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Workshop PROSPER 2013

THE ISSUE OF REPRESENTATIONS IN FORESIGHT How can we build more efficient representations of the future for collective commitment?

The collective and individual decision-making skills we use to guide events in a way that seems desirable are based on our representation of the world and the forces acting within it. If our representation of the world is incomplete, biased or changed, then our decision-making abilities will be limited. Foresight specifically aims to provide methods that overcome these limitations.

Individually, our representation of the world is based on personal experience. Essentially implicit, it is rooted in our unique path, which in turn is formed by the surrounding cultural context. In the same way that a map is not real land, our representation of the world is not a universal reality but the translation of that reality through our framework of thought. If our representation of the world is different to that of others (and this is generally the case), we will ascribe a different meaning to observable facts: then we will no longer be able to understand each other.

Collectively, efficient action therefore requires a shared representation of the situation, to ensure that the collected facts and data are all given the same meaning by everyone involved. The issue of developing a shared representation is central to forward looking activities. It is particularly important as these activities deal with the future, a purely imaginary creation based on our representation of the present, which itself is built on our past experiences.

In order to lead a foresight exercise, we first have to allow individuals to express their personal representations and place these within the larger collective representation that emerges from discussions between participants. Reflexively, individual representations are also expanded as they absorb the contributions of others. Once a shared framework has been built that gives meaning to facts and can be projected into the future, participants are better able to articulate specific with general interests.

The aim of the work undertaken

The Workshop held on 26 June 2013 opened the work on the issue of representation in forward looking activities. More specifically, it focused on the overlap between “personal understanding” and “transmission to others”. During this exploratory phase, the originality of our approach came from the confrontation of knowledge coming from cognitive sciences and from operational practices. The aim was to understand how representations lead to actions, how foresight can impact on representations, how representations can be shared and transmitted.

The confrontation between knowledge and methodology helps to build a better base for the future work of the PROSPER Network, which aims to meet two operational targets:

· Improving the quality and efficiency of the production process, by ensuring participants in foresight exercises create a shared representation of the situations they are looking to explore for possible future outcomes, in order to ensure the understanding of key concepts involved in the dynamics of the systems studied is shared properly.

· Facilitating better transmission of the intelligence of the systems studied, and of any lessons learned, to third parties or decision-makers, through easily absorbable representations that transmit meaning rather than facts, which could be reinterpreted through other filters.

Workshop Overview

The 2013 PROSPER Workshop brought together 25 participants for a full day of exchanges and discussions.

The morning session was focused on sharing expertise between foresight and social science professionals. A number of social science reference points, specifically relating to mental representations, were defined first, followed by the presentation of some examples of foresight processes, based on the construction of shared representations.

The afternoon provided an opportunity to look at the issue of foresight language and its meaning in greater depth. Various foresight exercise types were analysed, to examine how they dealt with result appropriation and transmission: foresight games, cartoons, role playing, etc.

These discussions between foresight specialists, representational sociologists and semiologists were particularly fruitful.