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The role of discourse in policy-oriented foresight

Ellen Fobé
University of Leuven
Marleen Brans
University of Leuven
Ellen Fobé
University of Leuven
Open Panel

Abstract

This paper analyses the relationship between policy change and policy-oriented foresight and the role of discourse in it. The future can be regarded as a domain for anticipation and action, and serves thereby as a platform for change. It encompasses however also a high degree of uncertainty, allowing for several possible futures to be envisioned. Policy-oriented foresight enables policy change by transforming actual public policy, or by developing future policy into robust policy decisions. The basis of this policy change and these robust decisions is provided by the analysis in the foresight exercise of several different, but possible future developments, or by the identification of different but possible future policy priorities, problems, goals and strategic principles. One of the main threats to the added value of policy-oriented foresight is that it remains unused because the diffusion with and acceptance by policy actors of this knowledge proves to be insufficient. In order to enable policy change, foresight actors will therefore have to do more than merely provide policy makers with the outcome of their research. They will have to pay attention to aspects of vision, dialogue and discourse during and after the organisation of the policy process as well. By this, the political utility of their research in a policy context and a higher level of dissemination and support with policy actors and other stakeholders can be raised. The paper analyses and compares three foresight exercises conducted by Flemish public organizations working on the boundary of policy, science, and society. For each of the cases we investigate the nature and role of discourse and dialogue in the foresight process that lead to policy change or that might provide an explanation for the absence of it.