Scientific Approach

The scientific approach is based on the following principles:

Political evaluation of scenarios and the Vision through Territorial Impact Assessment
Scientific assessment of consistency of scenarios with forecast modelling tools
Specific geographic features at different scales: applying the 5-level approach
Analysing the possible futures of rest of the World

Political evaluation of the scenarios and of the Vision through the Territorial Impact Assessment

The political assessment of scenarios will be made by confronting them with the fundamental political objectives to be achieved (based, among others on the principles of smart growth, sustainable and inclusive development) by applying the Territorial Impact Assessment evaluation framework (TIA). This method, both quantitative and qualitative, enables to assess in an objective manner the consistency of policies envisaged to reach the desired image of the territory, with the most likely outcome. In this way, all scenarios will be evaluated against pre-defined policy-aims, to be agreed upon by consensus in the ESPON MC. The territorial impact evaluation of baseline and exploratory scenarios will give useful insights to define the desired territorial scenario, or European Territorial Vision for 2050, as well as to defined specific regional pathways, since the impact evaluation is regionalised. 

The different driving forces hypothesized or emphasized in the different scenarios may generate differential effects on different classes of regions; these possible effects will be addressed with appropriate suggestions for policy response, included in the “desirable” final Vision.

The full assessment process is divided into five main phases, most of them carried out in close consultation with policy-makers and policy-analysts:

  • definition of the impact fields or criteria associated to policy aims: impacts on society, economy, environment, and, more in depth, on competitiveness, employment, migrations, accessibility, emissions, landscape, urban and settlement structure, local identities (a)
  • definition of the indicators by which these impacts will be measured (b)
  • weight, or political relevance of the single impact fields or criteria (c)
  • quali-quantitative measurement of these impacts on EU regions (d)
  • calculation of “summative” impacts or effects on regions in terms of territorial cohesion, through a weighting system appropriately defined (e)

The definition of impact fields and policy criteria (a) and the relative weights reflecting their political relevance and priority (c) will result from a consultation process with ESPON MC members, on the basis of the project experts’ proposal (this is a crucial step in the consensus-building process. Formal methodologies to facilitate consensus may be applied, see Chapter III, point III.7). The definition of indicators (b) and the measurement of territorial effects of each scenario (d) will be carried out by the modelling teams on the basis of a close synergy and integration. Quantitative forecast models will provide a first set of regional impacts indicators to the TIA model on the basis of the single specific scenario assumptions; in the fields that are not covered by quantitative modelling, a second impact set will be provided by the TIA experts through the elaboration of impact indicators for the EU regions, on the basis of thorough internal discussions among all the ET2050 partners and discussed with stakeholders. The calculation of “summative” impacts (e) will be carried out by the TIA experts on the basis of a prior agreement on the aggregation and compensation possibility of single impact indicators with the ESPON CU, MC and DG REGIO.

Interaction with the ESPON MC will mainly consist of policy workshops. The results of the TIA exercise will be politically sensitive and stimulating for comparing the scenarios and devising appropriate policy responses. The application of this methodology is expected to facilitate consensus-building on policies and visions.

The TIA methodology has been developed and applied in multiple ESPON projects.

Scientific assessment of the consistency of scenarios by applying forecast modelling tools

The discussions with policy-makers and experts of the scenarios and the Vision, as well as the political evaluation carried out in the TIA, need to be supported by a scientifically solid and comprehensive foresight investigation.. The scientific and political consistency of scenarios will be secured by applying sound modelling tools, legitimated by their application in many previous policy-oriented studies at the European level, especially for short and medium-term horizons, up to 2030, as well as to define realistic midterm political targets and feasible pathways.

Forecast models from key sectors already developed and applied in European-wide studies, particularly ESPON projects, will be used while striving to favour their effective interlinking. The core of advanced forecast models will include a set of complementary and well-tested models (demography, economy, spatial development, transport, and land-use) already used in the ESPON context and in other specific policy assessment exercises at the European level. These modelling tools will be adapted and enhanced to meet the project needs. The following models will be applied: MULTIPOL, for demography and migration, MASST, for regional economy, TRANSTOOLS/IC, for transport, METRONAMICA, for land-use change, and SASI, an integrated spatial development model. All have been applied in many strategic studies at the national and European levels.

