The Foresight programme was launched in 1994 to improve wealth creation and the quality of life in the UK. It has been led by 16 panels of business executives, scientists and government officials, who have tried to identify and respond to future market trends and technological opportunities. The panels cover most sectors of the economy, from IT and energy to transport and defence.

The government thinks that the Foresight panels should remain at the heart of the programme, but it may change the number and remit of the panels. It also wants the panels to enrol a wider range of members, interact more closely with each other, and concentrate more on the global market. It is also keen to add new themes such as sustainable development, the ageing population and crime control. The new panels will be appointed in November.

"Foresight has started a very important process, " says John Taylor, director of Hewlett-Packard Laboratories in Bristol and chairman of the IT, electronics and communications (ITEC) panel. "It has allowed industrialists and academics to get together and identify the fertile areas for investment, " he says. "It has not been about picking winners, but it has helped us to look ahead dispassionately at what needs to be done." Taylor adds that the ITEC panel must break away from talking to those academics and industrialists who already know about the benefits of IT and speak to people who are starting up new firms or designing new products.