Information Society Technologies Foresight in Estonia
The project "IST Foresight in Estonia" focuses on Estonian innovation and industrial policy development in the context of IST advancement in the coming 10-15 years. Foresight is treated as a systematic, participatory, future-intelligence-gathering and medium-to-long-term vision-building process aimed at present-day decisions and mobilising joint actions, which, if properly managed, helps building widely accepted long term IST development visions that in turn helps both in improving local networking and strengthening the strategic planning capacity of the Estonian IST players.
The current foresight project is aimed at:
- Building a shared vision of the Estonian IST sector development in the global context i.e. Estonian ICT sector as part of the world economy and especially of the Scandinavian ICT cluster, and part of the European Research Area. This way, international exchange of knowledge and linking Estonia with other European foresight exercises is strongly supported while developing, piloting and demonstrating value of practical, flexible foresight methods.
- Supporting the development of activity-specific industrial policy (i.e. a policy that would consider the competitive advantage of different sectors and their future perspectives) while utilizing a cluster-based strategic planning approach (as the under-development of some sectors could discourage development in other sectors that form a cluster). Foresight is approached from innovation(1) viewpoint while keeping in mind the specific characteristics of small economies.
- Increasing/improving human resource pool in the foresight field, including getting all stakeholders thinking about foresight, and promoting dialogue between researchers, policy-makers, representatives of the industry and other societal actors on general science, technology and innovation policy issues of Estonian and European relevance, guaranteeing this way sustainability of the exercise.
This foresight action is based on the results of the project "Estonian eVikings" (Establishment of the Virtual Centre of Excellence for IST RTD in Estonia financed by the IST Programme) that analysed the Estonian ICT Sector Innovation System. According to the study:
- the rapid development of the telecommunications market and rapid increase in the use of IST consumer goods (mobile telephones, PC's), where relatively little skills are needed and the usage level depends on the supply, Estonia is a clear success story;
- however, the Estonian ICT sector is actually a part of the Scandinavian ICT cluster - 84% of ICT goods were exported to Finland and Sweden in 2000;
- the effect of Scandinavia can be summed up in a dual manner: on the one hand, it has facilitated the uptake of novel technology and provided Estonian companies with sustainable income through subcontracting; on the other, it reinforces the lock-in effect as the Estonian ICT industry is captured in low value added activities with little promotion of incentives for innovation;
- of domestic industries, manufacturing, the telecommunications sector, banking, wholesale and retail trade, and governmental structures are the important drivers of the emerging Estonian ICT cluster, as they demand most of the production generated by the ICT sector;
- comparing the portfolio of publicly-funded projects against the European common IST vision(2) leads to the argument that the large majority of current academic research themes are useful in sustaining and improving the quality of higher education, but the majority of the projects have a limited chance for innovation; also, the research response to the developing information society and to the needs of the society and emerging new markets is weak;
- some of the largest problems with the Estonian IST sector are related to short-term planning, focusing on local markets and relying on incremental innovation. For example, 50% of the sample ICT companies reported their 'strategic' business plans being for up to one year or there being no plan at all(3).
The outcome of the project contributes to development and implementation of specific action plans adopted by the Government of Estonia (with strong involvement of Estonian Research and Development Council, Ministries of Education and Economic Affairs).
(1) "Technological product and process innovations comprise of implemented (i.e. introduced on the market or used within a production process) technologically new products (means both goods and services) and processes as well as significant technological improvements in products and processes (p. 31). OECD. 1997. OECD Proposed Guidelines for Collecting and Interpreting Technological Innovation Data - Oslo Manual.
(2) Information Society Technologies Advisory Group 2001
(3) For more details please see Kalvet, T., Pihl, T., Tiits, M. 2001. Analysis of the Estonian ICT Sector Innovation System. Executive Summary. Archimedes Foundation.