POLICY ANSWERS: Formulating anticipatory science advice on Research & Innovation priorities in the Western Balkans

An interview with Simon Schmitz, Task Leader, DLR Projektträger, Germany

This interview is part of a series that shall inform interested readers about the concrete initiatives and outcomes of the “POLCY ANSWERS” project. Read below an interview with Simon Schmitz, who coordinates the task on formulating anticipatory science advice on R&I priorities in the Western Balkans.

POLICY ANSWERS: Anticipatory science advice – What is that and why do you think it is useful for the region?

Simon: Current crises have shown that the analysis of potential futures – what is referred to as Strategic Foresight or Anticipatory Governance – makes it inevitable to think long-term. The benefits of such forward-looking approach are manifold. It helps to better understand long-term changes and existing stress test approaches, strategies and policies to ensure that they can adapt to varying conditions. Of course, these factors are not restricted to the policy areas of research and innovation (R&I) or the Western Balkans. We see that all major international or intergovernmental organisations and an ever-growing number of national governments have created teams in charge of Strategic Foresight – a very promising trend, I believe.

In our project task, we will implement this forward-looking approach with the aim to ensure a strong benefit for the whole Western Balkans: We will bring together R&I experts from the region to contemplate potential futures in the form of scenarios, identify the most pressing R&I priorities in the region and come up with recommendations and concrete actions on how the region could jointly address them.

POLICY ANSWERS: This sounds similar to the “2021 Strategic Foresight in the Western Balkans: Recovery on the Horizon” study by the European Commission? Here, over 700 experts co-created three scenarios on R&I in the Western Balkans in 2035. Aren’t we duplicating existing work?

Simon: On the contrary! We are building on the findings of the European Commission and take it a step further. In our workshop in summer 2023, we will convene experts in Podgorica, Montenegro, in order to analyse the most noteworthy developments that the three scenarios of the 2021 study by the European Commission have depicted. Scenarios are useful to uncover blind spots or developments, which might be inconvenient for decision-makers, though require attention in order to avoid future crises. Yet, they become most effective once they are used as a basis to translate them into anticipatory reforms today. This is exactly the objective of our task!

POLICY ANSWERS: So, how will you turn these scenarios into “anticipatory reforms today”?

Simon: We understand our role as facilitator and will neither imagine the futures nor determine policy priorities for R&I for the region. With our task, we hope to facilitate a dialogue among experts from all parts of the region with diverse professional backgrounds and pre-conceptions about potential futures, based on available results from the previous Strategic Foresight process in the Western Balkans.

The experts will first choose the most desired outcomes of the respective scenarios and identify R&I policy priorities. These will then be coupled with tangible measures to meet these goals in a second step. Eventually, participants will elaborate science advice to the actors in the region such as national governments, regional actors like the Western Balkans 6 Chamber Investment Forum or other stakeholders that can support the implementation of these R&I priorities. In Strategic Foresight we call this method “backcasting”, which is widely used by the European Commission, private companies and governments across the globe.

POLICY ANSWERS: How will you know what the future holds? In the end, it is impossible to predict what will happen in 10, 15 or 20 years from now.

Simon: Indeed, nobody knows the future! The manifold crises show that we all and especially policy makers need to deal with a high degree of uncertainty. Electoral cycles and the permanent crises mode, in which governments tend to work especially these days, admittedly make it a hard sell to decision-makers to think about potential developments in the long-term. It is hard to argue with a firefighter while the house is on fire. Strategic Foresight can however act as reminder for decision-makers that the job of a firefighter equally includes preventive measures such as identifying fire hazards before they go up in flames. And that is what we could do as a facilitator: to alert among others.

With our project “POLICY ANSWERS”, we want to do just that: discussing which anticipatory reforms need to be enacted today in order to work towards a favourable future for R&I in the Western Balkans.

POLICY ANSWERS: Many thanks, we are looking forward to the outcomes of your work!

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