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Journal of technology management & innovation

versión On-line ISSN 0718-2724

Journal of Technology Management & Innovation vol.8  supl.1 Santiago feb. 2013

http://dx.doi.org/10.4067/S0718-27242013000300021 

 

Diffusion of Emerging Technologies for Sustainable Development: Prospective Assessment for Public Policies

 

Maria Fatima Ludovico de Almeida1, Carlos Augusto Caldas de Moraes2

1Master Program on Metrology, Quality and Innovation; Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro; Rua Marquês de São Vicente, 225, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 22471-150. Phone: 05521 35271542. E-mail: fatima.ludovico@puc-rio.br

2Center for Strategic Studies and Management in Science, Technology and Innovation; SCN Quadra 2, Bl.A, 11th floor, Brasilia, Brazil, 70712900. Phone: 05561 3424 9600. E-mail: cmoraes@cgee.org.br


Abstract

Emerging technologies based on biotechnology, nanotechnology, information and communication technologies (ICT), and green chemistry will shape the future of some industries and will transform many others. In many cases, these technologies will determine the development and restructuring of industries as never before. These changes, in turn, will promote debates and revisions of current regulatory frameworks and corporate business models. This paper - which is based on a prospective study carried out by the authors in 2010 - emphasizes the importance of understanding and anticipating movements of driving forces, trends and critical uncertainties at global level, which will influence the diffusion of emerging technologies into industrial processes and business models concerning seven societal sectors. The purpose of this paper is to describe the evolutionary trajectories of these sectors, based on diffusion of the so-called emergent technologies in a time horizon of 20 years.

Keywords: emerging technologies; technology foresight; prospective studies; sustainable development; public policies.


 

Introduction

Emerging technologies based on biotechnology, nanotechnology, information and communication technologies (ICT), and green chemistry will shape the future of some industries and will transform many others. In many cases, these technologies will determine the development and restructuring of industries as never before. These changes, in turn, will promote debates and revisions of current regulatory frameworks and corporate business models.

Will the new technologies findings be focused on radical innovative solutions that will generate new businesses? Or will technological advances be more incremental, concerning the improvement of existing technologies and businesses? Which new industrial configurations will emerge as a result of the diffusion of innovations related to biotechnology, nanotechnology, green chemistry, and ICT? And at what pace? To what extent the so-called emergent technologies will create or resolve ethical dilemmas?

These are questions for which planning based on prospective studies, particularly prospective scenarios, offers a robust conceptual framework. In fact, prospective scenarios are addressed for complex and highly volatile environments, organizing and revealing uncertainties and trends concerning the analysis of potential impacts of emerging technologies on current and future industrial configurations in long-term horizons (Georgantzas and Acar, 1995; Schoemaker and Van der Heijden, 1992; Van der Heijden, 2005; Schwartz, 1996; 2004). Prospective studies help managers to understand the commercial potential of emerging technologies and to use this understanding to formulate objective and consistent policies and programs for the consolidation of new industrial configurations. They also contribute to the revision of appropriate regulatory frameworks surrounding the diffusion and incorporation of new technologies in products, processes and services in the future.

From this perspective, it was developed a prospective study titled "Industries of the Future and Emerging Technologies", whose general objective was to analyze the potential impacts of emerging technologies on existing and future industrial settings, considering a time horizon of 20 years. More specifically, the study sought to: (i) analyze previous global and prospective studies focused on selected sectors, as well as national and international reports on the current status and future development of the so-called emerging technologies - nanotechnology, biotechnology, information and communication technologies, and green chemistry; (ii) discuss and describe projected trajectories of the selected sectors in two periods (2010-2020 and 2020-2030), (iii) identify the potential impacts of emerging technologies in building future industrial configurations (associated with the selected sectors); and (iv) analyze, in a global context, the implications of potential changes for Brazil focusing on the future sectorial trajectories.

The purpose of this paper is to present the main findings of this prospective study carried out by the authors in 2010, emphasizing the importance of understanding and anticipating the global driving forces and the key factors that directly influence the diffusion of emergent technologies into industrial processes concerning eight sectors, namely: health; agro-industries; forest systems; energy; buildings; mobility; telecommunications; and materials. Besides, this paper reinforces that there are certain sector- and technology-specific patterns of innovation that need to be taken into account in public policies aligned to a vision for a sustainable future. It was assumed that the evolution of these sectors based on emergent technologies' diffusion and respective public policies would have a great impact on the achievement of a vision for a sustainable future in 2030.