Since forecast models are pushed to their limits of knowledge when exploring scenarios very distant or very different from the present situation for which they were calibrated, foresight scenario-building models will also be applied for extreme 2030 and 2050 scenarios and for the European Vision 2050 (TV+ adapted from the TRANSVISIONS study by DGMOVE, and PASH+ adapted from the PASHMINA 7th European Framework Programme). Foresight tools are softer, can be programmed easily (e.g. on spread sheet or dynamic-system’s commercial applications), and usually integrate pre-existing forecasts into heuristic formulations; these kind of tools are more suitable to carry on the backcast exercises required to define midterm targets and pathways. For these reasons, a combination of advanced forecast tools applied to key sectors and foresight scenario-building tools will be used. Midterm targets will be validated by forecast models and the pathway will be defined and validated through the foresight tool.

An important aspect of the quantitative modelling work will be to study the sensitivity of the scenarios to the small variations of key variables, and their robustness. The wide range of modelling tools considered will allow to investigate in the best possible way a large number of major changes.

Shedding light on specific geographic features at different scales: applying the 5-level approach

In many future-oriented studies, the territory is considered as passive; it may constrain or facilitate future development opportunities that may result in territorial impacts at the end, but often the interaction overtime between the human activities and the territory is not really investigated, assuming that territorial patterns are resilient to change and evolve slowly. Such an assumption may be acceptable at large geographical scales in the short-term (e.g. the European Territory from now to 2020). When dealing with more detailed geographic scales or longer time horizons however, territorial interactions have to be explicitly considered. It is precisely the investigation of these interactions overtime which represents the paramount scientific challenge of the scenarios to be defined.

Stakeholders and regional and even local level have to be necessarily involved in the participatory process, as well as experts. To integrate in the study and discussions the diversity and complexity of the European territory, the ET2050 team includes eight institutions covering eight macro-regions in which can be divided the ESPON space and neighbouring countries, with some overlapping zones, for the purpose of this project. These institutions have experience on future-oriented and territorial studies and will be involved in the definition of future scenarios, and the Vision. Therefore, a bottom-up combined with a top-down approach will be used to define the baseline scenarios and, later on, the exploratory scenarios at European level, across the 5-level territorial scale. Instead of “territorialising” European abstract scenarios, or “validating” them at regional and macro-regional scales, the territorial dimension of scenarios will be considered from the beginning, and interaction between partners working at various territorial scales when developing the scenarios will be promoted. On the other hand, in a given scenario or Vision for the whole of Europe, the trajectories of various cities, regions or countries may be very different. ET2050 will pay significant attention to territorial diversity, which are in the core of the project. (the identification of transnational study areas and the partners responsible is included in Chapter II, Sutask 2.3.1). Therefore, regional and national spatial planning and foresight studies will be carefully reviewed.

Analysing the possible futures of rest of the World

The major bifurcations ahead are at World level and Europe can impact on them to a very limited extent. Examples of such major bifurcations include global migratory flows (e.g. from Africa, Latin America, Asia), climate change (e.g. most emissions are expected from USA, China…), geopolitics (the path toward democracy or authoritarianism in a large number of countries, or the path toward peace or conflicts in neighbouring countries like the Arab countries and the Middle East), technological innovations (major breakthrough innovations – biotechnologies, nanotechnologies… – are adopted at world level and can change the way of life of everybody, regardless of where they are developed. Each of these factors is expected to impact on the European territory. Because of their dependence upon the development of these factors, some cities and regions will be in a better or worse position than others. While maintaining the primacy of an intra-European territorial approach, the project will thus also analyse the possible evolutions at world scale and take them into account where appropriate and necessary.


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Saskia Sassen:
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Immanuel Wallerstein:
On the end of Capitalism

Slavoj Žižek:
Are we living in the end times?

Ray Kurzweil:
The Singularity Point

Jeremy Rifkin:
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Noemi Klein:
Living disaster capitalism

Jane Jacobs:
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