A case for foresight
Back to Blog

A case for foresight

March 1, 2024

World Future’s Day is a good reminder of how powerful strategic foresight can be to make our government more proactive and agile in a changing world that faces issues such as evolving national security threats, a shifting economic landscape, and uncertainty around mass adoption and implementation of artificial intelligence.

Strategic foresight is a decision-making tool. It helps balance vision with practicality, harnesses creativity and navigates uncertainty, and can be extremely effective with change management. There are many foresight methodologies that can help provide insight into future trends, develop alternative approaches to achieving desired outcomes and help leaders take a long view. It is an essential competence of leadership and encourages organizations to make plans today that lead to a preferable future tomorrow. 

Foresight in government 

Foresight in the federal government is not new. In the early 1900s, President Roosevelt advocated for foresight when, speaking of conservation as a national duty, he argued for the ability to understand the drivers and dynamic that would shape the future, noting that “if we do not exercise that foresight, dark will be the future.” 

Many leaders and practitioners have called for more foresight capability in the federal government. While formal adoption of foresight has been sporadic, recent years have seen a more coordinated and concentrated effort to incorporate foresight practices to bolster good government.  

As a fierce supporter of foresight in government, I have advocated for formalizing a government-wide capability through the Federal Foresight Community of Interest, incorporating foresight into presidential transition planning and urging Congress to better understand trends and with oversight responsibilities. 

Today, over a half-dozen federal agencies have foresight or futures offices, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Government Accountability Office, the Coast Guard and others have already integrated foresight programs into organizational processes. Additionally, agencies like the departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Defense conduct stress-testing exercises and planning for future emergencies. 

Our government should continue to strengthen its capacity in strategic foresight methods such as environmental scanning and scenario planning—which could provide insight into what our government needs to adequately protect our country against bad actors, make better long-term fiscal management and investments decisions in a constrained economy, and understand the implications of deploying artificial intelligence ethically and in a user-centered way to improve public services. 

The Partnership for Public Service Futures Lab: Another capability to help government

In 2022, the Partnership for Public Service launched the Futures Lab to help federal leaders understand external conditions that impact their work. The lab is a unique incubator for government to use foresight to explore major challenges, research emerging topics, and strengthen skills and knowledge around foresight. 

In June 2022, the Partnership published a report to help Congress think about what the world will look like beyond 2030. The report invited individuals from civil society organizations, congressional experts and the general public to participate in workshops focused on exploring trends that affect the future of Congress

Recently, the Senior Executives Association and the Partnership for Public Service co-sponsored the 2024 Senior Executive Leadership Summit: Leading Beyond Boundaries with several sessions on foresight—demonstrating how it is a leadership competency that supports long-term thinking and high-level decision-making.  

In addition, the Partnership and Deloitte just held an event on how enterprise risk managers can incorporate strategic foresight into their work. Panelists explored case studies and discussed examples of how integrating foresight can lead to early identification of emerging opportunities and challenges that can help strengthen agency resiliency. 

A strong community needs strong investment

The Partnership recognizes the power of foresight and its potential to improve government strategy, management and services. We are committed to increasing our internal foresight capability and strive to be a leader in supporting agencies as they use foresight to tackle complex problems. 

The more we discuss and explore foresight with federal leaders, the more apparent its potential impact on their work and government becomes. Now is the time to meet the moment, build on momentum and help equip public servants with the best tools to help them achieve their agencies’ mission, deliver better services for the American public, take advantage of future opportunities and proactively address challenges yet to come.

Leave a Reply