VERA – Forward Visions on the European Research Area

VERA is funded by the European Union's FP7 programme for research,
technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 290705

iKnow: interconnecting Knowledge on issues and developments potentially shaking or shaping the future of science, technology and innovation (STI) in Europe and the world.

Code: B01

Primary project information

Lead: Manchester Institute of Innovation Research of The University of Manchester (UK)
Additional project partners: FFRC (Finland), TC AS (Czech Republic), Z_punkt (Germany), RTC North (UK),ICTAF (Israel), Cyber Fox (Czech Republic) and Mindcom (Finland).
Type of activity: Foresight report
Date conducted: 2011
Date of Publication: 2011
Duration: 36 MONTHS
Summary: iKnow is one of six Blue Sky foresight research projects funded by the European Commission's Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technology Development (FP7) under the Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities (SSH) theme. The project is aimed at interconnecting Knowledge on issues and developments potentially shaking or shaping the future of science, technology and innovation (STI) in Europe and the world. There is a general consensus that the kinds of issues addressed by iKnow have often remained out of the "policy radar" and so far have received little attention in forward-looking activities: the identification and analysis of Wild Cards and Weak Signals (WI-WE) and their effects on European and national science, technology and innovation (STI) policy. Wild Cards are the kind of issues that can potentially shake our future; Weak Signals relate to issues that are currently shaping it.
Wild Cards are high impact and low perceived probability events (e.g. unexpected systems failures or sudden transformations resulting from breakthrough or incremental innovations). Wild Cards are often presented as negative events, such as the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States or the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. However, they can also be positive such as the discovery of penicillin by Fleming. Weak Signals are ambiguous events, often referred to as "seeds of change", providing advance intelligence or "hints" about potentially important futures, including Wild Cards, challenges and opportunities. Weak Signals lie in the eye of the beholder and are generally influenced by the mental frameworks and subjective interpretations of individuals with limited information about emerging trends, developments or issues in a particular time and context. Their "weakness" is directly proportional to levels of uncertainty about their interpretations, importance and implications in the short-medium-to-long-term. Thus, Weak Signals are unclear observables warning us about the possibility of future "game changing" events.
Overall, iKnow has two interconnected objectives:
(1) To develop and pilot conceptual and methodological frameworks to identify and analyse Wild Cards and Weak Signals (WI-WE);
(2) To assess the implications and impact of selected WI-WE on, science, technology and innovation (STI) and key dimensions of the European Research Area (ERA).
To do so, iKnow has used Foresight and Horizon Scanning (FHS) approaches to support the research and technology development (RTD) agenda associated with each objective.
All in all, iKnow provides a unique application of wild cards and weak signals approaches to the study of grand challenges and thematic research priorities of the European Union. The project addresses 21 grand challenges in terms of their European relevance; their research foresight and Wild approach; and their potential research outcomes and benefits. A selection of Wild Cards and Weak signals are also outlined in relation to each Grand Challenge. iKnow also offers an overview of 11 thematic research areas, emerging themes and "Policy Alerts" with 44 research recommendations on key issues potentially shaping European science and innovation. Another important S&T result is the iKnow ERA Toolkit. The iKnow ERA Toolkit on “Applications of wild cards and weak signals to the grand challenges and thematic priorities of the European Research Area” aims to be a source of reference and inspiration, for all those involved with the European Research Area.
Financed by: European Commission - DG Research & Innovation
Budget: 839,861 EURO
Research area/market/industry/sector: 1. Health; 2. Food, Agriculture, Biotech; 3. Information and Communication Technologies - ICT; 4. Nanotech, Materials, Processes; 5. Energy; 6. Environment; 7. Transport - incl. Air transport and Galileo; 8. Socio-economic Sciences and the Humanities; 9. Space; 10. Security; 11. Nuclear research - EURATOM; 12. Capacities.
Main report (full title): iKnow ERA Toolkit & iKnow Policy Alerts

GRAND CHALLENGES

Economic Challenges: Economic prosperity and growth dynamics: At the top of the policy agenda is economic prosperity - if this is not too ironic, in the Europe of 2011, ravaged by austerity, unemployment and threat of financial default. At the same time there is increased questioning of the real meaning of ‘prosperity’: how far it widens the gap between elite and majority; how far it rests on a fading model of developed versus developing worlds; how far it damages the environmental life-support system; and most fundamentally, whether material affluence can equate to real prosperity and personal well-being. Even within the mainstream economic agenda, there is a growing awareness that economics seems to lack some essential understanding of the dynamics of the problem, which may be much more structural than simply a lack of credit. Emergency measures such as the Financial Stability Fund are widely seen to be for the benefit of the financial elite who continue to help themselves; and most conventional policy options such marginal tax rate changes, seem to be quite marginal to the issue.

