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Roadmapping: A Collaborative Foresight Tool

Roadmaps

A roadmap is a collaborative foresight process that produces a broad set of plans and strategies to reach a future goal.

Roadmaps include simple forecasts, scenarios, strategy, and plans, but go beyond such tools in three ways: 1) they emerge in a collaboration network of multidisciplinary and competing experts, 2) they emphasize uncertainties and challenges as much as probable and preferred futures, and 3) they have long-term time horizons (commonly 5 to 15 years is common) by comparison to traditional forecasts and plans.

The terms roadmap and roadmapping are used in four distinct planning domains: 1) Product, Marketing, and Short-Term (<2 year) Corporate Strategy Projects, 2) Companywide Corporate and Institutional Projects, 3) Industrywide and Long-Term (> 2 year) Projects, and 4) Cross-Industry, National, and Global Projects. [1] In practice, the first two domains usually involve plans that are either short term, or are developed by internal management, and are thus not truly roadmaps by the above criteria.

In recent years "roadmapping" has become a descriptive term for any collaborative foresight process of significant scale and scope, whether predictive or preparative in nature. Widely recognized roadmaps are projects like the U.S., E.U., Russia, and U.N.-led Roadmap for Peace to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the National Intelligence Council's Mapping the Global Future (a geopolitical futures visioning and forecasting process), and the global Semiconductor Industry Association's International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS), the "Moore's Law Roadmap" for the computing industry. In the best of cases these roadmaps and the groups that create them are internationally recognized and respected, and their insights used by key players to determine how to best formulate policy, develop business strategy, and spend millions of dollars of research and development funds.

At the same time, as with many foresight products (such as scenarios, vision documents, and qualitative forecasts), roadmaps vary in effectiveness, and roadmapping processes vary widely among practitioners. There are few standards, and academic literature and study of industry practice remains sparse. The benefits of roadmap products (predictive, strategic, developmental) have yet to be adequately measured or proven. Nevertheless, it is already well known that the roadmapping process helps facilitate collaboration and visioning among companies within industries, in the formation of joint industry-government research programs, and in many other venues. [2] For this reason alone, as our world transitions to an increasingly network-centric collaborative environment, it is clear that roadmapping will continue to increase in prevalence and importance in coming years.

Technology (Development) Roadmapping

Science and technology-oriented roadmaps come in three primary types: 1) Knowledge Roadmaps (for basic science and R&D communities, such as universities and large corporations), 2) R&D Administration Roadmaps (for R&D management communities, such as the NSF, DoD, or ONR), and 3) Technology Development Roadmaps (for scientific, industrial, policy, and social communities). [1] Of these, the latter is the most common and broadly applicable type, and the one we refer to when using the terms 'technology roadmap' and 'technology roadmapping.'

In practice, technology roadmaps seek to guide technology development toward the goals of the community involved in the roadmapping process. Narrower goals include maximizing desired feature sets, general technical capacity, robustness, and functional efficiency. Broader goals include maximizing economic benefit, ethical or socially responsible development, and minimizing adverse environmental impact ('triple bottom line' considerations).

The best technology roadmaps seek to identify critical technologies, technology gaps, and ways to leverage R&D investments toward a visionary objective.[3] They are grounded in historical data about the relevant technologies, including enabling or inhibiting economic and social dynamics (learning/experience curves, capacity growth curves, positive and negative convergences, commoditization thresholds, adoption curves, tipping, inflection, and saturation points, economic indicators, management objectives, demographics, social preferences, etc.).

They exemplify professional process and include a diverse group of committed, expert, and influential participants. Uncertainties and challenges are represented as fully as expected outcomes and opportunities. All major schools of thought and differences of perspective are presented on relevant issues and points of controversy. Finally, befitting the roadmap metaphor, graphical and tabular representations are used to convey trend and discontinuity, consensus and controversy, success and challenge, preferred and alternative future. U.S. NIST maintains a comprehensive Industry and Technology Roadmaps and Workshop Reports database, an excellent resource for roadmap developers.

ASF's Approach

ASF is developing a competency in industry technology roadmaps. We are particularly interested in mapping industries and technologies which are presently understudied, have the potential for great social and economic impact, and are undergoing rapidly accelerating rates of improvement.

We select our networking community from three primary groups: Academia, Industry, and Future-Oriented Analysts/ Authors. Academicians tend to be strong in providing historical context and data to the foresight process. Analysts/Authors tend to provide visionary and strategic perspectives for evaluation. Industry leaders and technology developers are coaxed by the first two groups to consider their present development opportunities and challenges in light of past performance and future possibility.

With luck, facilitation, and attention to detail, community interactions are focused, high-yield, and of significant value to all, a useful public foresight document emerges, and there is mutual agreement and commitment to revisit the process on a periodic basis.

References

1. "Technology Roadmap Workshop," Richard Albright and Robert Shaller, Office of Naval Research, 30 Oct 1998
2. Methods in Science Roadmapping, David R. MacKenzie et. al., 2002, p. 4 (14p doc)
3. Fundamentals of Technology Roadmapping, Marie L. Garcia et. al., Sandia National Labs, 1997, p. 2 (31p PDF)

 

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