Foresight approaches bring together diverse viewpoints to explore and anticipate future developments, helping society to plan and build resilience in the present.

In fulfilling its task of supporting policy implementation and the development of new policies to accelerate sustainability transitions in an increasingly interconnected, complex and uncertain world, the EEA has be en focusing on delivering more systemic, actionable and solution-oriented knowledge. An integral part of this evolution has been the expansion of its foresight capacity.

A brief definition of foresight

Foresight is the discipline of exploring and anticipating the future in a structured and systemic way. Its purpose is to help build and use collective intelligence to anticipate developments and shape the future we want.

European Commission, 2020

In 2020, the EEA’s European Environment – State and Outlook 2020 (SOER 2020) highlighted the essential role of foresight in the governance of sustainability transitions. The EEA-Eionet Strategy 2021-2030 likewise signals the growing importance of foresight in EEA work.

The EEA and Eionet have been developing forward looking information since the early 2000s. In 2009, the shared interest among Eionet member countries and the EEA in expanding their existing abilities to assess sustainability more systemically and proactively led to the creation of the Eionet Foresight Group.

Developing foresight capacities and tools has been providing significant added value in the form of solutions-oriented and co-created knowledge. Such activities have been contributing to:

  • Scanning the horizon to increase resilience by mapping and understanding the innovations, benefits and risks emerging across Europe and globally
  • Building a systemic view of sustainability and exploring what a sustainable Europe might look like and the pathways and policies to get there
  • Developing collaborations with a broader audience to foster communication between actors in different policy areas
  • Creating dialogue and co-creative work processes across the EEA and Eionet to support the development of integrated outputs based on our rich panel of analytical perspectives and methods

In broad terms, foresight-thinking has been informing the EEA’s and Eionet’s understanding of problems, dilemmas, assumptions and the multitude of actors’ perspectives and factors that shape our societies. As such, foresight for sustainability is a critical tool for guiding today’s policies towards a more sustainable future.

The following assessments present some of the latest foresight projects.

Reimagining the food system through social innovations

Food systems require urgent and profound transformation to become sustainable, both in Europe and worldwide. Social innovation plays a pivotal role in transforming today’s food systems into ones that are economically and socially feasible, and sustainable within planetary boundaries. This briefing presents the results of a systematic examination of emerging social innovations across the food chain, conducted using horizon scanning, a tool to detect early signs of potentially important developments. It offers insights into the experimentation taking place in alternative ways to produce, trade and consume food.

What could a sustainable Europe look like in 2050?

From the daily office commute to flexible working patterns — teleworking and sustainability

The COVID-19 pandemic transformed our traditional understanding of ‘work’ and pushed us to embrace new ways of working. Instead of the daily commute to the office, many people are choosing to work from home or a 'third place'. This briefing builds on the outcome of a participatory foresight process and desk research to examine how teleworking could affect our daily lives, our health and the environment.

Horizon scanning tips and tricks

The future of Europe is shaped by developments of societal, technological, economic, environmental and geopolitical nature that interact in complex and unpredictable ways. These wider developments might be relevant to the environment and environment policies.

Horizon scanning is one of the methods used in foresight to systematically scan or review various sources to detect early (or weak) signs of potentially important developments. It can support policymakers and other decision-makers in anticipating future developments, managing risks and pursuing opportunities to help build resilience to future shocks and reduce uncertainty.

Together with Eionet, the EEA published a practical guide, aimed to foster a culture of anticipation ajd preparedness by inspiring and equipping practitioners across Europe to explore the future using horizon scanning.