Urban and rural dynamics: As the rest of the world moves towards an urban future, the already urbanised Europe faces new challenges. There are new concepts and definitions of ‘cities’ and settlements: counter-urbanised ‘edge cities’ and peri-urban hinterlands: networked communities and virtual cities: and new forms of sun-belt tourism or campus parkway type cities, are all stretching the boundaries of what used be called ‘urban’. In parallel, there is an emerging understanding of cities, not so much as territories but as flows or relationships, which can work on local, regional or trans-national scales. The European agenda for ‘territorial cohesion’ attempts to provide some rational policy structure for such flows, but it is an uphill task when most of the forces which drive urban and regional change, appear to be outside the scope of public policy. At the same the many kinds of dysfunctions, social pathologies and policy gaps, are generally left for the public sector to pick up the pieces.
Economic Challenges Shortlist: Re-evaluate the concept economic prosperity as the overarching goal of European policy; Address phenomena connected to the overarching goal of 'prosperity'; such as the widening gap between elite and majority, the fading model of developed vs. developing worlds, how the concept of prosperity damages the the environmental life-support system, or wheter material affluence equates to real prosperity and personal well-being; Undertake efforts to understanding of the dynamics of the European financial and economic problem, which may be much more structural than simply a lack of credit.; Develop policy structure to capture new and emerging concepts and definitions of ‘cities’ and settlements: counter-urbanised ‘edge cities’ and peri-urban hinterlands, networked communities and virtual cities, and new forms of sun-belt tourism or campus parkway type cities
Geopolitical Challenges: Energy security and vulnerability: Energy is the lifeblood of a modern society, yet its supply appears more vulnerable and less secure than ever before. The interface of energy production with climate emissions requires a rapid transition away from fossil fuels; but in reality, nuclear energy has been discredited by the Japanese accident of 2011, and many renewable energies are expensive and/or have major environmental impacts of their own. New sources of fossil fuels such as the Arctic are discovered, but with ever-rising environmental damage, while the ‘peak oil’ moment comes ever closer.
Geopolitical Challenges Shortlist: Europe as a whole is ageing, and some of its more rural and remote regions are ageing rapidly.; Macro-economic problem of pensions and fiscal redistribution due to ageing European population; Address food and culture related problems in Europe; such as over-eating, ‘gluco-toxic’ overloads, etc. as well as under-nourishment due to lifestyle behaviour, cultural patterns, or addictions of various kinds.; As the mainstream economy and the financial system look increasingly vulnerable, there is growing awareness of values in other sides of life – social cohesion, mutual aid, social enterprise, informal economy, cultural diversity, and community resilience; Consumption and behavioural change; Work-life balance and mental health; Science, technology and ethics ; Coexistence and conflict; Social pathologies and ethics; Social exclusion, poverty and affluence
Societal Challenges: Ageing and demographic issues: Europe as a whole is ageing, and some of its more rural and remote regions are ageing rapidly. Such effects come from the benefits of reduced mortality through healthcare, medical technology, safer workplaces and public policy. Now, such effects seem to be a problem as much as an opportunity; and such challenges cut across many areas of public policy. There is the macro-economic question of pensions and fiscal redistribution; and a practical matter of who pays for the care of older citizens.

Food security and culture: In principle Europe is well fed, with capacity to be self-sufficient in food, and with the knowledge to do this in a sustainable way. In practice however there are problems all over. Large sections of the population are over-fed, with ‘gluco-toxic’ overload, and others are under-nourished due to lifestyle behaviour, cultural patterns, or addictions of various kinds. Both kinds of problems can be laid at the door of the multi-national agri-business and food production and marketing companies, although there are deeper and wider issues.

