|Science and Technology Foresight Center
1. Purpose of establishment
Science and technology is a vital key to overcoming the various issues Japan is facing today, and to opening up new possibilities for Japan in the future, and to this end, Japan needs its own highly perceptive policies for promoting science and technology.
Formulating such policies requires a timely and detailed understanding of the latest R&D trends and developments in science and technology policy both in Japan and overseas, and the comprehensive analysis of these trends and developments to enable accurate predictions of future science and technology trends.
In January 2001 the new science and technology administrative structure came into force, comprising the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, under the general supervision of the Science and Technology Council. To enable these organizations to develop strategic science and technology policy, it is essential to enhance the objective survey and analysis functions that underpin policy formulation.
In this light, the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP) established the Science and Technology Foresight Center (the Center) in January 2001 with the aim of enhancing and strengthening trend research and analysis functions in important science and technology fields.
The Center’s mission is to conduct systematic and perceptive surveys and analyses regarding the state of and future trends in key science and technology fields (key fields in the Science and Technology Council report on the second Science and Technology Basic Plan), while maintaining close cooperative ties with NISTEP theory- and policy-oriented research groups. The Center will conduct surveys and analyses from a broad range of perspectives, including the future outlook for society. It will also continue to implement the NISTEP technology forecast surveys using the Delphi method every 4–5 years, and carry out research into technology forecast methods.
The survey and research results achieved by the Center will form a basic reference database for reviewing the Science and Technology Basic Plan and formulating science and technology strategies by the Science and Technology Council, and formulating research and development plans by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and will also be used in research and policy evaluation in administrative departments connected with science and technology. The Center will also make these results widely available to private companies and other organizations outside the administrative departments.
Beneath the Director are five units, each of which conducts surveys and analyses of trends in their respective science and technology fields. The Center conducts surveys and analysis focusing on the four fields of
• Life Science
• Information & Communications
• Nanotechnology and Materials,
to which the Science and Technology Council report on the second Science and Technology Basic Plan stated “particular emphasis and priority in R&D resources is to be given”. The Center also carries out surveys and analyses on the important domains in the four fields of
• Manufacturing Technology
• Social Infrastructure
• Frontier (Space and Oceans),
about which the report stated “R&D must be promoted with emphasis on domains that are fundamental to the existence of the nation, and must therefore be tackled at the national level”.
Fig. Organization of the Science and Technology Foresight Center
General Affairs Unit
Life Science and Medical Care Unit
Information and Communications Unit
Environment and Energy Unit
Materials and Manufacturing Technology Unit
4. Major activities
(1) Collection and analysis of information on science and technology trends
Collecting the latest information in the vast and diverse sphere of science and technology is crucial for accurately analyzing trends in the major science and technology fields. Science and technology today is highly specialized, so obtaining the cooperation of researchers in the front-line of their research fields and other experts with advanced specialist knowledge is essential when collecting information. The Center uses the Internet to build an information network linking numerous experts in a broad range of fields in the industrial, academic and government sectors (referred to here as “specialist researchers”), enabling it to collect and analyze information on trends and developments in science and technology both in Japan and overseas.
Through this network, the Center can identify important developments, such as research achievements announced in Japanese and overseas academic conferences and scientific journals, and gather a broad range of views from specialist researchers regarding the future direction of science and technology.
The Center arranges and analyzes the information offered by specialist researchers and information it has collected itself, and submits reports to the Council for Science and Technology and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology as necessary. It will also publish on a monthly basis the “Science and Technology Foresight Center Bulletin” (tentative name) covering key items of information, and make it widely available through the NISTEP website.
(2) Research into trends in major science and technology fields and domains
The Center surveys and analyzes key technologies in and technological hurdles to the advancement of important science and technology fields and domains with a view to clarifying specific priority issues and R&D themes that should be tackled at the national level. In selecting themes, the Center focuses on and allocates priority to those considered to be important considering trends in government administration, and socioeconomic needs.
When conducting surveys and research, the Center not only collects and analyzes its own information, but incorporates the views of a large and diverse range of experts by holding lecture meetings with guest speakers, and establishing research committees comprising experts from outside the organization.
It also researches and analyzes Japan’s standing in science and technology, comparing Japanese standards in key fields and domains with those of North America and the developed nations of Europe. The Center implements this research in concert with research on science and technology levels conducted by departments connected with the Council for Science and Technology and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
The above survey and research results are also incorporated into NISTEP Reports, NISTEP Research Materials Reports and the like similar to other research activities by NISTEP.
(3) Research regarding technology forecasts
NISTEP undertakes a technology forecast survey using the Delphi method every five years or so to determine long-term future trends in science and technology. With the cooperation of many experts, the Center will continue to implement these surveys, and also carry out studies and research on technology forecast methods.
For this survey, the Center organizes a technology forecast committee of experts and subcommittees for each field, and selects technologies that are expected to play a major role over the next 30 years. Questionnaires regarding the importance and forecasted realization times for each of the selected major technologies are sent on two occasions to experts in each field, and by having the experts consolidate their opinions, the survey is able to clarify common perceptions regarding future prospects. These questionnaire results are analyzed by the technology forecast committee and the subcommittees.
The Center implements this survey in alignment with the five-yearly review of the Science and Technology Basic Plan. After processing, the results of the survey are submitted as basic reference material for the examination of the plan.
From the 1990s the value of the technology forecast survey as policy data has been recognized internationally, and other countries have begun to introduce their own technology forecast surveys. The Center is therefore actively promoting information and research exchanges with other countries.
Within the Center, permanent staff, visiting researchers and various other experts from the industrial, academic and government sectors join forces to survey and analyze science and technology from various perspectives. The Center has a flexible management structure that enables it to respond to changes in the environment surrounding science and technology, and works to enhance its cooperative links with the following organizations.
(1) Administrative departments
It is important that the Center’s survey results are effectively utilized in science and technology policy planning and formulation, so the Center maintains close coordination and cooperation with related administrative departments.
(2) Related organizations in Japan
The Center promotes coordination and cooperation with external science and technology experts through such means as the specialist network, and also with Japanese research and survey organizations that have accumulated extensive information on science and technology trends, and academic societies and associations in the relevant fields.
(3) Related organizations overseas
While NISTEP conducts exchanges with numerous science and technology policy research organizations in various countries, the Center also promotes information and research exchanges with other countries when implementing surveys and research on technology forecasts and science and technology trends.