In early 2016 I got the opportunity to run a very exciting project dear to my heart. For years I’ve been conceptualising a design process for anticipatory governance. In 2012 I was given the opportunity to do the research at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, where I compiled and made sense of the literature. I later wrote this into an article for the Journal of Futures Studies. My intention with the article was to really make it possible for any foresight consultant to review the 7 key strategies for anticipatory governance and support governments anywhere with building in the best approaches for their unique contexts. I saw the 7 approaches as a “design space” that provided a broad field of view of the issues and opportunities in the design challenge of anticipatory governance. I later put together the idea for an anticipatory governance design service.
The core idea is that anticipatory governance is absolutely central to social viability. Government is an important vehicle for organised and effective social responses to our challenges and aspirations. Governments have an important role to play in protecting and extending the social good (what is commonly valued), and in responding effectively to change (both opportunities and threats). And governments need to be able to operationalise all of this into effective strategies for change – through policies that facilitate and support better social outcomes.
But government cannot do this if they are not future oriented. If government is not in alignment with citizen’s ideas of the social good; or if government is not actively looking into how the future may be different than the present; or if government does not have effective operational strategies, then it is simply not possible for government to organise and support effective responses to our challenges and aspirations.
Many governments do their best, with piecemeal approaches. But any sober reading of our current situation across the globe should give pause for thought. We are not really responding effectively to the threat of climate change, a volatile financial system with moral hazards, the growing gulf between the super rich and the rest (tax havens), the changing nature of migration, and the looming disruptions we can expect from technology. This list goes on…
What we need are really holistic and robust approaches that can create the breakthroughs needed to address our real social and sustainability challenges, at many scales. Piecemeal foresight in policy-making will produce a few good ideas and initiatives and make us feel a bit better, but comprehensive approaches generate alignment between a clear reading of the shape of change and the breakthrough policies and strategies we use today that will get us to where we really want to go.
Now I feel it is an imperative to open source our knowledge and methods in this area so that we can accelerate social change, and support government and policy making that will well and truly address the real issues we are all are facing. In this spirit I want to make the methodology and approach I used and will continue to use as open and reproducible as possible for others who want to delve and work in this space.
In 2015 I was contacted by the Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies (CSPS) in Brunei. CSPS were looking for high level capacity building, to develop the thinking and methods of strategic foresight and horizon scanning and build it into their policy and advisory role.
CSPS are the lead policy advisory organization for the government of Brunei, and are now also mandated to be a specialist in strategic foresight and horizon scanning to support future-oriented policy making across government.
CSPS thus specifically wanted a train-the-trainer approach that would leave them with all the ideas, tools and approaches that would allow them to reproduce my techniques so that they could apply it for various government departments and ministries. With this in mind, I proposed and developed an intensive program of training and design thinking that would train CSPS staff and select government participants.
Training, learning and design process
The overall approach was broken into three parts.
- Part one was a four day intensive training on strategic foresight and horizon scanning methods and approaches.
- Part two was a two month action learning project, where the participants chose one or two approaches they were taught and applied it on a topic.
- Part three was a three day review and design process where participants first reviewed their projects, and moved through the action learning cycle to reflect and glean insights from their experience, and then engaged in a human centered design process for prototyping anticipatory governance systems.
The first workshop in Feb of 2016 was 4 days in length and covered the following material:
- An introduction to the history of futures studies and foresight.
- The viable systems model and its relationship to foresight as elucidated by Peter Hayward.
- Emerging issues analysis as developed by Graham Molitor.
- Weak signals analysis as developed by Elina Hiltunen.
- Environmental / Horizon Scanning basics.
- The Six Pillars Methodology of Sohail Inayatullah.
- The Three Horizons approach of Curry and Hodgson.
- Jim Dator’s Four Futures approach.
- The Futures Action Model.
The workshop was applied, and teams were not just introduced to the key ideas, but also practiced the various exploration and ideation methods unique to each methodology.
This second part was a two month action learning project where each of the three teams chose one or two methodologies to apply to a futures research problem.
Each team took it upon themselves to use what was learned in the intensive workshop and apply it to a public policy challenge area that they needed to tackle.
During that time I skyped each group at least twice to see how they were going and offer any advice and support. All the groups grappled with the research challenge well. Of course there was the standard getting lost in the forest, but equally the deep insights and clarity that comes from an experiential approach. All three teams ultimately did a great job.
The final workshop, three days in length, was comprised of
- A forum for senior ministers in Brunei.
- An action learning review for their projects.
- A human centered design process to prototype anticipatory governance for their contexts.
For the forum I engaged the services of Cheryl Chung of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, who has many decades of experience using foresight for public policy and gave a presentation on ‘Foresight Studies and Horizon Scanning for Policy Making in Singapore’, shared her knowledge on what works for foresight work in the Singapore government / how it has impacted public policy making.
I also gave a shorter talk on what makes for empowering or disempowering approaches to the future in the context of government.
The forum organised by CSPS was high level and included senior ministers from major ministries. The forum went well and got quite a bit of press:
- Civil service needs ‘foresight’ approach to tackle challenges
- Strategic foresight key to preparing for changes, challenges
- CSPS holds Train the Trainers workshop
- CSPS’ train-the-trainer workshop in strategic foresight, horizon scanning
The forum was very important in building the visibility and legitimacy of the endeavour, and can be understood as a type of foresight communication, which is central to the effectiveness of foresight projects.
Day two was the action learning review, where participants got to reflect on their experiences in applying foresight, what worked, what didn’t, and what they would do different next time around. They also had a chance to reflect on the political challenges in doing foresight work, and what strategies can be effective.
Day three was dedicated to human centered design to prototype anticipatory governance strategies. We started with getting clear on the problem, design challenge and intended impact. We did some empathy work to better understand the “design ecology”. Importantly, I did not introduce or push the 7 strategies for anticipatory governance until after this, as I did not want to overly imprint their designs with programmed knowledge. But it became clear that in the context of a human centered design process for anticipatory governance, these 7 strategies were very useful in helping participants to reflect and incorporate key elements. In this regard the process was similar to Reg Revan’s action learning formulation of Programmed Learning + Insightful Questioning + Experience. We ended by road-mapping the prototypes and then developing narratives that can carry the meaning and message of the design efforts.
CSPS have taken very concrete steps to make themselves a robust foresight unit which will be able to advise government for years to come. They have put in great effort and have build substantial capabilities, and will continue to do so.
I feel fortunate to have been able to conceptualise a design space and design service, and have an opportunity to support a national government in applying such designs and knowledge. I have learned a lot and I am reflecting and considering how best to improve on this.
For the government of Brunei, I think they are in an opportune space to build in foresight approaches that can make their policy making truly innovative and which can lead to breakthroughs. There is a lot of work to do but I’m very confident they have made solid first steps.
My hope is for greater collaboration, sharing and the development of a Global Foresight Commons on what works in this space, so that we can enable a transition to future oriented government and the necessary transformations we need to create a world of long term wellbeing and prosperity.