Session at the OTT Conference 2021
A bright future ahead: new participatory approaches to strategic foresight
The current challenging times the world is going through represent a good opportunity to think about change and how society should be involved in decision-making processes. This session, organized by foraus and the Think Tank Hub Geneva as part of the OTT Conference 2021, first presented and discussed the importance of strategic foresight and participatory strategic foresight. It then gave participants the opportunity to try out strategic foresight themselves through an interactive activity.
Emiliy Munro opened the session by explaining what strategic foresight is and insisting that it is a key skill that all kinds of actors should have in order to act in current times. She then raised the following questions:
– What would you say is keeping you today from thinking differently about the future?
– What is most challenging about a future orientation in your professional setting?
– What are the weak signals you see around you that you could start discussing with your colleagues?
Then, Emily drew the audience’s attention to the fact that the process of strategic foresight is not about eliminating surprises, but thinking about the future in new ways and imagining different scenarios because everything is uncertain. There needs to be a large number of people working with this method in order for it to have a positive and effective impact.
Wailea started her presentation by emphasizing the essential role of collective intelligence for foraus’ work and, especially, for the innovative Policy Kitchen platform (PK). PK is central to foraus’ most comprehensive participatory strategic foresight project to date, the Future of Human Mobility (FoHM), which aims to envision the future of human mobility for 2050 with dozens of participants from across the globe in a series of workshops. Wailea highlighted the will to bring together diverse perspectives from as many areas as possible, whether from science, practice or policy-making as well as geographically. For this project, foraus partnered with the Open Think Tank Network (OpenTTN) sister grassroots think tanks and the Kenya-based organisation The Youth Café.
She then explained that the topic was framed in a bottom-up way and that the participatory strategic foresight process was launched with five personas – five fictional characters in five different situations. Creating personas aimed to open up explorative spaces and to facilitate access into future migration scenarios not only for experts, but also for interested people from the general public.
Wailea ended her presentation by insisting on the fact that while some people try to predict the future, foresight is all but that. The future does not exist: it hasn’t happened yet and will not unfold in a predetermined way either. She concluded by saying that the most useful way to think about the future is a “landscape of possibilities”.
Our third and last speaker started her presentation by underlining that policy makers and politicians want to know what is coming.
She then explained the main difference between forecast & foresight, i.e. that forecast is based on quantitative and precise data and is useful in order to prepare different scenarios, while foresight is all about thinking about different scenarios. Scenarios are not meant to become real, they are useful to think outside the box. Regarding the migration challenge, it is multisectoral and cannot be looked at in isolation. Over the last few years, political visions in this field have been focusing on the short term, and Andrina highlighted that we now need to think about long-term visions. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown terrible consequences on human mobility, therefore, new adequate responses have to be found.
Andrina concluded her presentation by highlighting some key limitations of the Future of Human Mobility project. According to her, all participants in the workshops have their own bias and she insisted that before starting to think about solutions, it is important to think about what is feasible. Furthermore, scenarios produced through foresighting have the risk not to produce enough solution-based responses.
Head of Strategic Anticipation at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy
Engagement Manager at foraus and responsible for the Future of Human Mobility project
Co-lead of Migration Programme at foraus