Espacios. Vol. 33 (9) 2012. Pág. 4
Prospective studies and public policy: the case of Embrapa
Estudos prospectivos e políticas públicas: o caso da Embrapa
Recibido: 05-02-2012 - Aprobado: 20-05-2012
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There has been growth recently in interest in methodological tools. This is due to the fact that they assist in the formulation of public policies, making them more comprehensive and effective. According to Godet and Durante (2011), in France in 1950s the first prospective studies, aiming at assisting the long term strategic planning process of a government, were developed. In Brazil, these studies began to be used as a strategic planning tool from the 1970s, principally because of the profound changes in the international arena, particularly with regard to economic globalization and accelerating technological change (Santos et Al, 2004). Only since the 1990s however, did this methodology begin to be utilized more effectively by public institutions such as Embrapa. This article discusses the use of prospective studies in the public policy process. The Embrapa experience is used as a case study. This paper, initially discusses the concept and stages of public policy, and then describes the concept of prospective studies. It then moves on to discuss the use of prospective studies in public policy formulation and finally, provides an analysis of the use of foresight in strategic planning by Company.
Research for this article uses a case study as its base. The technique of action research was utilized as one of its authors is a staff member of Embrapa. The data collected came from documentary analysis and semi-structured interviews, as well as the review of literature on the subject in publications available. Questionnaires and interviews were conducted with the aim of understanding the process of preparing the strategic planning strategies in Embrapa, using prospective techniques. People directly connected to the planning and execution of this process, were interviewed. The data obtained was incorporated into a theoretical content. It was then studied and as a result served to clarify the objectives and procedures used by Embrapa.
2.1. Concept and Public Policy Steps
There is no consensus on a definition of public policy. Mead (1995) defines it as "a field within the policy study area that analyzes the government in light of major public issues." For Peters (1986), public policy is the sum of the activities of governments, acting directly or through delegation, and influencing the lives of their citizens. Dye (1984) defines public policy as simply "what the government chooses to or not do." Laswell (1958) interprets it as "judgments and analysis on public policy. This involves the answering the following questions: Who gets what? Why? What difference does it make?" For Heidemann (2009), the definition of public policy includes two key elements: intent and action. All definitions point to government involvement, where ideas are conceived and decisions taken. Despite the different approaches, definitions hold the view that the whole is more important than the parts. Individuals, institutions, interactions, ideology and interests count, even though there are differences in relation to the relative importance of these (Souza, 2006).
According to Frey (2000) the process of formulating and implementing public policies may undergo transformation in their course because of changes occurring in the political arena. The division of the “policy cycle” cited in the bibliography does not differ much. They have in common the stages of: formulation, implementation and control of the impacts of policies. In this article we will consider, for purposes of analysis, the division of the public policy process proposed by Frey (2000), composed of five phases:
a) Perception and definition of problems: At this stage, a political problem can be perceived by social groups isolated by politicians or the government itself. Kingdon (2003) stresses that the problem only needs to be confronted when policy makers believe they need to do something in relation to it. Baumgartner and Jones (1993), state that problems are constructions involving the interpretation of social dynamics.
b) Agenda setting: This is the stage when it should be decided which of the topics discussed will actually form part of the agenda. For this decision to take place there needs to be a previous evaluation of the costs and benefits of various options of action available. Souza (2006) states that governments define their agenda in three ways: They focus on problems; focus on policy and focus on the participants.
c) Development of programs and decisions: Is it the most appropriate choice among several alternatives of choice? Normally the act of decision is preceded by a process of conflict and agreement involving influential actors in the policy and administration areas, (Frey, 2000). This selection considers the consistency of the program and provides the necessary resources and political support (Laehra, 2004).
d) Implementation of policies: Public policy actually materializes through decisions made based on the schedule constructed by the stakeholders. Their implementation consists of a set of actions intended to transform the intentions of the actors into observable results (Dias, 2009). For Ahmed (2006) until it is implemented, a policy is only one set of intentions. They are only effective at the time of their implementation.
e) Review and possible correction of action: This is the last phase of the cycle of public policy and deals with the evaluation of the programs already implemented. It looks at their impacts and results. For Dias (2009) although the assessment is presented as the last stage of the political cycle, it does not necessarily happen at this point in time. It can occur at the beginning or during the cycle. Its objective is to analyze public policy.
2.2. Prospective Studies: Definitions, Methods and Steps
Mayerhoffer (2008) explains that there are several terms and definitions for prospective studies. These terms seek to adapt to the language and distinctions between different approaches and methodologies that can be used in its preparation. The author also states that in general terms, Prospective Studies can be defined as "the study of the future to develop a strategic approach to creating a desirable future."