Figure 1. Basic structure of the conceptual model

Figure 1 represents the conceptual model developed and adopted in the prospective study. It integrates four basic elements: (i) the current situation as a baseline (business as usual scenario); (ii) diffusion of innovations based on emerging technologies in the selected sectors, focusing on the mentioned new technologies; (iii) business models and industrial configurations along the period from 2010 to 2020, and (iv) business models and industrial configurations aligned to a vision for a sustainable future in 2030 (period from 2020 to 2030).

From the analysis of the current situation, sectorial outlooks were described as a basis for constructing the "business as usual" scenario (Base line 0, in Figure 1). The analysis of long-term global scenarios led to the identification of the main driving forces, trends, and critical uncertainties that would influence the business models and industrial configurations concerning each sector along the period of 2010 - 2020.

In the sequence, with the adoption of prospective scenario's methodologies reviewed in the first phase of the research (Godet, 2001; Schoemaker, 1992; Van der Heijden, 2005; Schot, 1998; Georgantzas and Acar, 1995), it was possible to describe the evolution trajectories concerning the eight sectors for the first ten years. The 2020 future scenes for these sectors were translated into new baseline (Base line 1, in Figure 1). From these new baseline and considering the diffusion of the so-called emergent technologies in a time horizon of 10 years, the evolution trajectories of the above-mentioned sectors were designed within the perspective of a sustainable future in 2030 (Base line 2).

As already mentioned, the prospective study's scope encompasses eight sectors, and four groups of emergent technologies. The selected sectors include health; agro industries; forest systems; energy; building; mobility; telecommunications; and materials. For developing a cross-impact analysis focusing on the diffusion of emerging technologies on industrial configurations associated to the selected sectors, the following emerging technologies were considered: biotechnology; nanotechnology; green chemistry; and information and communication technologies (ICT).

Methodology

Aligned with the qualitative model represented in Figure 1, a schematic overview of the prospective study development is showed in Figure 2. It comprised three main phases: (i) conceptual; (ii) participative; and (iii) conclusive.

The "Conceptual phase" encompassed: (i) bibliographic and documentary reviews covering the research central themes and prospective studies; (ii) selection and analysis of systemic prospective studies at global level; and (iii) identification and analysis of prospective studies focusing on the technologies and sectors selected.

Concerning the bibliographic review, the following theoretical frameworks were considered: (i) dynamic approaches to innovation systems (Geels, 2004; 2005; 2008; Breschi and Malerba, 1998; Malerba, 2004; Johnson, 1998; Bergek, 2002; Bergek and Jacobsson, 2003; Carlsson and Jacobsson, 2004; Edquist, 2004); (ii) technology assessment approaches, in particular its constructive perspective (Smits et al. 1995; Sanmartín and Hronszky, 1994; Todt, 2002; Schot, 1992; Sanmartín and Ortí, 1992; Schot and Rip, 1998; Shrader-Frechette, 1985); and (iii) scenarios building (Van der Hei-jden, 2005; Schoemaker and Van der Heijden, 1992; Schwartz, 1996; 2004), with special attention to cross-impact analysis as proposed by Godet (2001).

In relation to the analysis of systemic prospective studies at global and sectorial levels, several documents were selected and reviewed with an attempt to: (i) mapping the driving forces that will influence the diffusion of emergent technologies and the evolution of sectorial trajectories; (ii) identifying the main trends and critical uncertainties drawn from multiple scenarios; and (iii) identifying key issues concerning emergent technologies advances, new business models and future industrial configurations.