Social cohesion and diversity: As the mainstream economy and the financial system looks increasingly vulnerable, there is growing awareness of values in other sides of life – social cohesion, mutual aid, social enterprise, informal economy, cultural diversity, and community resilience, to bring up some of the names. But these are also under pressure or threat from many sides.

Other grand challenges include: Consumption and behavioural change; Work-life balance and mental health; Science, technology and ethics; Coexistence and conflict; Social pathologies and ethics; and Social exclusion, poverty and affluence
Societal Challenges Shortlist: Europe as a whole is ageing, and some of its more rural and remote regions are ageing rapidly.; Macro-economic problem of pensions and fiscal redistribution due to ageing European population; Address food and culture related problems in Europe; such as over-eating, ‘gluco-toxic’ overloads, etc. as well as under-nourishment due to lifestyle behaviour, cultural patterns, or addictions of various kinds.; As the mainstream economy and the financial system look increasingly vulnerable, there is growing awareness of values in other sides of life – social cohesion, mutual aid, social enterprise, informal economy, cultural diversity, and community resilience; Consumption and behavioural change; Work-life balance and mental health; Science, technology and ethics ; Coexistence and conflict; Social pathologies and ethics; Social exclusion, poverty and affluence
Technical Challenges: Technological security, hazard and risk: Technology is a great liberator, but also has a certain potential for entrapment into dependency, vulnerability and direct risk of harm. For instance, bio-medical technology raises new social and ethical issues: nano-technology or synthetic organisms bring ‘unknown unknowns’; ICT brings transformation but also extreme vulnerability to breakdown or overload, sabotage or cyber-attack, or psychological dependency and organised crime.

Education and skills dynamics: According to the Lisbon agenda, the knowledge economy is the way towards European prosperity and sustainability. But the road at the moment is not straight or smooth, and in reality Europe is falling behind its international competitors. The role of the education system is crucial; but there are many dilemmas and few simple answers. What kind of knowledge is needed to compete in the global knowledge economy – do we need more technical skills, people skills, entrepreneurial skills, or transferable skills which might be more relevant in 30 years? And surrounded by pervasive information, should we pursue knowledge as a ‘tacit’ process of inter-personal relationships, rather than simple data which can be found on a smart phone? There are practical policy issues on the organization and management of schools, universities, professional training, or lifelong learning programs.
Technical Challenges Shortlist: Address potential of technology for entrapment into dependency, vulnerability and direct risk of harm. ; Bio-medical technology raises new social and ethical issues; nano-technology or synthetic organisms bring ‘unknown unknowns’; ICT brings transformation but also extreme vulnerability to breakdown or overload, sabotage or cyber-attack, or psychological dependency and organised crime; Address question of what kind of knowledge is needed to compete in the global knowledge economy – should the education systems in Europe focus on technical skills, people skills, entrepreneurial skills, or transferable skills which might be more relevant in 30 years; connected policy issues on the organization and management of schools, universities, professional training, and lifelong learning programs
Health Challenges: Health, illness and well-being: The health agenda across EU member states is under increasing pressure: rising costs, increasing lifespan, growing expectations, and at the same time, public sector deficits and shrinking budgets. Meanwhile behind the health service agenda is a wider awareness of positive health, rather than simply treatment of illness. This involves many other policy areas and open challenges: in workplaces, housing, cultural patterns, addictive behaviours, gender relations and so on. Above all there is a realization that many of these problems are in-built to the syndromes of affluence and the socio-political model of consumption; and particularly that institutions such as food companies and media channels are responsible, as much as individuals and communities.
Health Challenges Shortlist: Health agenda across EU member states is under increasing pressure: rising costs, increasing lifespan, growing expectations, and at the same time, public sector deficits and shrinking budgets; Involve other policy areas and open challenges (e.g. in workplaces, housing, cultural patterns, addictive behaviours, gender relations) to meet the growing awareness of positive health, rather than simple treatment of illness; Account for factor of current socio-political model of consumption and role of specific industries regarding issues of human health and well-being
Cross-cutting Challenges: Globalisation and localisation: At the top of the geo-political agenda is the changing shape of the global powers, and the prospect of the relative decline of Europe in relation to others. This in total is not necessarily negative, in the sense that European dominance was only resting on its colonial legacy, and that prosperity for other larger populations is welcome. But it brings profound implications for the European socio-economic model and sense of identity. Meanwhile there are many other dimensions to globalisation: finance and trade; energy and resources; culture and communications; science, technology and intellectual property; migrations and social movements. In each of these there are mounting pressures and potential catastrophes; but there are also new and creative opportunities.

