Governments around the world are faced with existing and evolving challenges that require thoughtful, flexible and innovative approaches to address them. We must safeguard our Nation’s future and there is a significant threat to not deliberately and systematically considering the long-term consequences and alternative options regarding policy decisions. To advance Strategic Foresight from its ebb and flow of fleeting popularity, and capitalize on its proven usefulness, government leaders must understand, advocate, and institutionalize it as part of everyday decision-making.
Strategic Foresight first and foremost is a tool. There is no single, agreed upon definition among practitioners, but Amy Zalman in, Strategic Foresight is a Measurable Activity, offers one interpretation defining it as a set of techniques and processes designed to help managers orient policies and actions toward the future.
Strategic Foresight allows for individuals and organizations to be more proactive, creative and strategic.
There are several principles that should be consistent with any definition:
There is much more consistent agreement on what Strategic Foresight is not. Strategic Foresight is not prediction or the singular answer to a problem. Well known techniques or components commonly associated with Strategic Foresight include: scenarios, war gaming, environmental scanning, backcasting and cross-impact analysis and the Monte Carlo and Delphi methods.
As described by Ken Hunter, leaders across government—in both the executive and legislative branch—have seen value in promoting Strategic Foresight in the 1960s and 1970s and made admirable attempts to incorporate it in the decision-making process.
Examples of past Legislative Branch calls for Foresight include:
More recent examples of Executive Branch Strategic Foresight efforts include:
Countries are incorporating Foresight, using vastly different approaches, structures, and levels of formality. The United Kingdom, Finland, Canada, and Singapore are a few leading the charge and have incentivized foresight among their public sector professionals.
Examples of institutional capabilities in other countries include:
While organizational models vary—centralized, decentralized, distributed, networked or external—governments around the globe are actively engaging and encouraging the adoption, integration and application of Strategic Foresight. Jonathan Boston, Professor of Public Policy at Victoria University of Wellington in Governing for the Future suggests improving strategic foresight must be embedded within the political system and coupled with day-to-day policymaking.
As noted by Steven Redburn and Jonathan Breul in Linking Foresight to Decision Making, government needs a system to assess large-scale trends to inform policy recommendations. The President and Agency leaders have a responsibility to ensure the effective and efficient use of resources and that the country benefits from the best decision-making possible. The Government Performance Results and Modernization Act (GPRAMA) of 2010 enhances performance planning, management, and reporting. GPRAMA is a good start to enhancing decision-making by mandating multi-year strategic plans with long-term objectives as well as requiring Agencies to measure and report progress towards achieving stated objectives.
At least one problem for the next wave of government leaders is that they – like their predecessors -- often tend to believe they already know solutions to issues and focus on resolving them with little regard to the process that helps them make consequential decisions. There are many barriers including structural, resources, and culture that prevent swift creation of an institutional Strategic Foresight capability in government; however, to aid in the call for foresight in government future government leaders should consider the following broad steps:
In order to pervasively advance the application of Strategic Foresight across government a recommended next step for future senior leaders is to create a formal, institutional capability within government. The NAPA Strategic Foresight panel has developed specific recommendations on steps to take in that direction:
Details on the Foresight Panel’s recommended actions can be found here.