Futures Commissions (FC)

Futures commissions (FC) are another important tradition in the Anticipatory Governance milieu. Futures commissions are semi-independent research and communication institutes or agencies established to provide a foresight function for both government and the public.

A key opportunity in FCs is to develop futures research which can influence policy development as well as communicate with the public to enhance the level of debate in the public sphere. Often government-funded, their semi-independent nature (as a commission) allows them more liberty in providing critical commentary within both policy development processes and public discourse. This semi-independence can also become a weakness if political winds change and those in power are at odds with the research and communication flowing from such a futures commission.

As Bezold argued, these FC can be both powerful and precarious, “critical in giving government greater foresight, more conscious direction setting, and greater capacity to create positive change” – or can waste public money (Bezold, 2006, p.46).

Notable examples of such commissions include Australian FC (now defunct), and Swedish FC. Bezold (2006) documented 36 US states that created FCs since the 1990s, often within particular state jurisdictions.

Bezold described the function of FCs to:

“stimulate imagination and creativity in considering options; track emerging trends and relate these trends to current policies; develop alternative scenarios; inform and involve the public and key stakeholders; and allow the public to link policy options and trends to priority setting for state policies and the budget.” (Bezold, 2006, p.47)

Overall FCs are high impact but require significant resources and political support. Their success factors include having strong leadership support (e.g. a governor, chief justice), involving other key stakeholders, including the legislature and media, and having public learning and public involvement components (Bezold, 2006).

Usually of a robust scale, built into states or federal funding, FCs can also be found in places of smaller scale, such as in inter-organizational networks; the FCs can be used to connect a number of different jurisdictions through intergovernmental commissions. Their frequency and flexibility warrant their inclusion as a critical strategy in developing Anticipatory Governance.