In line with the mission of the European Commission’s Future and Emerging Technologies programme FET, the overarching aim of OBSERVE was to support Europe to grasp leadership early on in new and emerging technology areas that promise to renew the basis for European competitiveness and growth and that makes a difference for society in the decades to come. OBSERVE did support the FET mission by identifying new opportunities and directions for interdisciplinary research towards new and visionary technology of any kind.

For this purpose, OBSERVE set up an Observatory that screens novel emerging needs, practices, collaborations and solutions using a set of quantitative and qualitative methods of prospective analysis.

The Project

  • The OBSERVE project was supported by an Advisory Board of outstanding Foresight experts:

    • Dr. Elena Hiltunen is CEO and Founder of What’s Next Consulting Oy. Elena holds a Doctor of Science (Business Administration). She is a leading thinker on horizon scanning methods, in particular weak signal screening, author of a number of key publications on weak signal scanning (c.f. Hiltunen 2008, 2007 and 2006) including the very recent book “future of technology in year 2035” (forthcoming in English in 2014). Elena is board member of European Futurist Conference and Editorial board member of Journal of Futures Studies.
    • Tatsuro Yoda, Ph.D., Senior Analyst Institute for Future Engineering, (Tokyo Japan), a think tank with a key role in advising Japanese Science and Technology Policy for more than 40 years. Mr Yoda specializes in science and technology policy, policy analysis, and technology foresight. He was a key contributor to the technology aspects of Japanese Foresight exercises.  His prior experiences include policy analysis works at the RAND Corporation (1998-2005), and policy coordination and management (civilian) at the Ministry of Defense (Defense Agency at the time) of the Japanese government (1992-1997).
    • Dr. Anne Stenros is Design Director at KONE Corporation, a world leading elevator and escalator company. She has the doctorate in technology in the field of architectural theory from Helsinki University of Technology. In 2005 she was Executive Director of Hong Kong Design Centre. She has lectured around the world and written articles on the theory and philosophy of architecture, design and innovation. She has been appointed as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce (FRSA, London) and has been actively contributing to a number of EC high level expert groups.
    • Radu Gheorghiu, Ph.D., is a founding member of Institutul de Prospectiva and advisor for the Romanian Minister of National Education and Research. In the last years, he has coordinated large scale foresight exercises supporting the elaboration of national strategies in the fields of R&D, education and public administration. He has also coordinated the development of a horizon scanning mechanism combining human analysis and machine learning, and published several scientific articles on foresight methodologies.

    The board reviewed the project’s methodology and findings in particular at two critical junctures indicated by the two Milestones: After the end of the Horizon Scanning Phase and upon delivery of the first potential hotspots for Milestone 2. 

  • OBSERVE implemented a bottom-up horizon scanning process using four different and complementary screening methods that yielded a set of emerging topics of different types presented in a structured one-page template.

    The horizon scanning activity was based on four pillars: 

    • Task 1.1 Publication analysis (Computer aided analysis of scientific publications)
    • Task 1.2 FET Portfolio analysis (Systematic analysis of portfolio and community of the FET activities as well as other funding agencies with similar profile)
    • Task 1.3 Web-mining (Computer aided analysis of future oriented tweets and blogs)
    • Task 1.4 Scouting (Systematic screening of fringe sources such as non-mainstream media outlets and science fiction literature, interviews) 

    Task 1.1. and 1.2 revealed mainly new interdisciplinary S&T topics and actor constellations whereas 1.3. and 1.4 yielded new technologies but also “soft aspects” such as new R&I practices and emerging social needs. The outcome of the horizon scanning was a rolling list of emerging topics in a wide range of domains which were fed into the sense making phase (WP2).

  • OBERVE set up a multi-stakeholder dialogue for interpreting and sense-making thereby condensing the emerging topics into a list of candidates for “Hotspots” that combine emerging needs, practices, ideas and technologies.

    This dialogue evolved in two phases. The first phase (Task 2.2) comprised three face to face workshops where experts with diverse background and perspectives reviewed specific trend clusters using a tailored combination of creativity methods and rigorous structured multi-criteria assessment. The outcome of these Workshops was a rolling list of potential FET Hotspots. This list was then submitted to an in depth assessment (WP3) through a broad online dialogue.

    The list of emerging topics was synthesised and clustered within a creative sense making session involving the project’s Advisory Board as well as selected FET Advisory Board members (Task 2.1). The outcomes of this workshop were clusters of emerging topics which formed the starting point of the multi-actor dialogue.

  • OBSERVE subjected the Hotspot-Candidates to a multi-criteria assessment within an online expert dialogue to evaluate their potential for the FET programme. OBSERVE carefully captured the lessons learned in terms of methodology as a basis for establishing a rolling process that could be established by the FET group beyond the projects duratio.

    WP3 incorporated a broad online dialogue (Task 3.1) where diverse experts from all-over Europe were asked to assess these trends with respect to novelty and relevance for European society and economy. With the help of the Advisory Board the team reviewed the assessments (Task 3.2) and established the final list of FET Hotspots emerging from this observation period.

All observations were captured within the OBSERVE FET 360° Radar and had been made available for actors throughout Europe in an inspiring format to spark strategic futures debates.

In a multi stakeholder dialogue involving a series of workshops and an online survey these emerging issues were condensed into potential Hotspots with relevance for the FET programme and other actors throughout Europe.

OBSERVE captured the lessons learned in terms of methodology to strengthen anticipatory capacity not only within FET but for all interested actors across Europe.


06/2015 – 05/2017


European Commission Future and Emerging Technologies

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 FET Programme under grant agreement No. 665136.