There’s no shortage of guidelines these days on how to ‘prepare for the future.’
But that’s not all.
Private sector companies are working to gamify and crowdsource geopolitical problems, while countries like Singapore are investing in units for Strategic Planning and Research. Entirely new jobs such as chief resilience officers are currently being created to oversee the future-proofing of 100 cities.
As if that isn’t enough, foresight engines are pulling in thousands of citizens to re-imagine the future of governance, cities, and peacebuilding. They’re generating over 1,800 paths out of poverty and through the Good Judgment Project, 3,000 regular citizens are making forecasts on a range of issues – from political developments in North Korea to Venezuelan gas subsidies.
From my perspective, this gold rush to the future boils down to major two questions:
1. How do you plan when you don’t quite know what is going to happen?
Who could imagine that a volcano erupting in Iceland would impact Kenyan’s flower industry, or that Hurricane Katrina could lead to the tortilla riots in Mexico two years later?
Our ever-increasing connectivity is leading us towards some complex, Black Swan events that will necessitate new methods of governance that are significantly tied into future-oriented plans and worst-case scenarios.
And while we aren’t naive enough to believe that we can predict the future, I do think that engaging in this type of questioning and storytelling may expose us to possibilities and dynamics that would otherwise remain hidden.
2. Whose voices and insights tend to influence which version of the future we are preparing for?
In our work we’re assuming that parts of the future are already happening – driven by civic innovators who live on the edge with little to no incentive to bring these ideas and activities into the ‘mainstream.’
This is why we’re hard at work testing out different methods of spotting these future trailblazers.
We’re trying to catch up!
Participation is crucial.
It is here that foresight based on a strategic framework of participation and different views and opinions – can create a link between engaged citizens and the state.
Ultimately we’re hoping to help inspire a new type of collaboration between the two so that we can jointly prepare for the future.
So what are we at UNDP in Europe and Central Asia doing about this?
We think that development organizations can’t afford to stop worrying about the future and we’ve decided to bring in some top-notch practitioners on the topic.
They will join UNDP colleagues from a bunch of different sectors along with policymakers for a foresight immersion and ‘learning-by-doing’ research and development event that we will host in Istanbul in June.
Our intention is to explore several aspects of foresight: from data driven forecasting to generating collective intelligence via crowdsourcing, gaming and quantitative modeling.
Our hope is that this can help us rally a larger collective of co-conspirators to look at a whole range of topics: from risks to state functionality to building cities of the future for people with disabilities; from mobilizing the youth in the fight against unemployment to bolstering our defenses against the changing climate.
We’re on a look out for examples of the use of foresight in development – if you’ve got a good one drop us a line, and stay tuned as we dive in!