Strategic Foresight in Government

We often joke that since the pandemic we have not had to advocate for futures thinking to skeptics nearly as strongly as we used to. The disruption proved to be a meaningful shockwave across all disciplines, forcing us all to seriously reevaluate priorities and the antiquated systems that keep us from reaching our higher order potential. Reactionary, short-term, quantitative, and mechanical approaches are ill-equipped to carry humanity into the future, or “what got us here, won’t get us there”. Luckily, Strategic Foresight provides a methodology for mapping alternative futures, and Natural Foresight® is an open source futures thinking framework for embracing complexity in any context. 

Throughout nature, systems across all scales – from infinitesimal to universal – are inextricably linked. Some of those systems are fast-moving (such as technology lifespans) and others move much more slowly (such as governmental or evolutionary processes), but they are all intricately interconnected and constantly impacting one another. It could be said that these individual systems are even stacked, layered or “nested” with one another, much like a set of Russian Matryoshka dolls. From that perspective, the panarchy – dynamic symmetry across multiple scales – offers us a much more holistic and comprehensive view of future influences and states, enabling us to understand how the pathway of any system alters and is altered by other nested systems. Whereas some approaches to foresight follow linear steps that may lead to reductive outcomes, NFF empowers users to think in a circular, multi-layered, and regenerative framework. In this way, our futures work has greater depth and breadth, and our outcomes will be much more robust.

How do we rethink those slower-moving systems like political processes to be future-empowered? U.S. public policy, as J. Peter Scoblic says in his analysis of Strategic Foresight in US agencies, has often been myopic, sacrificing long-term needs to short-term interests. He claims that this short-termism not only reduces economic performance, threatens the environment, and undermines national security—to name but a few consequences—it also leaves the United States vulnerable to surprise and limits its ability to manage crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Long-term sustainability requires a reckoning with humanity’s approach to problem-solving. Regulations rarely if ever address underlying narratives and cultural paradigms, instead focusing on systematic symptom-fixes that all too often rely on profit-driven metrics for justification. The US and other countries lack a capacity for politically creating the future– quite the opposite actually, we try to delay it from coming. 

While we know that Strategic Foresight efforts are most successful when they’re positioned as an operating system rather than siloed into a department, we know that the latter is where most movements begin. You can’t teach a dog new tricks overnight, and you surely cannot expect an executive to rethink the business model over a trend presentation. We take pride in the small wins just as with the radical pushes toward futures consciousness. 

Presented below is an inspirational list of global government institutions, partnerships, and think tanks instituting foresight practices. 

Additional Resources:

TFSX created a set of Scenarios on the Future of Democracy in 2014 that are available within our Scenarios, Worldbuilding, and Guiding Narratives Course at Below is an example of the imagery from the Transformative Scenario. Join the course to explore the full set of narratives and their respective images.

The 2014 Future of Democracy Transformative Scenario: Avatacracy

Ashley Bowers

Creative Strategist, TFSX

Ashley leverages her expertise in sustainable design, environmental science, and marketing to support user-experiences with a holistic approach. Her goal is to empower changemakers, organizations, institutions and governments to thrive in a world of exponential uncertainty and complexity.

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