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Scanning for Emerging Science and Technology Issues

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Projecting problems ahead for Europe

There is a growing demand for tools enabling the anticipation of destructive scenarios like the recent credit crunch. An EU initiative developed an approach to assist in pre-empting vital future events.

Climate Change and Environment

Modern society is influenced by high-impact, yet seemingly improbable events, like the energy crisis. One example of an emerging issue is the increase in life expectancy. As these issues arise, there might be clues, or so-called weak signals, that researchers could use to anticipate future scenarios. Funded by the EU, the 'Scanning for emerging science and technology issues' (SESTI) project developed an effective system allowing for the early identification of such weak signals. The system enables policymakers to better identify problems before they occur. SESTI centred on emerging social, sustainability, health and energy issues. Researchers scanned for weak signals online to devise techniques and approaches. The scanning helped to determine weak signals and to assess their effectiveness for policymakers. The results from the scanning formed the basis for three workshops in the fields of cognitive enhancement, health care and energy. A number of reports followed on emerging issues in each domain. At one of the workshops, the project team established that signal scanning was complex and needed further exploration. This led to an additional workshop to look into new methodological approaches. Following the methodological workshop, researchers determined that the intellectual capacity of humans is essential in scanning emerging issues. Automated tools are not able to understand the societal contexts that go into identifying weak signals. The whole system is thus ultimately influenced by the insights, interests and requirements of those running it. SESTI outcomes will help governments and decision makers to better anticipate fundamental future issues. The project should also enable EU citizens to tackle societal problems in a proactive manner.

Keywords

Weak signals, future scenarios, science and technology issues, emerging issues

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