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 

Introduction to the thematic priorities

Thematic Priorities

The European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) comprises eleven Thematic Programmes: these are listed below, (with their approximate budget in billions of Euros in parentheses):
1. Health (6.0)
2. Food, Agriculture, Biotech (1.9)
3. Information and Communication Technologies -ICT (9.1)
4. Nanotech, Materials, Processes (3.5)
5. Energy (2.3)
6. Environment (1.9)
7. Transport - incl. Air transport and Galileo (4.2)
8. Socio-economic Sciences and the Humanities (0.6)
9. Space (1.4)
10. Security (1.4)
11. Nuclear research - EURATOM (2.7)

The outer ring of this image shows the 15 specific programmes of the EC FP7 with the size representing the allocated funding, e.g. €9,110 million for ICT research and €610 million for social sciences and humanities (SSH) research.

This section provides some outline details and thoughts on these 11 thematic priorities, and discusses how they relate to the work on wild cards and weak signals carried out by the iKnow project.

The thematic details are abstracted from various EU documents, and the terms used to describe the various lines of work come from these authoritative sources2. Since iKnow deals with wild cards, it is probably worth pointing out that there might be alternative views as to the underlying rationales for, and the merits of, the different themes. There may well be wild cards that would emerge from consideration of such appraisals. For example, consider what wild cards might emerge from the ideas that we are looking at the “wrong” technologies, or at technological solutions where the real challenges are social ones, perhaps because our problem-framing has been captured by this or that lobby – and what weak signals would suggest that such is the case, or at least that growing numbers of stakeholders believe this to be the case.

But even without such deconstruction of the current themes, it is possible to envisage numerous wild cards that can be inspired by the work that is underway within them. We could ask, for example:

  • What would happen if this research is unexpectedly successful, and important new applications of the knowledge are rapidly and successfully commercialised/made available on a large scale?
  • What would happen if this research is unexpectedly unsuccessful, and obstacles to progress, or to European success, in this field are uncovered – what might these obstacles mean for development and applications of the knowledge in this field more generally?
  • What unexpected things might happen that could take development and applications off on quite new paths, creating new paradigms or new sets of producer and user?
  • Might there be unexpected interactions between work in this area and that underway in other areas?


These are only a small set of the questions that can be used to provoke wild card and weak signals (WI-WE) analysis. iKnow has been pioneering the systematic application of such lines of enquiry, focusing on the Science, Technology and Innovation scene, and on FP7 in particular. However, the approaches that we have developed should be applicable on a much wider scale, to just about any area of policy or strategic analysis.