According to Cole (2003), prospective studies seek to clarify nature, value, and probability and determine the time of relevant scientific and technological developments. To Godet e Durance (2011), Foresight should aim to make action effective. It observes the future not by studying the present but instead by looking at the future by choosing a future among the many possible futures. For the Godet e Durance (2011) foresight should clarify the general meaning and depth of the observed facts, and help draw up plans and programs and make immediate recommendations, show ideas in action, set realistic goals to be achieved.
The Center for Management and Strategic Studies (CGEE) defines three major areas that are part of prospective studies: Forecasting: This focuses on technological change as a result of new technologies. Foresight: This is used to identify areas of strategic research and emerging technologies that have the propensity to generate the greatest economic and social benefits. Future Studies: Their aim is to study the future and people’s mindset and behaviors.
Methods and techniques tend to differ in approaches and skills required. They can be classified as "hard" (quantitative, empirical, numerical) or "soft" (qualitative judgments based on or reflecting tacit knowledge).
A recent classification of the methods and techniques in use in existing and prospective activities is the proposed via a combination Coelho (2003), based on Porter et al (1991) e Skumanich and Silbernagel (1997). The methods can be modified based on the needs of each case. They may also be combined with each other and with other methods. Based on the opinion of some authors, as summarized in Table 1 below, they are the most representative widely used techniques.
Table 1: Techniques of Prospective Studies, Characteristics, Uses and Limitations.
Source: Adapted from: Coelho (2003); Santos et al (2004); Rocha (2004); Oliveira (2009); CGEE; Godet e Durance (2011);
Before deciding on one or more tools for prospecting, it is necessary to develop a set of preliminary activities that are fundamental to any prospective study. Zackiewicz (2010) points out five major stages (Table 2) that include a prospective study..
Table 2 - Stages of the Foresight exercise
Source: Zackiewicz, 2010.
1. Formulation of the problem: Considering issues can come from many places, it is necessary to screen questions in detail to define the purpose and scope of prospecting. Thus, it is necessary to organize and analyze the components of the problem.
2. Getting Information: At the exploration stage, relevant sources of information are: patents, scientific papers, curriculum research, technical articles, government publications, events and seminars.
3. Drawing from prospecting: Beyond the choice of tool or a combination of appropriate methods, it is necessary to compare the information obtained with relevant stakeholders. It is important to seek new knowledge and link it to possible futures and present actions.
4. Getting results: The interpretations and visions of the future should be consolidated into reports and distributed among people not involved directly in the process. The results should meet the objectives that motivated the study.
5. Evaluation and validation: The consistency of the study is not in its ability to predict more or less. The clarity and quality of its design and its effectiveness will depend on the credibility and commitment among the participants in relation to the future vision built. The best validation is one constructed during the process.
In the opinion of Godet and Durance (2011), the use of foresight for the development of a strategic vision of a country's long-term future, is an introduction: to set strategic directions, set goals, set policies and the development of partnerships with other countries. Also according to the authors, the diagnosis of a retro prospective element is increasingly essential to the evolution of territories and the understanding of their past development.
According Cuhls e Grupp (2001) cited in Coelho (2003), the focuses of research studies in the context of establishing public policies can have several goals, including:
• To have the broadest choice of opportunities to set priorities and assess impacts and opportunities.
• Discover new demands, new possibilities and new ideas.
• Focus selectively on; economic, technological, social, ecological areas, and start monitoring them doing detailed research in these fields.
• Defining desirable and undesirable futures.
• Initiate and stimulate the process of ongoing discussion.
Santos et al (2004) also advocate the use of prospective studies in the formulation of public policy because, according to the authors, these studies add value to present information, transforming it into knowledge, and thus helping the decision and policy makers in construct their strategies. In 1985, Coates (1985) and Santos et al (2004) argued that prospective studies allow one to understand the forces that shape the long term future and therefore should be considered in the process of policy formulation, planning and decisions making. This process links them closely to public planning.
Several countries have used techniques of prospective studies to assist in the process of public policy. Gavigan (1999), cited in Cole (2003) states that in the last 30 years, worldwide, many activities related to developing strategies and planning policies were developed, using structured techniques to prospect.
Godet and Durance (2011) believe that prospective studies allow one to introduce the culture of anticipation and collective debate into the future challenges and choices presented. This allows for the anticipation of structural changes and changing territory. With competition between countries and the empowerment of civil society and its requirements, governments need a tool to anticipate the future so they can make decisions more relevant in economic terms. This makes for more socially acceptable and environmentally sound decisions (Godet e Durance, 2011).
For Godet e Durance (2011), Foresight allows the participation of local actors in strategic decisions favoring the discovery of data ignored or forgotten and further explores issues that are often resolved only in cases of urgency by politicians and local officials. For the author, this tool offers an innovative character, which aids in public management and strategic territories. It has a major role in the evaluation of territorial public policies.
