The Futures Action Model is a useful framework to test policy assumptions against knowledge about emerging futures. Social policies implicitly hold assumptions about that policy’s utility and effect for social good. As change becomes more complex, interconnected and abrupt, social policies also need to prove effective within a horizon of social changes.
Policies, however, are very often the legacy of the impersonal past, developed by a previous bureaucracy, department or government. Many of these policies may have been a perfect solution for the problems of their time, but in the present moment may be losing relevance, or may even be detrimental in a future context. This is why policies and the strategies that sit beside them need to be continuously tested against possible future conditions.
The metaphor of wind tunneling is useful here. The technique of wind tunneling was developed to trial the aerodynamic qualities of cars and airplanes, by putting them in chambers that simulated high velocity winds. Instead of producing a car or an airplane with only an abstract hypothesis about its aerodynamic qualities, wind tunneling could provide empirical data that could help designers to make adjustments to the designs of their vehicles.
While the metaphor is not a perfect fit, and an artificial chamber that produces high velocity winds is far more empirical than a scenario produced through research and analysis, the metaphor still helps us to understand that there is an important relationship between the artefacts we use and the conditions within which they function. Social policy is a public instrument to enact change and regulate social functions in desirable ways. and yet the conditions they operate in are always changing. The scenario is like the wind tunnel, it provides the context within which a social policy may seem to be working well, not working well, or evidencing other less understood behaviour.
The Futures Action Model can also be used to “wind tunnel” existing policies and policy assumptions against possible future states. Placing the policy as the core you can ask:
- How well will the policy work in the emerging future, in light of particular trends and emerging issues, or in light of particular scenarios and images of the future?
- What global responses exist to a particular scenario? and how does one’s policy compare to how others are pioneering responses from around the world?
- Does a particular scenario challenge our understanding of the ecosystem of stakeholders around a particular issue, or the way in which those stakeholders interact? how does our current policy’s assumptions about stakeholders compare with what a hypothetical future says about stakeholders? Are we missing stakeholders? Do we need to revise our assumptions about stakeholders?
For example, we can use the relationship between the emerging futures and policy to drive insights. How does a current policy idea stand up to your knowledge of emerging futures? Is there a future fit or not? And, what policy ideas emerge from thinking about the future?
And we can use the relationship between global responses and policy to also drive insights. How does a current policy idea stand up to your knowledge of the pioneer projects and positive responses being conducted around the world? Are other people already using a similar policy, or not, and how is it playing out? And, what policy ideas emerge from learning what others are doing around the world?
Finally, we can use the relationship between stakeholders / community and policy to drive insights. How does a current policy idea stand up to how your community of stakeholders will evolve given particular future assumptions? Does it serve their emerging needs in the future, or will you need to empathize more deeply with them? And, what policy ideas emerge from empathizing and learning about the stakeholder ecosystem?
One example that we can use are the projections for automation and robotics. many many people are arguing that within 20 to 30 years time, many of the jobs that we take for granted today will have been replaced by automation and robotics. we can use this to drive a particularly dramatic image of the future, let’s say that by 2045, half of the jobs that people do today have been replaced by automation and robotics. Here are some questions you might ask if tunnelling policies in the context of this particular assumption about a future state.
- Does the particular scenario or future assumption we have chosen seem outrageous or ridiculous enough to be useful, or do we need to look for even more divergent change, and play more boldly with assumptions about the future?
- Is there consensus or divergence in respect to this particular scenario or future assumption?
- For example is the image or future assumption that we have put forward about automation and robotics conservative?
- How are people in any part of the world responding to this particular scenario or assumption, and how does this compare with the existing social policies that you hold.
- What might be some of the best practice responses by governments from around the world, and how does this compare with the social policies that you hold?
- For example there are many regional and national governments that are beginning to experiment with universal basic income, considered to be one of the possible responses to the scenario.
Community of Initiative / Stakeholders
- Within the scenario logic, how are the assumptions of stakeholders transformed?
- For example at the moment “normal” unemployment is supposed to sit between 3% and 6% of the working population. For particular social policy that is supposed to alleviate unemployment, this 3%-6% group is considered a primary stakeholder. but what if this stakeholder group becomes 30% to 40% of the population? What if the very nature of this group changes?
- How do the assumptions embedded within the current policy compared to revised assumptions within the scenario logic?
- Are the current policies with respect to employment, training and education adequate for transitioning to such a scenario?
- What aspects of current social policy are effectively working, and have seeming viability within this scenario? What aspects of current policy do not seem to address the needs of this future scenario?
- What are the particular assumptions embedded in current social policy that need to be reviewed given our emerging understanding of social changes?