University of Sussex

File(s) not publicly available

The origins of the concept of `foresight' in science and technology: an insider's perspective

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 05:10 authored by Ben MartinBen Martin
This article explores how the term foresight originally came to be used in connection with science and technology by the author and SPRU colleagues in 1983. It analyses how the rationale for its use evolved over time, first providing a catchy title for a study (Project Foresight), and then a convenient shorthand for the focus of that study, before eventually coming to formally signify a new approach to looking systematically into the future of science and technology, an inclusive and wide-ranging process that differed appreciably from that of traditional technology forecasting. The paper reflects on the importance of concepts and terminology in the field of science policy research, providing examples of how an inappropriate term or phrase can damn the prospects of the research having an impact on policy, while a more politically astute use of terminology can greatly enhance the probability of making a significant impact. The paper also examines other early uses of the concept of foresight in the United States and Canada at about the same time. In addition, it highlights the conceptual similarities between foresight and la prospective, a novel approach developed in France not just for looking into the future but also for shaping or even constructing the future of our choice, an ambitious aspiration that it shares with foresight. This case-study on the origins and early evolution of technology foresight illustrates the essential importance of terminology in differentiating key concepts in social sciences (where it sometimes gives rise to unfortunate priority disputes), and particularly in the case of policy research.


Publication status

  • Published


Technological Forecasting and Social Change







Page range


Department affiliated with

  • SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit Publications


Special issue on 'strategic foresight'

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

Legacy Posted Date


Usage metrics

    University of Sussex (Publications)


    No categories selected