Godet e Durance (2011), claim that territories are increasingly involved in public debates that promote speculation about the future and attempts to advance. The quest for consistency through new forms of participation between government and civil society to build a shared vision with the various partners that make up public policy, has become an important occupation. The author asserts that the decision to use the preparation of spatial strategies, taking into account a possible future, is becoming ever more important. Prospective studies thus constitute an important tool "in the service of strategic management of territories" (Godet, Durance, 2011, p. 101).
According Aulicino (2006) despite the complexity and time required to perform prospective studies the information provided by them contribute to effective decision making and formulation of public policies. They propitiate the formation of networks among participants and improve relationship among the stakeholders. The author illustrates this by citing the fact that the EU considers as important prospective studies that required the thirteen countries who are new members to undergo a diagnosis of the scientific, technological, social, environmental and economic aspects of each candidate.
4. The use of foresight for developing strategies used by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation - Embrapa.
The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation - Embrapa is a public company which operates similar to a private company. It is governed by Ministry of Agriculture and Supply, was established on April 26, 1973 and is the largest and leading agricultural research institution in the country. Its tropical technology research center is recognized as being the most important center in world. The organizations primary functions are the implementation of research and development (R e D) and the transference of technologies it generates. The institute also coordinates the National Agricultural Research (SNPA), which consists of: State Organizations of Agricultural Research (OEPA's), universities and research institutes, federal and state governments and other organizations, both public and private, directly or indirectly active in the agricultural research field. Its mission is to: "facilitate solutions in research, development and innovation for sustainable agriculture for the benefit of Brazilian society." It operates through 15 administrative units and 45 research units or service called Decentralized Units (DUs) located in various states. Embrapa has a staff of 9,248 employees, of which 2,215 are researchers - 18% with master's diplomas, 74% with doctorates and with 7% post-doctorates. Its budget in 2010 was R$ 1 billion and 863 thousand.
The reorganization of world political and economic blocks and opening up the economy in the late 1980s, led Embrapa in the early 1990s to decide to use prospective studies methods in their process of decision making and strategic planning (Castro et Al, 1992). The first study was conducted in 1990 with the objective of generating information to support the company's strategic planning. This resulted in a document entitled: “Scenarios for Agricultural Research: Theoretical Aspects and Application at Embrapa. This document served as basis for preparation of its I Master Plan (PDE) and Master Plans for their research units (PDUs) (Castro, Goll, 2003).
In mid-2007, Embrapa started a new cycle of strategic planning in order to prepare its V Master Plan - V PDE. This was the continuation of an organizational development effort that began in the late 1980s, with the establishment of its I Master Plan. Throughout this period, Embrapa has been consolidating a learning process that has as its main reference, and strategic management planning base, scenarios.
The V PDE (Master Plan) provides a timeframe from 2008 to 2023. It includes higher specification for the first four years of the Plan. With a vision of possible future scenarios based on; potential events, determinants and external constraints. Embrapa periodically reviews its: Mission, Future Vision, Strategic Objectives and Guidelines, in line with government priorities and directions (Embrapa, V PDE, 2008). Its V PDE was prepared from a study conducted by the: Rede de Inovação e Prospecção Tecnológica para o Agronegócio (Network of Innovation and Technological Prospecting for Agribusiness) (RIPA): Scenarios of Environmental Practices of Public and Private Institutions for Research, Development e Innovation (RD e I) for Sustainable Agribusiness and Rural Development in Brazil in 2023. This study drew on the participation of nearly 200 technicians and specialists directly connected to the industry - agents and decision makers from Government, Academia, the Productive Sector and The Third Sector.
The ideas and perceptions of the participants were preliminarily mapped by conducting face to face interviews with experts with outstanding knowledge about the NARS or its macro environment. Some participants responded to questionnaire through the Internet (Web). This meant that some technicians and experts from various institutions were able to be linked together. The opinions and expectations regarding the future of PD e R for agribusinesses identified in the consultations were discussed by a working group composed of experts from the sector. They built scenarios and formulated strategies for the regional and national levels. These scenarios constructed risk maps designed to help the process of decision making and strategic actions that need to take place. The strategic planning cycle consists of the Embrapa Master Plan (PDE) and the Master Plans of the Units (PDUs). The drafting process of the SMP is described in Table 3 below:
Table 3 - Process of preparation of the Master Plan of Embrapa
Source: Prepared by authors from internal documents supplied by Embrapa.
From the information generated by the prospective studies conducted, Embrapa has outlined its strategic position. It is based on the clear identification of its target audience and defines the benefits that the institution must generate for the public. To generate these benefits Embrapa needs to concentrate its efforts and resources to fulfill the five strategic objectives, represented by eight organizational and institutional challenges, which constitute its strategic guidelines.
