Futures Studies in the European Ex-socialist Countries


Erik Terk

  1. Institutes and futures research activities in years 1960-1990

It is quite hard to speak about futures studies in modern term at Soviet time in Estonia. There were some work related to long-term planning process, so-called predplanovoje razrabotki in Russian language (but without serious intention to originality from Estonian researchers engaged) and also some attempts of traditional economic prognostics by the initiative of individual academic researchers. Dr. Kaljo Kask’s work in building industry prognostics and Dr. Raul Renter’s in printing industry prognostics may be mentioned in the last field. From institutions Estonian Institute of Economics (of Academy of Sciences), Institute (before it laboratory) of Estonian State Planning Committee and Estonian branch of Central (All-union) Economic-Mathematical Institute’s Tallinn branch must be mentioned. Some materials for students about economic prognostics were published by Economic Faculty of Tallinn Technical University (=Tallinn Politechnical Institute), but in general prognostics was not among main research fields of Estonian universities. Dr. Raul Renter published with his colleague Aleksander Schipai a book in Estonian, called “Economic and Social Prognostics”(1977) and defended doctoral theses on the topic of methods of prognostics in Moscow.

But there were two quite interesting fields more. In chair of Organization and Management of Economic Faculty of Tallinn Technical University some young researchers and consultants (Endel Oja, Ain Ivalo, Erik Terk) started to study modern western company level planning and corporate strategy building methodology and techniques, this job was continued later (after year 1978) in Estonian Management Institute. This field was partly connected with planning, partly with theory of decision-making (research of Dr. Madis Habakuk may be mentioned in this field) partly with futures studies. For example publications by French strategic planning theorists and Pentti Malaska were studied by Estonian researchers of this field at 1980s. New methodology of thinking (for example scenario-building) was used in consulting of companies, Later started some experiments of using this methodology on sectoral level topics.

Other example is connected with scientific interests of some Estonian philosophers. Club of Rome’s reports were quite popular in Estonia at late 1970s and early 80s and some Estonian philosophers interested in global problems research. Dr. Lembit Valt (scientific field: methodology of science) and Edgar Savisaar published a book in Estonian “Global problems and futures scenarios” (1983). At year 1981 Edgar Savisaar (later initiator of creation of Estonian Popular Front and First Prime Minister of Independent Estonia) defended his candidate of sciences thesis on the methodology of Club of Rome’s reports.

From 1986 Edgar Savisaar held a position of perspective planning department in Estonian State Planning Committee and he initiated at year 1987 a public contest for development of Estonian economy and its main sectors and fields. Special training for scenario-writing methodology based on the publications of Finnish futures studies specialists Pentti Malaska and Tarja Meristö and on some British publications and on Estonian domestic scenario-building experiences (mainly from company level) was provided by Erik Terk and Andres Saame. More than 30 teams of researchers (among them many later political figures) finished the contest with finished scenario packages about 10 of these presented a serious interest. Best scenario-packages were about development of rural life in Estonia (with the central point in reestablishment of private farming and real local government), about solving of housing problem in Estonia (connected with the hot problem of migration), about foreign tourism development and about developing of high-tech production in engineering industries. The scenario-writing contest gave arguments for creation of “Economically independent Estonia’s” project (from September 1987) and had quite significant place in political struggle towards independence at late 1980s.

  1. Institutes and futures research activities after 1990

There was interesting experience of futures research from the time of Edgar Savisaar’s Government (1990-1992): several times the team of Prime Minister’s advisors (Ingrid Preeks and others) mobilised researchers from different fields for developing futures scenarios (of economic reform, political dynamic etc.) and for analysis of future’s alternatives. For example the models of “Liberal development Estonia”, “Green (sustainable) development” and “Continuing trends” were compared at year 1991. The analysis of these models by researchers was also broadcasted by TV.

The main centre isEstonian Institute for Futures Studies (established in December 1991, really started to work from Spring 1882). There are some other enthusiasts of futures studies also other institutions (Dr. Alari Purju from Economic Faculty of Tallinn Technical University of Human Geography of Tartu University, Dr. Raivo Vilu from chemical Faculty of Tallinn Technical University), but all these people have some kind of connection with Estonian Institute for Futures Studies (EIFS). Some of these people worked in Estonian Institute for Futures Studies in some period, some participated in institute’s projects. Dr. Marju Lauristin from Institute of Journalism of Tartu University (previous deputy speaker of Estonian Parliament and Minister for Social Affairs) participated in some international futures studies projects (for example project: Futures scenarios for Northern Europe), she also had cooperation experience with EIFS.

The main research fields of Estonian Institute were:

macro-economic development scenarios of Estonia;

future trends and scenarios of Baltic Sea countries, regional cooperation perspectives (for example Estonia-Finland);

future of regional disparities in Estonia, future prospects of main Estonian regions;

personal income differences in Estonia (by social groups, regions, sectors etc.);

perspectives of main economic sectors of Estonia and main “national business ideas”: transit transportation, food processing industries, engineering industries etc.;

problems of Estonian accession into EU;

future of Russia and it’s impact on Estonia’s future prospects;

national innovation system, product and technology development in Tallinn.

In 1997 EIFS worked out four development scenarios for Estonia (“Estonia 2010” project): “Ferryman scenario”, “Southern-Finland (or “Scandinavian periphery”) scenario”, “Military info-oasis scenario” and “Great Slam (or “Interface”) scenario”. These scenarios were discussed with all political factions in Estonian Parliament, in Government (Cabinet) meeting, with high level officials and regional leaders and also widely discussed in media.

Later model calculations were done with macro-economic model of Bank of Estonia to find the balance of payment parameters by each of mentioned scenario.

In 1999 document called “Guidelines for Estonian spatial development (until year 2010)” was prepared by team from EIFS. This document was approved with some corrections by Government of Estonia in July 2000. At year 1999 three scenarios for development of Central Baltic Sea Region (until year 2015) were prepared by international working group leaded by EIFS specialists and using EIFS methodology. At year 2000 work on integration scenarios of Tallinn and Helsinki started.

Quite popular in Estonia (from late 80s till now) is the future of education topic. Several packages of scenarios and strategic conclusions are prepared. Special NGO “Estonian Education Congress” is active in this field Krista Loogma from EIFS is engaged in these studies.

Some year ago the sustainable development problematique also become popular in Estonia. Tallinn Centre of Stockholm Environmental Institute is active in this field.

  1. The questions of Today

It was very popular in Estonia at late 80s, when the interest went down from year 1992 (problems of survival and short-term tasks in economic restructuring situation) and new step-by-step rise of interest approximately from years 1994/95. Last years “outside pressure” (from EU, UN, WB) to have some long-range development orientirs (for example National Development Plan) is quite important factor.

The problem is, that Estonian state officials become too “outside driven”: “If for example EU is demanding to work out some long-term strategy development, then let’s do it, but by general for us the medium-term documents are enough”.

Just now the only case of futures studies training in Estonian universities is a short course in Tallinn Pedagogical Institute. Institute of Geography of Tartu University is starting something like “Modern Strategic Planning” course.

About youth: I may to give only some speculations on this topic. Probably they have quite interested in futures questions (connected with career planning etc.) but more about medium term than long-term.