Social Foresight Lab

Societal challenges such as demographic change affects rural areas in particular. The Social Foresight Lab is an innovative participatory approach towards rural development and technology transfer to address these challenges. It combines foresight, needs assessment and strategy development. Rural areas benefit, as it takes into account regional characteristics, initiates new cooperations among regional stakeholders, and integrates technological and social innovations into regional development.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Societal challenges such as demographic change affect rural areas in particular. Young people migrate to urban areas while often only elder people stay leading to a destabilized local community, to vacant houses and stores in the centers and affecting the local supply of food and services.

The Social Foresight Lab is an innovative participatory approach towards rural development and technology transfer, which address these challenges. It combines methods of social and technological foresight, needs assessment and strategy development. Its central principles are the combination of social and technological innovation, engagement of multiple stakeholders early in the innovation process, experimentation with future solutions in real-life settings and learning from these experiences.

Facing the complexity of societal challenges, systemic strategies that combine new solutions are necessary, for example in the field of mobility, working and living. Experts of rural development cannot develop such strategies on their own. It requires participatory processes, which incorporates knowledge, experiences, and experts of all stakeholders involved in rural areas.

The social foresight lab provides such processes. It starts from taking into account regional characteristics, initiates new co-operation among regional stakeholders, and integrates technological and social innovations into regional development. Thus, the lab combines knowledge about possible futures of rural areas with local needs and characteristics. Furthermore, it also empowers people to engage in processes of rural development in a meaningful way.

The first version of the social foresight lab has been going on for two years. In an iterative process between technology foresight, societal foresight, and needs-orientation, the lab team developed three future visions of rural areas, which framed three workshops in rural areas. In these workshops, around 70 lay-people experimented with speculative future solutions to articulate their needs. These needs are transferred to both local and national stakeholders of regional development, as well as to national research and technology organizations.

To realize this social foresight lab, we combined established social science methods (such as interviews and quantitative data on rural areas) with methods from design (in particular participatory design methods and speculative design). These methods allowed persons to articulate and bring in their perspectives. Confronted with speculative objects that materialized future solutions, they were empowered to think and talk about their most pressing needs.

So far, the social foresight lab has been tested in three regions in Germany. In these regions, the lab is part of the processes of regional development. While the German Federal Ministry of Science and Education funded the lab, these regions use local funding or funding from other external sources to sustain the local processes initiated by the lab and to implement ideas generated there. Furthermore, a network of innovative rural areas has been formed to transfer the knowledge produced in the lab and to identify further interested regions.

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Year: 2018
Level of government: National/Federal government

Status:

  • Implementation - making the innovation happen
  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
  • Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways

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