Analyzing the scenarios developed in this study, the main opportunities and threats for the company were identified. Internally, the medium-term strategies are promoted by the potential of the company, as constrained by its limitations and aspects that need improvement. The Master Plan of Embrapa, composed of its Mission, Vision of the Future,Values??, Strategic Objectives and Guidelines, as well as its strategies, make up the main charter for the creation of the Master Plans for Decentralized Units - PDU. The integrated vision of the Strategic Positioning of Embrapa is shown in Figure 1 below:
Figure 1 - Strategic positioning of Embrapa
To realize the Vision of Future desired, Embrapa assumed a strategic positioning with three basic dimensions:
The Strategic Objectives (scientific and technological challenges) aim is to sharpen the Future Vision and positioning, maximize opportunities and minimizing the impact of threats. The five Strategic Goals were broken down into 32 associate strategies which form the guidelines or relevant initiatives that indicate how Embrapa will seek to achieve each goal.
The strategic guidelines (institutional and organizational challenges) refer to the activities of middle-Embrapa, which aim to contribute to the achievement of Future Vision and Strategic Positioning, explore the potentialities and overcome the weaknesses of the organization. The dismemberment of the strategy gave rise to the Associated Strategies. They are lines of action or relevant initiatives, which indicate how each will seek to achieve Embrapa’s Policy. To implement the eight strategic guidelines, Embrapa has selected 30 specific strategies.
Strategies for medium-term (horizon 2011) seek to answer: "What cannot be done over the next four years to achieve the Vision of the Future Strategic Positioning and long term objectives?". In formulating these strategies, an alignment was made with the Government to set out plans for the period 2008-2011, related to agriculture, especially the Federal Government's Multi-Year Plan 2008-2011, the 2015 Strategic Plan and National Plan Agro energy 2006-2011, prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply; and Action Plan 2007-2010, prepared by the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Based on the analysis of scenarios of the environmental performance of public and private RD e I for agribusiness and rural development in the 2008-2023 horizon, Embrapa identified the main opportunities and threats to the company. Thus, the medium-term strategies are promoted by the Company's potential, and constrained by its limitations and issues. To give greater focus and precision to the choices, the strategies selected as priorities were grouped into sub strategies that indicate the priorities of Embrapa within the scientific and technological challenges for the period 2008-2011.
For over more than 20 years now, the various cycles of strategic planning at Embrapa have been consolidating a structured process of organizational learning. This is the main reference for strategic management planning based on scenarios.
The exploring of the future as a basis for better planning is of complex and laborious (Embrapa (2002). According to the company, most economic, political and social groups still plan based on past trends or on a more probable future. However, these predetermined elements limit the range of a possible future. The uncertain factors are best addressed through the construction of scenarios. (EMBRAPA, 2002).
The successful execution of strategic planning depends fundamentally on a clear vision of possible futures, based on trends and potential events. Based on this premise, the company uses the technique of scenario, since it highlights the uncertainty inherent in the processes of change. It analyses these uncertainties and leads to "clarifications of key external causes and factors to the setting of objectives and guidelines". (Embrapa, 2002).
The choice of scenario methodology, according to Embrapa (2002), is justified in a world increasingly marked by accelerated transformation at all levels, where the future cannot be seen with the same eyes of the past.
Considering the complexity of public policy, we can conclude that the use of prospective studies in all phases of the process, constitutes an important tool to support strategic decisions related to it.
Analyzing the range of techniques for prospective studies and the results reported by institutions that use them, we dare to suggest that the use of prospective studies should be expanded in the public policy process. In our view, prospective studies should be used by all institutions participating in the process of government public policy.
One also needs to take in to account surveys conducted by financial institutions for the purpose of formulating their strategic planning. These surveys can be prospected by the State, and can help in the long-term vision and strategic thinking for broad territorial coverage.
The use of prospective studies is being adopted by public institutions in Brazil. In our case, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation - Embrapa, this methodology has proven effective for strategic planning of the institution and therefore public policies for the agricultural sector. The alignment of public policy with prospecting at Embrapa has become a necessary part of the strategic direction of the institution, from the formulation of the PDE, with ties to government strategy. With this issue, begins the process of gathering information, drawing from the exploration, monitoring and projection of results. In this process there is a set of prospective methods that along the process enhance the different characteristics for each process. This relationship facilitates the projection of public policies from prospective methods, but requires a better alignment with the actions performed. This is the theme of the continuing of this research.
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1 Federal Technological University Of Paraná (UTFPR); Curitiba, Paraná, Brasil. E-Email: firstname.lastname@example.org