Innovation, knowledge and technology: Across Europe, ‘innovate or die’ is the fundamental agenda – for countries or regions; technologies and infrastructures; services and communications – all as enshrined in the Lisbon agenda and countless other policy agendas. Of course new technologies and ‘social technologies’ are essential to improving quality of life in many areas, and the wheels of the production-consumption system are all predicated on growth through innovation. But to understand and promote innovation then becomes a major sector of innovation in itself: a curious bystander might ask naive questions about the nature of the socio-economic model which seems fixated on fashion, novelty, illusions of progress, as much as real contributions to well-being.

Governance, democracy and citizenship: The future of Europe itself is in the balance, according to some. But this is not only about supra-national institutions which appear very remote and unaccountable to the great majority of 400 million citizens. It is also about the configuration of identity and accountability at every level – national, regional, municipal, local community, and right to the household and personal level. Even more interesting is the apparent divergence of ‘function’ and ‘territory’, and the dislocation of ‘governance’ from many other forms of activity. Many now identify more with global networks and interest groups, than with any one administrative unit. But within those units, it seems increasingly that public sector government, as we know it, is one kind of actor competing with others, who are often much richer, smarter and faster. At the same time, there is increased recognition that the free market is quite dysfunctional in some ways, and that new forms of governance are needed to promote the public interest, however that is defined.
Cross-cutting Challenges Shortlist: Acknowledge, and find ways to deal with, opportunities and mounting pressure from various dimensions of globalisation: shifts of power, finance and trade, energy and resources, culture and communications, S&T and intellectual property, migrations and social movements; Re-evaluate innovation as the fundamental criterion of (socio-)economic development in Europe; New forms of governance are needed to promote public interests
Other Challenges: Crime, security and justice: Many parts of European society are fragmenting under the pressure of the downturn, the deficits and austerity measures, and the perception that the elites are running the governments. In this situation it is no surprise to see an upturn in crime of many kinds, and in response, a growth in the security industry and justice system. But there are many deeper issues. One is that crime is endless innovative, with recent moves into ICT and social technologies, people trafficking, white collar financial crime, etc. Another is that the role of justice and security is itself more in the spotlight, with fierce arguments on human rights, or rehabilitation of offenders. There is also an innovation agenda in the response, with GIS-enabled precision policing, targeted weapons and defences, in preparation for civil disorder as much as conventional crime.
Other Challenges Shortlist: Upturn in crime of many kinds due to fragmentation of European society after downturn, deficits and austerity measures; Growth in the security industry and justice system as response to upturn in crime in Europe; Innovative crime, with recent moves into ICT and social technologies, people trafficking, white collar financial crime, etc. ; Spotlight on role of justice and security itself, with fierce arguments on human rights or rehabilitation of offenders.; Innovation of justice and security agenda, with GIS-enabled precision policing, targeted weapons and defences

Summary of relevant aspects

Aspects of ERA Governance: How to develop & manage research programmes. Within a ERA research programme area: (1) General shift towards 'divergent' and 'co-evolutionary' modes of research; (2) Systematic use of WI-WE at the pre-programming stage of scoping and scanning; (3) Use of WI-WE for interconnecting knowledge between 'Grand Challenges' and other levels; (4) Reference from and contribution to iKnow's iBank and iLibrary platforms as the context for general research scoping, design and programming; (5) Use of WI-WE to mobilize stakeholders with different views on problematic knowledge.

