Arturs Puga

Social challenges facing Latvia:
problems of identification

Manuscript (2003)

Introduction  Towards identification of the knowledge society  Foresight as a method and culture for change
Rethinking the role of the social sciences  Epilogue

Introduction


It's told to you: he who does not know the past is unaware of the present, - that's right,
but is it enough?
Does he who is unaware of the future knows the present? 24 November 1911

He who is unaware of the future does not know the present.

Having knowledge both about the past and the present is not enough for anticipating the future, - that should be shaped
by you yourself as a product of the past as well as the present: there is need for anticipating you yourself. 16 March 1922.
RAINIS



The goal of this contribution is to provide a venture, embedded in the rising foresight culture, on some options of societal changes in Latvia, and it is addressed to both Latvian and European stakeholders of futures studies. Following a systematic approach, e-learning and foresight online spin-offs led the author to publish this article both as part of a book and in the electronic version. Thus, the dissemination of forward-looking information, aimed at increasing knowledge, will be visibly promoted.

At present, we can identify the set of ideas, beliefs, and ways of behaviour of a "particular foresight community" (individuals as well as organisations) recognised at the international level alongside an emergence of the European Research Area which meets objectives of the Lisbon strategy. In May 2003, the conference, organised under the aegis of the Hellenic presidency of the EU, made a commitment to support the development towards an European Foresight Area. (1)

To begin with our discourse in the Baltics, it would be useful to look over such research outcomes, as the Handbook of Knowledge Society Foresight (2) and the Foresight at national level - The Experiences of Sweden, presented at the Technology Foresight Summit, Budapest, in 2003 (3). New definitions reflecting foresight as a cognitive, research and participatory process for all kinds of stakeholders describe this domain as much more complex and complicated than the area of academic futures studies (4).

Given the interdisciplinary approach, the considerations and outputs of this paper primarily reflect a set of ideas on current social, cultural, and economic issues in Latvia, basing on both empirical and qualitative information sources and collections, as well as the author's personal impressions and intuition. Visions of the future of the Baltic region have been challenged by the objectives for 2010 set for Europe at the Lisbon EU Council in 2000, and by the necessity for Latvia to adapt to the transforming world system.

The author feels indebted to the knowledge society for ideas and constructions placed since the Creation, that long ago have paved the way for European values and concepts, now meeting global challenges of both the information society of the 21st century and the sustainable development. In our context, a lot of questions have been addressed to the agenda of rethinking the role of the social sciences - not only because of their deep intervention into the realm of futures studies, but also due to their close interrelation with social actions that are undergoing changes, and obviously, with policy making both in Latvia and Europe. In the intrinsic and everlasting cross-cultural contest between "as it is" and "as it should be," now exactly the Lisbon process stands as a catalyst for growth of futures studies and, particularly, of foresight activities, making them a powerful research instrument for the knowledge economy - important for all, but nevertheless, almost unknown on the national level in some Candidate Countries.

In different cultures and societies the spirit of the times, knowledge and futures are seen in different ways; generally, we find particularities not only in societal practices between the Members and the Aspirants of the EU, but also in the competencies management, between advocates being pro and con the knowledge society, found in any group or community - even of the same ethnic origin - in all European countries.

In this article, current issues and interpretations have been tended to identification of trends, opportunities, risks, and options for acceleration of Latvia's development towards a knowledge-based Europe in medium-term future. Visions of societal and cross-cultural challenges and sketches of scenarios have been included to add a bit into the European enlargement information box. Here we pursue the principle of identifying a challenge as a challenge, but not as an universal truth - particularly for those who are dogmatically claiming to keep power. As Immanuel Wallerstein points out, ". . . for me the challenges are not truths but mandates for reflection about basic premises. Do you have some doubts about each of the challenges? Most probably. So do I." (5) Social challenges facing a country in transition deserve to be discussed on all levels.

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1. Ioannina Conference Manifesto for Foresight Cooperation in an Enlarged European Research and Innovation Area, 15-16 May 2003. http://medlab.cs.uoi.gr/conf2003/forum_see.asp This and other e-publications for the article were retrieved on the 20th of November, 2003.

2. Miles, I. and Keenan, M., Kaivo-Oja, J. Handbook of Knowledge Society Foresight. Prepared by PREST and FFRC for the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, October 2002. See: http://les.man.ac.uk/PREST/euforia/handbook.htm, http://les.man.ac.uk/PREST/euforia/documents/EFL_Handbook_April_2003.pdf

3. Lübeck, L. Foresight at national level - the experiences of Sweden and its contribution to the foresight process and culture. In: Technology Foresight Panels. Expert Papers. Technology Foresight Summit, Budapest, 27-29 March 2003. See: http://www.unido.org/file-storage/download?file_id=10581

4. "Foresight constitutes a systematic attempt to observe the long-term future of science, technology, society, the economy and their mutual interactions in order to generate knowledge with which to effect social, economic and environmental improvements based on well founded projections. However, it is not enough to establish a clear and efficient methodology to conduct foresight. It is also vitally important to ensure that foresight outcomes are taken into consideration in policy debates and decision making. Only in this way can its maximum benefits be obtained." Marimon, R. Preface In: The role of foresight in the selection of research policy priorities. Conference Proceedings, 13-14 May 2002, Seville, Spain. European Commission, DG JRC, IPTS, Report EUR 20406 EN, 2002, p. 1. See: http://www.jrc.es/home/publications/publication.cfm?pub=1021, ftp://ftp.jrc.es/pub/EURdoc/eur20406en.pdf.
The important changes in futures studies (Foresight combines elements of futures, policy analysis, strategic planning), such as a shift from emphasis on predictive approaches to more exploratory studies, from one-off studies to more continual iterations of envisioning future challenges and opportunities, from expert-only to users involvement in the process of study - have facilitated an increasing value of foresight activities. In systematic, participatory process foresight practitioners set complementary goals for informing present-day decisions and mobilizing joint actions at European, national, regional and local levels. A Practical Guide to Regional Foresight. FOREN project. European Commission, Research DG, STRATA Programme, 2001, pp. v, 4-5. See: http://les.man.ac.uk/PREST/Research/foren.htm.

5. Wallerstein, I. The Heritage of Sociology, the Promise of Social Science: Presidential address, 14th World Congress of Sociology, Montreal, 26 July 1998. See: http://fbc.binghamton.edu/iwprad2.htm.


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