iKNOW ERA Toolkit

Applications of Wild Cards and Weak Signals to the Grand Challenges & Thematic Priorities of the European Research Area

Funded by Directorate-General for Research and Innovation Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities 


iKnow is a European Commission funded project under the Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities (SSH) theme. The iKnow Consortium was built around two complementary teams: a research team led by the University of Manchester with the support of FFRC in Finland, TC AS in Czech Republic, Z_punkt in Germany, RTC North in UK, ICTAF in Israel; and a technology development team also led by the University of Manchester with the support of Cyber Fox in Czech Republic and Mindcom in Finland. This report is a clear example of the symbiosis between the R and TD Teams. iKnow was deliberately configured and project managed in this way in order to make the most of web-based technologies to support communications with a wide range of experts and stakeholders.

When we started iKnow in November 2008, the EC was positioning "Grand Challenges" at the core of the European research and innovation agenda. The report of the European Research Area Expert Group on "Challenging Europe's Research: Rationales for the European Research Area (ERA)" offered some guidance as to how should Europe respond to Grand Challenges. It provided three basic criteria for their selection: (1) relevance for European level action, (2) clear research dimension and (3) feasibility as an economic and social investment. iKnow has combined these guiding principles, with insights gleaned from a wide range of participatory activities, in order to embed Grand Challenges in the project's conceptual, methodological and technological agendas. This ERA Toolkit on "Applications of wild cards and weak signals to the grand challenges and thematic priorities of the European Research Area" aims to be a source of reference and inspiration, for all those involved with the European Research Area. The Grand Challenges agenda requires actions on a substantial scale in order to truly make a difference to the fortunes of its economies and the lives of its citizens. Hopefully, this Toolkit can also contribute to overcoming what the ERA Expert Group saw as a lack of drive, direction and imagination among Europe's political actors to achieve these ends. We have developed an interactive version of the ERA Toolkit (online at http://toolkit.iknowfutures.eu) which is interconnected with the foresight and horizon scanning tools and knowledge base of the iKnow project.

Researching "surprises" (i.e. Wild Cards) and "seeds of change" (i.e. Weak Signals) is an extremely challenging endeavour but a fascinating and rewarding one. During the project the general reception of the innovation, foresight and horizon scanning communities was extremely encouraging and this is reflected in the high levels of participation, which, at the time of writing is around 1,500 members (15 October 2011) and counting 75 countries. As a result of the enthusiasm we were overwhelmed with a huge amount of original contributions relevant to science, technology and innovation policy in Europe and around the world. The issues revealed in this report and contained within the iKnow community database were generated with the support of several face-to-face and web-based activities.

Overall, the study of Wild Cards and Weak Signals (WI-WE) helped us gain knowledge and understanding about emerging and future issues in a wide range of thematic areas. The areas include: Health; Agro-food and biotechnology; Information and Communication Technologies; Nanotechnology and materials; Energy; Environment; Transport; Social Sciences and Humanities; Space; and Security. Given the scope and limited resources of the project (particularly time) we needed to be selective; 120 WI-WE issues were rigorously analysed but this is just a small sample (10%) of the total number of issues generated by the project.

Nevertheless this number was sufficient to demonstrate effectively the many product and process benefits of iKnow. The product benefits of the research agenda are represented with over a thousand codified outputs that are useful for follow-up action. These include: 1000+ WI-WE issues and the various project reports with policy and research recommendations. In addition, the TD agenda generated seven technological outputs or systems, namely: iBank (to characterise and store WI-WE issues), iScan (to monitor and search WI-WE issues), iDelphi (to assess and prioritise WI-WE issues), iLibrary (to share innovation and FHS documents), iCommunity (to engage and network innovation and FHS people), iNews (to feature key contributions to iKnow's FHS systems) and iOracle (to map FHS practices, players and outcomes - in collaboration with the mapping activities of the European Foresight Platform). With regards to the process benefits, iKnow has provided a forum for the involvement and participation of 1,000+ stakeholders from Europe, 200+ from South America, 100+ from Asia, 100+ from North America, and 10+ from Oceania and Africa. The participatory and strategic dialogue space provided by the iKnow system has aided communication, networking and collaboration across organisational and geographical boundaries that would otherwise have been very difficult to bridge.

We hope that this report will encourage you to join the iKnow Community and we invite you to contribute to and make use of the resources available online at: www.iknowfutures.eu.

Rafael Popper
Director of iKnow