By way of illustration, three prospective studies at global level were consulted and reviewed: (i) "Mapping the Global Future 2020", a study prepared by the U.S. National Intelligence Council, in 2002, (ii) "Global Scenarios 2025", which were prepared by Shell in 2005; and (iii) "Global Scenarios 2065", proposed by the Global Scenario Group as part of the normative study "Great Transition", published in 2002. At sectorial level, the main reference adopted was a prospective study titled "Vision 2050: the new agenda for business", which was published in 2010 by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

For the third step of "Conceptual phase" a structural analysis concerning the focused system was carried out using the MICMAC method developed by Lipsor, in France (Lipsor, 2010). According to Lipsor (2010), this form of analysis describes the system using a matrix which combines the constituent components of the system. The MICMAC method helped to: (i) identify the main variables which were both influential and dependent: those which were essential to the evolution of the system; (ii) map the inter-relationships and relevance of these variables for explaining the evolution of the system; and (iii) reveal the causal chain of the system, comprising the set of eight selected sectors, in this case.

The identification of key drivers by using MICMAC method seeks to improve the understanding of complex systems and to highlight what are the variables that need to be considered a priori. The MICMAC method consists of a program of matrix multiplication applied to direct relationships matrix, which allows to study the diffusion of impacts throughout the influence chain and feedback and, consequently, to rank more accurately the system variables. Its goal, as mentioned before, is to highlight the driving forces (the most influential) and also the most dependent, called "depending variables". Figure 3 represents the "influence-dependence chart", according to MICMAC method developed by Lipsor, in France (Lipsor, 2010).

Fundamentally, the structural analysis method comprised: (i) identification and description of key variables; (ii) expert judgment about the relationships between variables within a structural matrix; (iii) classification of variables adopting the MICMAC method proposed by Michel Godet (Lipsor, 2010); and (iv) design of the influence-dependence chart (Figure 3) and its corresponding influence graphs, which provided all the information needed to build the causal chain of the system.

In the "Participative phase" an expert panel was held in Brasilia in September 2010 and was attended by more than 60 experts from Brazilian government, academy, and industry. The objectives of this workshop were: (i) to validate the partial results from the conceptual phase; (ii) to build a vision for a global sustainable future, concerning the eight selected sectors (time horizon: 2030), (iii) to design the evolution trajectories of the selected sectors in a horizon of 20 years, considering key factors that will influence the diffusion of emergent technologies in two periods of time (2010-2020: and 2020-2030); and (iv) to analyze the implications for Brazilian public policies, corporate strategies and academic R&D orientation towards the 2030 vision for a sustainable future. Finally, in the "Conclusive phase", the results of previous phases were consolidated in a final report entitled "Prospective study on industries of the future and emerging technologies: a vision for a sustainable future" (CGEE, 2010, in Portuguese). The present paper summarizes the main findings presented in that document.

Figure 3. Influence-dependence chart, according to MICMAC method. Source: Lipsor (2010).

Results of the prospective study

This section presents the results of the prospective study, focusing on its conceptual and participative phases (See Figure 2). Considering the qualitative nature of the model and the methods of analysis that were employed, the research focus was on qualitative results and related insights. To accomplish this, we considered crucial the use of the MIC-MAC tool proposed by Michel Godet (Lipsor, 2010), given its capacity for reconstructing the causes of any result of the participative phase by backtracking the impact flows within a given configuration.

During the conceptual phase, it was possible to identify a preliminary list of key variables based on the analysis of five global prospective studies conducted by recognized institutions in this field. Table 1 presents a preliminary list of variables based on the analysis of those studies.

The understanding of the key variables that will condition the diffusion of emerging technologies and the evolution of industrial configurations in 20-year horizon was considered a key step in this prospective study. Content analysis of the five global studies listed in Table 1 allowed us to identify the main issues directly associated with emerging technologies and future industrial configurations.

The first stage consisted in listing all the variables which characterize the system under study and the variables concerning its environment. The final result was a list of internal and external variables for the system studied. The application of the MICMAC tool helped to validate this list, confirming the adequacy of the original selection. A detailed explanation of variables was indispensable to follow up the structural analysis and recognize relationships between the variables. Objective and clear definitions helped to identify former changes, variables which started the evolutions, to characterize the present situation and to recognize trends or future ruptures.

Tables 2 and 3 show respectively the context variables (external) and the system variables (internal) and their respective definitions. As a result, an "analytic grid" for the prospective study was established. It comprised seven external variables (associated to the context) and ten internal variables (related to the system).

