Lessons learned and future perspectives
Based on our experiences with the project, we will now present a number of lessons learned about the Future Panel method as a model for evidence-based and anticipatory TA in a broad international context. With these lessons, we would like to address first of all policy makers and civil servants wanting to support cross-European TA.
Lesson 1: Establish a connection with parliaments and/or ministries, in addition to their respective individual members
Contrary to the standard model, Future Panel members in the project on public health genomics were not appointed by parliament(s) but invited by the PACITA consortium. More specifically, the members were (primarily) invited as individual members of parliament based on their particular individual expertise. In addition, the experimental character of the project entailed that the project activities were not directly tied to an explicit mission by a policy-making body. This meant that the work of the Future Panel and the expert working groups started at a greater distance from parliament compared to the standard model. One of the positive outcomes of doing cross-European TA is to provide an opportunity to debate specific issues which are not on the front line of national political discourses but which are in need of urgent consideration and reflection in a European context. As noted, the members of the Future Panel indicated that a possible action following the final policy hearing would be to present the issues discussed in their respective parliaments. Thus, the function of establishing more direct links to national parliaments would be to attain a more clear 'mandate' to offer policy options – not to individual members of different parliaments only, but to their respective parliaments as well.
Parliaments may have less policy-making power in some countries than they do in other countries. Moreover, experience with evidencebased policy making may be concentrated not in parliament, but in the government or the ministries. If the aim of a project is to promote and to mobilize experience with evidence-based policy making on a certain topic, then at least with regard to these countries, we would recommend not to focus exclusively on parliamentarians but to invite policy makers from the government and/or ministries as well.
Lesson 2: Establishing a solid evidence base for policy making requires an iterative process that involves direct contact between all actors directly involved in the project
By organizing multiple public hearings, the standard model automatically allows for an iterative process that involves direct communication between the Future Panel and the experts, and between the Future Panel and the steering group. At the start of the PACITA Future Panel, it was indicated that the panel could be consulted during the process on an ad hoc basis. Such consultation was done once, allowing the steering group and the expert working groups to receive feedback on the draft reports of EWGs 1 and 2. However, organizing the contact in this ad hoc way meant that this round of consultation was positioned as something extra, not as an integral part of the process. Moreover, apart from the concluding policy hearing, communication between the FP and the experts in the PACITA project was always mediated by members of the task team. As a result, the project allowed for relatively few opportunities to check whether there was an adequate match between the policy issues and questions raised by the Future Panel, on the one hand, and the findings from the expert working groups, the expert paper and the policy brief, on the other.
Explicitly building an iterative process into the project design would also increase the possibilities to map and to manage mutual expectations. For instance, feedback from the Future Panel after the policy hearing made clear that some members would have expected more practical answers to the questions and issues that the panel formulated at the start of the project. On the other hand, evaluation of the expert working groups showed that not having a clear mandate to offer policy-making solutions raised questions pertaining to the role of the EWG's and may have affected the motivation of individual EWG members to articulate and reflect on particular policy options.
We highly recommend, therefore, to include in the project design of the Future Panel method, an iterative process that involves direct contact between all involved in the project: (1) between the Future Panel and the experts involved; (2) between the Future Panel and the steering group; (3) between the members of the Future Panel; and (4) between the experts from the different expert working groups. Especially in the context of cross-European TA, this will require considerably more time and a larger budget than was available for the PACITA demonstration project.