For example - consider a research programme centred on the theme of post 2008 financial stability. Obvious Wild Card 'situation' (i.e. family of interconnected Wild Cards) - global credit crisis, Eurozone crisis, public deficit crisis, etc; with most Weak Signals systematically ignored and filtered out, systemic risk driven by moral hazard incentives, etc. Need to involve stakeholders in active mode, systematically exploring possible WI-WE, testing the frontiers of the 'problematic' knowledge zone, etc. Research programme results should be improved and enlarged from the conventional economic and financial focus (which arguably was part of the problem). Research project design goes beyond the convergent mode, to the divergent and co-evolutionary modes.
Aspects of RTI Governance: Within a typical ERA project : (1) General shift of 'typical' projects towards a WI-WE focus (i.e. problematic high impact issues of systemic change, etc). Although not necessarily conventional risks of natural disasters, technology hazards, etc; (2) Systematic WI-WE exploration to be built into 'typical' research methodology; (3) Exploring the frontiers of 'safe' knowledge and 'problematic' knowledge; (4) Interconnection of different knowledge from different areas; (5) Reference from and contribution to iKnow's iBank and iLibrary as the context for specific research; (6) Application of the research results back to the WI-WE end of the spectrum - i.e. asking what problematic events, changes and hazards are plausible and significant. And what Weak Signals would be useful?
Other Aspects of Governance: In the ERA context, the Grand Challenges each raise an agenda with a combination of - (1) More conventional Wild Card events and hazards - natural/technological disasters which are likely to be amplified by socio-cultural-political factors. So there is a research agenda which is focused on this amplification process through its socio-cultural-political factors; and (2) More unconventional Wild Card events and hazards - new and surprising combinations of various factors e.g. technological, economic, environmental, political, social and ethical factors, which are generally more problematic and paradigm changing.

What kinds of STI policy and which questions? Here we look at the beginning and end of the cycle of knowledge. The context is a world which is increasingly interconnected, turbulent, and vulnerable to wild card surprises; and a STI agenda which needs to respond to this. The key question here is - how does the Wild approach and the WI-WE resource contribute to the generation and management of knowledge? Revolving around this question is a wide range of activity, including: (1) Science, technology and innovation policy: European, national, corporate. (2) Research programming and management: European, national, corporate. (3) Research methods within and between in many fields, at the level of programs and projects. (4) Knowledge management systems: including scientific, corporate, public and civil society types of knowledge. (5) Foresight processes and foresight related knowledge, in many types of organizations.

There are wide implications for STI policy of the Wild approach and WI-WE resources. The iKnow project identified quite practical questions, such as: (1) What topics to research? - Shifting towards the frontier of problematic knowledge - technically, socially, etc. (2) Who are the researchers? - And the producers and users of such research: questioning explicit and tacit forms of engagement between different parts of the knowledge community. (3) How to programme research? - And how to manage, validate, disseminate and evaluate research results: i.e. to explore unconventional paths for knowledge generation and transfer, with explicit and tacit forms of engagement between the knowledge community. (4) How to apply to policy and practice? - In a world which is increasingly interconnected, turbulent, and vulnerable to wild card surprises; and a STI policy which needs to respond to this.
Surprising Issues: iKnow produced a databse with over 400 wild cards or surprising issues, these are available online at: http://wiwe.iknowfutures.eu/

Some examples of headlines of the Top 12 STI-relevant surprises include: (1) Severe accident of a nuclear power plant; (2) Universities close as research does not meet the needs of industry; (3) A considerable increase in efficiency of renewable resources; (4) European Commission scrap research support projects; (5) Space war; (6) Entering new energy era; (7) End of Ageing; (8) A breakthrough discovery in plasma physics; (9) Gas from Trash; (10) Nano-lab inside your body; (11) Revolutionary space propulsion technology; (12) Rapid-Diagnosis-Machines,
Background information: iKnow is one of six Blue Sky foresight research projects funded by the European Commission's Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technology Development (FP7) under the Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities (SSH) theme. The project is aimed at interconnecting Knowledge on issues and developments potentially shaking or shaping the future of science, technology and innovation (STI) in Europe and the world.
There is a general consensus that the kinds of issues addressed by iKnow have often remained out of the "policy radar" and so far have received little attention in forward-looking activities: the identification and analysis of Wild Cards and Weak Signals (WI-WE) and their effects on European and national science, technology and innovation (STI) policy. Wild Cards are the kind of issues that can potentially shake our future; Weak Signals relate to issues that are currently shaping it.

