Foresight is 20/20: Challenges and opportunities in Congress’ future
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Foresight is 20/20: Challenges and opportunities in Congress’ future

June 28, 2022

To meet the public’s needs in an increasingly complex world, government must have the ability to adapt to ever-changing realities. This is particularly important for Congress, an institution grappling with the many challenges of today and often leaving little time to think about the challenges of tomorrow. It was with this idea in mind that we developed the “Foresight is 20/20” project to help Congress to think about the future in a more proactive way, maximize its strengths and build resilience and capability.

At a time when the public shows little confidence in the ability of Congress to get things done, this project is a starting point for a new, fresh approach that can help it plan for the future. We believe Congress can earn back the public’s trust by tackling challenges and solving problems more effectively, thus living up to its mission to serve the public. At the core of this project is the question “What will the world look like in 2032 and how will that impact the way Congress functions and how it meets constituents’ needs?”

Of course, predicting the future is impossible, but preparing for the future is not. Strategic foresight is designed to help Congress be proactive about future challenges by using what we know about the world today to prepare for tomorrow.

Foresight brings together a variety of participatory creative thinking exercises that help organizations better manage under conditions of uncertainty. By using current trends such as the ubiquity of technology or demographic changes, these exercises force participants to push past boundaries, think beyond the present and live in imagined possible futures. One can then work backwards from those possible futures and decide how to act today.

Through a series of research activities that included a literature review and interviews with subject matter experts and foresight practitioners, we collected a set of trends and key drivers of change for the future of government and, more specifically, of Congress: (1) Trust in Institutions, (2) Political Polarization, (3) Technology Literacy and Access, and (4) Demographic Shifts.

We took these trends and invited individuals from civil society organizations, congressional experts and the general public to participate in workshops focused on exploring the future of Congress. We invited participants to test out new ideas, explore challenges and opportunities, and build a variety of futures from the bleak to the hopeful. We distilled the workshop findings into three issue briefs, and we hope each one will be an insightful resource and starting point for thinking about the future of Congress and our government at large.

Polarization and Trust

Political polarization is one of the most relevant trends for the current American moment. Increased hyper-partisanship has made it harder for members of Congress to find common ground and has led to the erosion of democratic norms. This issue brief explores how the nation could progress on its current path, but also poses an option to put the “united” back in the United States.  

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Technology and Trust

Technology literacy and access are currently at a turning point. With rapid advancement, the divide over who has the education to use and the money to buy emerging technologies will be a key determinant of who is helped by technological advancements and who gets left behind. In this issue brief, we explore the dangers and opportunities of emerging technologies in different climates of trust for Congress and its constituents.

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Demographics and Trust

Demographic changes are a key trend that will play a role in potential challenges and opportunities for the future. Whatever actions Congress does or does not take to prepare for changing socioeconomic, political and cultural dynamics will have real consequences in the decade ahead. Our issue brief explores the impact of socioeconomic and political shifts along with demographic changes on Congress.

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Effectively serving the public will require Congress to find ways to strengthen the capacity of the institution to meet emerging challenges. The good news is that there is work underway to leverage or mitigate many of the future scenarios identified by this project. It is our hope that this work spurs a conversation about how future trends may impact demands on congressional personnel, authorities, processes and facilities. We see this work as another tool to equip members of Congress and staff with information as well as practical recommendations so the institution can become more responsive to the needs of the public.

We want to thank Alex Kouts (IndiGov), Cat Tully (School of International Futures), John Kamensky (The IBM Center for the Business of Govnerment), Andy Hines (Hinseight), Leon Fuerth (Forward Engagement/Ohio State University), Betsy Hawkings (Article One Advisors, LLC), and Jean Bordewich (The Hewlett Foundation) for sharing their subject-matter expertise on all things Congress and/or foresight with us.

We also want to thank our colleagues at the Partnership who contributed with their expertise on the scoping and design of this research project: Paul Pietsch, Andrew Marshall, Liz Byers, Tim Markatos, Peter Kamocsai, Jeff McNichols, Kristine Simmons, Kevin Johnson, Jarinete Santos, Carlos Galina, Maddie Powder, Regina Parra, Abbi Fine, Madison Kubinski, James Dennehy, Joseph Spillane, Zainab Dossaji, Nicky Santoso, Emma Oonk, Umair Kapadia, Loren DeJonge Schulman, and James-Christian Blockwood.

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