Foresight and Optimisation in Horizon 2020


As digital technology becomes more relevant in diverse aspects of our economy and society, it is important to anticipate changes in technology and how we use it. This understanding is particularly important for Horizon 2020, the European Union’s 7-year research and innovation funding programme.


RAND Europe explored how aspects of Horizon 2020 could be shaped to support development of European research and innovation capacity in ten key areas related to digital technology. The ten areas, listed at right, emerged from a crowdsourcing exercise carried out by the European Commission's Digital Foresight team in 2014.
The central question addressed in this project was: What type of research should be funded by the public purse?


Given that the world in which Horizon 2020 will operate will not be the same as that in which it was conceived, the study focused on bringing together critical uncertainties and policy implications. It used a foresight approach to explore trends, opportunities and future scenarios focused on those ten key areas.
The project had three main parts:
  1. A trend analysis of significant current and emergent developments along the ten themes;
  2. A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis from the perspective of European innovation system stakeholders in the context of societal grand challenges; and
  3. Scenario development, taking into account the critical uncertainties and policy implications associated with these themes.


In addition to the trends we detected in our ten themes (see right column), we developed a set of four scenarios, each with a slightly different character:
  • ‘Easy riders’ – after a painful period of economic recovery, the world attains steady growth and progresses towards societal objectives. Helping to feed this growth are digital enhancements and a vibrant set of new, agile companies and business models.
  • ‘Stately procession’ – economic growth is maintained, but the development of business and societal ecosystems has slowed to a crawl, ruled by large, powerful and stable organisations that produce a steady stream of modest advances in the most critical areas.
  • ‘Riders on the storm’ – the hoped-for recovery has faltered and a succession of crises has seen power returned to contending countries and increasing fragmentation and protectionism and the emergence of new networks based more on shared interest than national identity.
  • ‘Riding the waves’ – the emerging economies have been slowly overtaking today’s major powers, and inequality has declined. The economic shocks of 2007–2008 have given way to problems involving rare earths, terrorist states and climate change, strengthening international cooperation.
These scenarios help explore connections among the themes and test the robustness of specific recommendations to critical uncertainties. Robust policy options, which work well across all scenarios, can be implemented early; other options may need to be delayed until more is known, made more flexible, or monitored closely.


Using a foresight approach to explore trends, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as well as future scenarios for ten themes, the research offers a framework for assessing and reflecting on funding priorities. The study proposes guiding principles to help guide funding strategies, including:
  • Social, legal and policy implications of technology need to be integrated into technology research programmes
  • Inflexibilities in the legal and policy environment create barriers for the uptake of research outputs and must be addressed
  • It is important to consider whether traditional innovation support mechanisms are likely to engage key players in particular areas. E.g. Do-It-Yourself innovation is tightly linked to the sharing economy, but the sharing economy is disaggregated and likely to be dominated by actors other than traditional firms. Failing to find ways to engage these actors could result in the loss of their contributions.



Project Team

Helen Rebecca Schindler
Jonathan Cave
Salil Gunashekar
Veronika Horvath
Catherine Lichten
Enora Robin
Sonia Sousa
Nicole Van der Meulen