Wild Cards are high impact and low perceived probability events (e.g. unexpected systems failures or sudden transformations resulting from breakthrough or incremental innovations). Wild Cards are often presented as negative events, such as the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States or the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. However, they can also be positive such as the discovery of penicillin by Fleming.

Weak Signals are ambiguous events, often referred to as "seeds of change", providing advance intelligence or "hints" about potentially important futures, including Wild Cards, challenges and opportunities. Weak Signals lie in the eye of the beholder and are generally influenced by the mental frameworks and subjective interpretations of individuals with limited information about emerging trends, developments or issues in a particular time and context. Their "weakness" is directly proportional to levels of uncertainty about their interpretations, importance and implications in the short-medium-to-long-term. Thus, Weak Signals are unclear observables warning us about the possibility of future "game changing" events.

Overall, iKnow has two interconnected objectives: (1) To develop and pilot conceptual and methodological frameworks to identify and analyse Wild Cards and Weak Signals (WI-WE); and (2) To assess the implications and impact of selected WI-WE on, science, technology and innovation (STI) and key dimensions of the European Research Area (ERA). To do so, iKnow has used Foresight and Horizon Scanning (FHS) approaches to support the research and technology development (RTD) agenda associated with each objective.
Foresight is a systematic, participatory, prospective and policy-oriented process which, with the support of environmental and horizon scanning approaches, is aimed to actively engage key stakeholders into a wide range of activities "anticipating, recommending and transforming" (ART) "technological, economic, environmental, political, social and ethical" (TEEPSE) futures.
Horizon Scanning (HS) is a structured and continuous activity aimed to "monitor, analyse and position" (MAP) "frontier issues" that are relevant for policy, research and strategic agendas. The types of issues mapped by HS include new/emerging: trends, policies, practices, stakeholders, services, products, technologies, behaviours, attitudes, "surprises" (Wild Cards) and "seeds of change" (Weak Signals).

All in all, iKnow provides a unique application of wild cards and weak signals approaches to the study of grand challenges and thematic research priorities of the European Union. The project addresses 21 grand challenges in terms of their European relevance; their research foresight and Wild approach; and their potential research outcomes and benefits. A selection of Wild Cards and Weak signals are also outlined in relation to each Grand Challenge. iKnow also offers an overview of 11 thematic research areas, emerging themes and "Policy Alerts" with 44 research recommendations on key issues potentially shaping European science and innovation. Another important S&T result is the iKnow ERA Toolkit. The iKnow ERA Toolkit on “Applications of wild cards and weak signals to the grand challenges and thematic priorities of the European Research Area” aims to be a source of reference and inspiration, for all those involved with the European Research Area.

Scenarios

Scenario 1: Abrupt disintegration of the Euro Zone: What would be wild about this card is that the economy of the EU will be brutally affected and the deregulation between countries will be evident. The flow of capital and the role of Euro will drop leading to a competitive devaluation of “new” countries in Europe. There will be huge speculation and proposals of the Deutschemark as de facto European currency. Also, what could be considered wild will be the apparent failure of Eurobased common currency as all efforts to integrate member states’ monetary systems come to nothing. Countries pull out of the Euro and revert to national currency or perhaps an entirely non European Currency like the Yen or the Dollar? The EU might disintegrate into different currency zones. Loss of balance and widening of gaps among the European countries. Rich countries increase the gap against poor countries. Loss of economic integration affects political and cultural integration. Loss of funding of the European project. What is also a wild feature here is the scale of the impact of this wild card, which will be felt throughout societies and even throughout the world.

iKnow recommends the following: Recent shifts in the monetary landscape in the Europe indicate that stability is a key issue that needs to be carefully monitored. Recent events in Greece and Iceland, and worries over the state of affairs in Spain and Portugal, demonstrate how quickly financial problems can escalate and bring down a nation state’s entire economy. This has brought on civil unrest and governmental crises. Research in the field of European monetary policy is needed in order to provide an informed policy response in the face of financial crises.

Research could focus on current economic models and could be either forward looking, i.e. with a foresight element or backward looking, i.e. historical economics in order to provide knowledge and analysis of past chain of events in order to explore which steps should be avoided when financial crises strike. Foresight research could focus on exploring what future crises may entail, whether we can spot any current weak signals and how best these may be responded to.