Table 1. Driving forces identified in selected global prospective studies

For the classification of external and internal variables listed in Tables 2 and 3, a squared matrix (variables x variables) was fulfilled by experts from Brazilian Science and Technology (S&T) Community specially invited by CGEE for this purpose. The judgments were based on analysis of previous prospective studies, as follows: (i) five global prospective studies, and (ii) several sectorial prospective studies. The main results from the conceptual phase were: (i) a list of key variables that drive the evolution of the system towards the desired direction - a sustainable future; (ii) a list of relay variables, (iii) a list of depending variables; (iv) an influence-dependence chart (Figure 4); and (v) a corresponding influence graph, showing the relationships between variables (Figure 4).

The four key variables are the following: values change; global governance; economic growth; and population growth. The five relay variables are: human development; regulation; technology diffusion; climate change and environment. Finally, the eight depending variables are directly associated to the selected sectors.

Figure 4 represents the influence-dependence chart, which formed the basis for scenarios' building during the "Participative phase", together with its corresponding influence graph (See Figure 2).

All the objectives of the "Participative phase" were achieved. The results and discussions from the Brasília expert panel led to: (i) validate the partial results from the conceptual phase; (ii) build a vision for a global sustainable future, focusing on eight selected sectors; and (iii) design future sectorial trajectories in two periods of time (2010-2020, and 2020-2030).

Due to space constraints, only the results for the energy sector are shown in this paper (See Table 4). The findings concerning the remaining sectors can be found in the final report of the prospective study (CGEE, 2010).

Table 2. Context variables

Conclusions

The aim of this paper was to emphasize the importance of understanding and anticipating the global driving forces and the key factors that directly influence the diffusion of emergent technologies into industrial configurations and processes. The prospective study focused on eight sectors - health; agro industries; forest systems; energy; buildings; mobility; telecommunications; and materials - and demonstrated the usefulness of a variant of cross-impact method for building scenarios in uncertain environments. It revealed four driving forces, namely values change; global governance; economic growth; and population growth; five relay variables (human development; regulation; technology diffusion; climate change and environment), and eight depending variables, which are directly associated to the selected sectors. The scenario-building exercises developed during the participative phase have generated important insights concerning challenges of current situation and have also showed which new technologies are relevant for governments, companies, and other stakeholders to face the challenges. The scenarios designed for two periods (2010-2020, and 2020-2030) highlighted how the emergent technologies (considering social, economic, and political forces) can support a sustainable future. They were developed during an expert panel involving more than 60 representatives of the Brazilian government, universities, and industrial sectors.

Table 3. System variables

Focusing on the case illustrated in this paper - the energy sector in a global context - we could identify a set of trends and relevant issues for public policy formulation, as follows: (i) international consensus on effective management of greenhouse-gas emissions; (ii) definition of a global carbon price in the carbon market; (iii) effective policies towards costs reduction of energy generation and efficiency improvement of alternative sources of energy generation; (iv) energy consumption reduction campaigns and information diffusion concerning environmental and economic benefits of efficient energy use; (v) education about energy consumption habits within the context of overall energy efficiency; (vi) safety tests and demonstration for public acceptance of promising technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), nuclear power and biofuels; and (vii) the regionalization of energy solutions.

The main findings of the prospective study reinforced that there are certain sector- and technology-specific patterns of innovation that need to be taken into account in public policies and corporate strategies aligned to a vision for a sustainable future. It was assumed that the evolution of these sectors based on the diffusion of emergent technologies would have a great impact on the achievement of the vision for a sustainable future in 2030.

We believe that the results of the prospective focused in this paper are useful for developing public policy programs intended to stimulate and support innovations concerning biotechnology, nanotechnology, green chemistry, and ICT advances towards a sustainable future. They could also help companies to establish their low carbon corporate strategies, and also academic institutions to define their sustainable R&D guidelines. The scenarios highlighted how a sustainable future can be supported by emergent technologies, considering social, economic, and political forces, and can provide decision-makers with information relevant to their future strategic choices.

Figure 4. Diffusion of emerging technologies: influence-dependence chart

Table 4. Scenarios and diffusion of emergent technologies: focus on the energy sector

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