Filed under: Development 2.0 Social inclusion Social innovation

There’s no shortage of guidelines these days on how to ‘prepare for the future.’

There is Nesta and their “modest defence of futurology” and there are our Global Pulse colleagues, who look at how big data can help us better prepare for  – and protect citizens from – sudden shocks.

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! 


  • catarina tully

    This is great – decision-making under conditions of uncertainty & identifying weak signals through innovators are indeed two good areas for further exploration. On the second point, see Drew Tetlock’s “Super-Foxes” too.

    Another area I would also like to see a lot more focus on is the potential for upgrading participatory and direct democracy through participative foresight – communities discussing their future collaboratively either face to face (in smaller geographically based communities) or online…

  • Justyna Król

    Vasko, thanks for this post! I so so so envy you the event! Please share as much as possible afterwards! 🙂

    I’m currently looking into foresight for post-industrial cities, designing a campaign that would help us identify the directions people want the city to take once the major industry is closed (i.e. a coal mine in Konin will close around 2037) and start taking actions to prepare for a (hopefully) smooth transition. I’d love to talk more about the idea with you and others who would be interested in testing the model in other post-industrial cities across our region. I outlined some of the details in a blog post:

    Have fun during the event!

  • Claire Nelson

    Hello Vasko.. .. Please check out the DEVELOPMENTJOURNAL Special Edition dedicated to Foresight in Development. Also I would like to invite you to participate as a contributor in a book of short stories I am working on.
    Claire Nelson