Research should a) determine the chain of events leading to financial crises; b) determine variations and commonalities between recent financial crises within different European states c) devise strategies for appropriate policy responses across EU; d) inform common legislation and regulation across EU; e) inform European monetary policy on how to best tackle financial difficulties of member states.
Scenario 2: Pervasive self-diagnosis and self-treatment: This wild card assumes that nano-enabled self-diagnosis and self-treatment becomes pervasive. This would allow the general public to diagnose, monitor and treat illness themselves having their own ‘Doc in a Box’. Doctors may become redundant and the ageing population could increase. Although this occurrence is considered ‘wild’, it is very interesting as there are a number of ongoing research projects based around this technology, which if exploited could trigger this wild card. This would have a huge impact on people’s lives, drastically changing the way that we diagnose and treat illness and disease. Treating illness is clearly of huge importance globally, and this wild card would not only dramatically alter the way in which aliments are treated, but also change the way in which we monitor and diagnose illness. Imagine the scenario whereby everybody has a small microchip which gives a morning report on the state of heath of an individual, for example, specific actions are proposed over breakfast such as ‘take the pill’. It is feasible that high throughput scanners could be achieved by 2030 thus providing cheap personal genome at €10 overnight and giving automatic interpretations/diagnosis. The potential is high for the knock-on effect of early diagnosis and treatment available to all increasing the ageing population – significant increases of having ‘too many healthy people’ would be highly likely. Further societal effects would include the expansion of health communities as the centralised medicine system is redundant and dissolves.

iKnow recommends the following: Abundance of medical information on the Internet has given rise to the practices of self diagnosis and self treatment. Equipment whereby patients can monitor their blood pressure and heart rate is also readily available. The trend of an ageing population will also mean that public health systems will be met with increasing challenges. As waiting times get longer, patients may resort to diagnosing and treating themselves. Rapid developments in nanotechnology and ICT could indicate that sophisticated diagnosis and treatment systems could be developed in the near future.

Research should focus on examining how access to new diagnostic/treatment technologies would affect society (e.g. ageing population, pressure on public health services) Research could focus on examining the feasibility of building health databases, which could accurately provide diagnosis on the basis of medical tests (e.g. blood, urine etc) Research could also focus on implications for business (e.g. business planning and market forecasting) and health systems. Research should also focus on potential legislative and regulatory issues and how to best form a policy response. The research will a) increase awareness of current self diagnosis/self treatment practices; b) devise strategies for appropriate policy responses across EU; c) inform common legislation and regulation across EU; d) inform business enterprise and technical innovation in this field.
Scenario 3: 004Wheat crisis hits humans and animals: This wild card (also called “wheat comes a cropper”) concerns the emergence of a new pest or disease which specifically targets wheat and wipes out the whole wheat crop. This leads to a severe worldwide shortage of a staple food for humans and animals. Because of the genetic mutation, emerges a new pest or disease that targets and destroys all wheat crop and this spreads quickly across the globe. The impact is severe as the worldwide food supply for humans and animals are in serious shortage. This happens as human (and animals alike) becomes overly dependent on one particular source of main food. Large farms with mono-culture crops dominate massive farming areas, which are, while producing lots of food, also creating alarming risks to humanity and the environment. This situation is created by market push which always seeks for cheapest sources of food but unintentionally creates a highly vulnerable system easy to break down. In addition standardisation in food and farming industry makes the whole system vulnerable.

What make this a wild card? In general, over-reliance of human and animals alike on only a few species makes human life much more vulnerable. Any disruption that affects these species would create massive impact to humans and animals. While we have bigger farms around, actually what we also have is fewer suppliers in terms of variety/variance. This increases the risk as we rely more on less variance of foods. Another feature that makes this wild card feral is that with genetic engineering, advanced new pest/disease easily develops whose progress might escape our observation. As we only have mono-culture, we have no crop resistance when the disease spreads: the impact will be devastating. This situation will become worse when we only have smaller gene pool to breed new crops as we will not be ready if the wild card manifests.

iKnow recommends the following: Overreliance on a few core crops (e.g. wheat) makes food production and consumption vulnerable to any type of disruption. Were a new wheat disease to develop it could have severe implications for food markets worldwide, which could have unforeseen consequences such as starvation, civil unrest and high food prices. There is a need to prepare for diversifying food production and consumption in order to avoid such consequences. Farmers need to be assisted in order to better diversify their crops and consumers should be made aware of a greater variety of food products.

