Table of Contents
6. Observations and Recommendations
6.1 An inherent difficulty with any foresight activity is that it is not possible to determine the value and significance of the predictions until some time in the future. Therefore, many important questions that arise from this project cannot be answered for at least a few years. For example, we will have to wait to see if the visions of emerging research developments from experts selected through the use of co-citation analysis are accurate. We will not be able to determine if the predictions had value to research planners and policy analysts until later. In addition, we cannot currently comment on the accuracy of the projected technology spin-offs. However, there are some interesting observations and recommendations that can be made based on the information the experts provided on how various factors and driving forces could affect the outcome of their predictions. Also, some remarks can be made about the effectiveness of the process that was used to administer the foresight process and collect the predictions.
6.2 Co-citation Techniques for Selecting Authors
6.2.1 The first observation that can made is that the use of objective co-citation techniques to select authors of papers in research fronts who were invited to act as experts for this project produced responses from an internationally recognised group of senior experienced researchers. They are internationally recognised in the sense that their papers were published in prestigious journals and were highly cited and co-cited by other papers published in international journals. The distribution of the numbers of researchers that responded from each national science system closely paralleled the size of the system though there is an English language bias. They are senior researchers in the sense that the majority of the responses came from professors or senior scientists who have been involved in their fields of research for 10 to 30 years. In addition, an inspection of the institutional websites at which these experts work revealed that they occupy positions that range from institute director and department head to research group manager. Unfortunately, we will have to wait to see if this group of experts has an accurate vision of emerging developments in their research fields.
6.3 Driving Forces
6.3.1 There is overwhelming agreement among the experts that access to post doctoral fellows and graduate students, improved instrumentation and better computer algorithms and hardware are important driving forces that will affect advances in almost all fields of research. Of the driving forces the experts were asked to rank, access to post doctoral researchers and graduate students rated highest. This is interesting from the perspective that while improvements in instruments and computers are dependent on research advances and not easy to control better support for students and post doctoral researchers are under the control of funding agencies. Perhaps one cost-effective way that a science system can guarantee that it plays a prominent role in emerging research developments is by increasing its effort to attract, train and financially support young researchers.
6.3.2 Some of the results derived from the ratings of factors that influence research are worrying in light of the preceding observation. Only 36% of the experts think that the number of graduate students in their fields will increase, 28% think that the number will remain the same and 26% think it will decrease. On the other hand, about 85% of the experts think that research funding will increase or stay the same. In other words, access to graduate students is a major driving force that can affect a prediction and there is a sense that research funding may be generally adequate but there is a feeling by some experts that the number of graduate students may not increase. The reason that this is worrying is that by its nature a research front is usually in or will soon be in an expansion phase. This means they will require access to more skilled human resources such as graduate students. However, some researchers in these fronts are suggesting that access to graduate students may remain the same or decrease. Is this because students are more attracted to mainstream research activities as opposed to novel areas that are smaller and less visible? Is it related to lack of financial support for graduate students? Or are the findings attributable to some other factors? Perhaps this situation warrants further investigation.
6.3.3 It appears that increased research collaboration will continue to be a factor in research fronts. Over 68% of expert responses indicated that collaboration between institutions in the same sector and different sectors will increase. Over 77% of the experts indicated that international and interdisciplinary collaboration will increase. Perhaps this reflects the fact that many of the predicted emerging developments are broad in scope in the sense that they could impact a significant part of a research discipline or even many disciplines. Might this suggest that a large amount of collaborative research, specifically interdisciplinary research collaboration, is part of the characteristic signature of a research front? Could this be one of the important signs of an emerging development?
6.4.1 One of the main goals of this project was to develop and test a timely and effective way of administering an international science foresight activity. The Science Foresight Project involved two people on a part-time basis, Dr. Sylvan Katz from SPRU and Ms. Sally Stewart from Dstl, and two additional resources, Professor Ben Martin from SPRU and Dr. Theresa Gow from Dstl, who were consulted on specific matters. Other than the cost of purchasing the co-citation data from ISI and a few incidental costs for the initial mailing, the only other major cost was the cost of personnel. In total, this project took less than one year to complete and involved much less than one full-time person equivalent . Most foresight exercises involve large numbers of individuals, take years to complete and are very costly. In comparison, the Science Foresight Project was quite inexpensive, took a relatively small amount of time to administer and it had a quick turn around time from conception to completion. This can be attributed to the fact that experts were selected using an objective technique, extensive use was made of Internet and Web based technologies and expert panels and planning committees were not used. It is anticipated that even if all of the improvements that were made in the previous chapter were adopted, the turn around time would remain the same, i.e. less than a year, and personnel requirements might increase to two equivalent person years.
6.5 Science Foresight Project
6.5.1 The evolution of scientific progress can be likened to watching the weaving of an endless tapestry. The threads of scientific reasoning and discovery intermingle with human imagination to produce emerging patterns of knowledge. At the same time previous, apparently stable patterns disappear back into the fabric of evolving science. While no attempt was made in the Science Foresight Project to create a general overview of the emerging developments, some common symbiotic patterns seemed to be evolving from the threads presented by the experts in their various predictions. For example, emerging developments in mathematical and computational methods seem to underline progress in many research areas. At the same time, emerging developments in the Nano Science & Technology and Optical & Quantum categories appear to promise novel advances in computing devices that in turn could profoundly impact mathematical and computational methods. Among other things these developments could satisfy the increasing demand in all areas of physical and engineering sciences research to simulate phenomena from first principles and explore the intricate characteristics of dynamic non-linear systems, self-assembly processes and complex mesoscale organisation. In other words, the process of collecting predictions of emerging developments across a broad range of research activities may begin to reveal common emerging patterns in the fabric of science. Perhaps if predictions of emerging developments were collected from the international research community in a regular and on-going fashion, and these findings were reported in an unbiased manner back to the international community, then we may be able to gain valuable insight into common patterns that evolve from their collective research activities. In summary, there may be a role for an on-going low cost, time efficient and objective international Science Foresight activity that could assist policy makers, planners and researchers to dynamically monitor emerging research developments in a continuous manner.
6.5.2 The value of a study like the Science Foresight Project is three-fold. Firstly some repeatable techniques have been developed that objectively identify experts in new research fronts who are cited by their peers rather than being selected from traditional social and political networks. Secondly the predictions provide an unbiased overview of potential developments in these research fronts from experts with a general worldview of their research. And thirdly the predictions can be used to aid to scientists and engineers to keep them abreast of developments that may have implications on their research. Only time will tell if the experts' predictions will come true but the process of collecting predictions of emerging developments across a broad range of research activities may reveal common emerging patterns in the fabric of science. One clear finding is the need for trusted interpreters of the predictions who can comment on the possible implications for current policies and research projects. Although this work has generated a huge amount of information its real value will be gained when the results are presented to people working in the field.
6.6 The Future
6.6.1 In order to assess the value of this type of work to people working in the field, it is proposed that a second phase could be undertaken which would get individuals in Dstl to review the predictions and comment on the usefulness of the predictions to their specific area of research. In addition, a website containing the final report could be used to disseminate it to the wider research community and it also could be used to solicit comments and suggestions about the techniques and the findings. Furthermore, other information such as the details of the ISI publications that were used in the study could be provided and a hyperlink could be added between each summary and the complete text of the prediction. This would provide the reader with more insight into the potential valuable of this type of science foresight activity.
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