critical issues report makes explicit the critical issues for the ERA’s future capabilities emerging from VERA scenarios, and explores subsequent issues for policy discussion today.
In this framework, we developed the backcasting exercise in three steps from the scenarios:
a) explore their implications for the research and innovation landscapes (extended/lensed scenarios);
b) from this extension/lensed view, we derived a set of 55 policy and institutional features; and
c) based on these features, we identified key policy issues, features that are present in more than one scenario reflecting issues that emerge as key in very different social and political contexts.
VERA scenarios and climate change
VERA scenarios are generic, but should be compatible with foresight knowledge about individual sectors. We illustrate this using the example of the energy sector. In sectoral vignettes of the VERA scenarios we explore how climate policies and solutions addressing the challenge of climate change would look like in each scenario.
How stakeholders anticipate ERA's future as exemplified by VERA scenarios
The VERA Strategic Debates involved the organisation of seven Focus Groups and a Symposium with 123 participants from 28 countries representing the following ERA stakeholders: society actors, university and research actors, industry actors, research funders, coordinators of ERA actions and networks, policy makers and international actors. The Strategy Map presents the insights from the debates, which contributed to get a better understanding of stakeholders’ potential reactions to plausible future developments of the European R&I landscape.
Going beyond the scenarios: ERA 2050 sketches
To anticipate possible systemic transformations and disruptive change beyond the 2030 scenarios, four sketches were also made of the European landscape and governance of RTDI in the year 2050. Read more about these sketches here.