Research could focus on examining both food production and consumption patterns and current methods that are being used to influence both sides. Research could focus on ways to reach consumers and influence them to diversify their food consumption in order to move away from overreliance on a few core products (e.g. wheat). Research which focuses on food production could examine current food production trends in order to inform successful ways of diversifying crops. Research could also focus on food regulation, legislation and policy in order to identify what can be done to ease the transition to diversifying crops. Research should aim to a) examine current food production and consumption patterns; b) inform practices that aim to diversify crop production and consumption; c) inform any policy response, regulatory and legislative initiatives that could encourage crop diversification.
Actions/solutions implied: Further research should be conducted on issues around the following wild cards ('surprises'): (1) Severe accident of a nuclear power plant; (2) Universities close as research does not meet the needs of industry; (3) Soft "EuroLanding" or "Happy End" in EuroLand; (4) A considerable increase in efficiency of renewable resource; (5) Silent Seas - The world’s fisheries continue to collapse although smart controls could help; (6) Cyber Crusade: Massive e-sabotage by "hacktivists"; (7) European Commission scrap research support projects; (8) Space war; (9) Risk assessment "saves" millions of lives but…; (10) End of ageing.

Further research should be conducted on issues around the following weak signals ('seeds of change'): (1) Lack of interest in science by young scholars; (2) Herbs (enhanced by Nanotechnology) used to fight cancer; (3) Administration rather than results a priority; (4) Development of new materials; (5) Emergence of new agricultural methods for coping with climate change; (6) Optical lifting demonstrated for the first time; (7) No strict global rules on Nuclear security; (8) Growing frequency of floods in Europe and the world; (9) Bendy Copper Nanowires akin to foldable iPad; (10) Privatisation of space flights.
Who benefits from the actions taken?: European and global society in general, EU/national Policymakers specially those commissioning and managing research and technology development programmes; Business groups monitoring emerging issue; and Researchers (including foresight and horizon scanning practitioners); Media players looking for interesting news on shapers of the future (i.e. weak signals) and potential shakers of the future (i/e/ wild cards).

Meta information

Time horizon: 2020, 2030, 2050
Methods: The iKnow project used some 14 methods and engaed 1700+ stakeholders. The number of people involved is in brackets next to the method:
- Literature Review (10)
- Scanning (30)
- Workshops (200)
- Web-based crowdsourcing (300)
- TEEPSE Analysis (10)
- Wild Cards Analysis (30)
- Weak Signals Analysis (30)
- Surveys (50)
- Interviews (60)
- Brainstorming (80)
- Science Fictioning (10)
- Delphi survey (719)
- Expert Panels (20)
- Conferences (100)
Target Group: European Commission, Government departments or ministries, Government agencies, Research funding organisations, e.g. research councils, Public research organisations (non-HEI), Private research and innovation support organisations, Higher education institutions (HEI), Civil society, among others
Objectives: Overall, iKnow has two interconnected objectives: (1) To develop and pilot conceptual and methodological frameworks to identify and analyse Wild Cards and Weak Signals (WI-WE); and (2) To assess the implications and impact of selected WI-WE on, science, technology and innovation (STI) and key dimensions of the European Research Area (ERA). To do so, iKnow has used Foresight and Horizon Scanning (FHS) approaches to support the research and technology development (RTD) agenda associated with each objective.
Countries covered: A total of 85 countries were involved in the project, however the project was primarily focused on 5 countries: UK, Finland, Germany, Czech Republic and Israel. Spain and Brazil also played an important role with voluntary contributions.
ERA actors/stakeholders mentioned: European Commission, EFSA, DG Research & Innovationa nd several research and technology organisation (RTO) in Europe and the world
Geographic scope:

Entry Details

Rapporteur: Rafael Popper
Rapporteur's organization: UNIMAN
Entry Date: 01.06.2012