In 2014 Sweden made headlines as the first nation to appoint a Minister for the Future, Kristina Persson. Unfortunately, her role only lasted for a year and a half. Sweden’s experience with long-term planning at such a high level is common. Many governments spend a few months to a year thinking about the long-term future before taking a break.
The context for foresight in government
For governments to plan for the long-term future, they must first sustain their efforts at long-term thinking. Long-term thinking actually has a history of at least 100 years in national governance. In fact, an entire field has built up in that time devoted to helping organizations, both public and private, to forecast, plan, and prepare for the future.
Even before World War I, thinkers such as Thomas More, Marquis de Condorcet, Karl Marx, and H.G. Wells all promoted variations of future thinking. Exactly when and where these early forms of futures thought began to coalesce into futures studies and futurology is still debated. Even the definitions of industry terminology are still debated by futurists, such as horizon scanning versus environmental scanning. Futurists even debate the merits of different terms to name their field: futures studies versus strategic foresight versus foresight versus futurology versus anticipation versus la prospectiva. Even the term futurist is defined too broadly to be accepted as an industry standard.
The state of futures in government today
We want to help, in some small way, to bring clarity to these issues in the futures and foresight field. Earlier this year we began cataloging some of the organizations that use futures thought with a preference for those that favor multiple scenarios of the future over those attempting to predict a singular predictive future. We also decided to focus initially on those organizations that are currently active.
We eventually want to dig into the history of the field of futures and foresight, but for now our lists can be used as a resource for continuing activities, both ours and our readers. The research so far has been solely online with no interviews, surveys, or networking involved. As such, our research is far from a comprehensive reference but hopefully provides a useful starting point.
Government agencies using futures and foresight
Our first project is a list of government foresight agencies in alphabetical order by nation. We begin each nation’s section with a brief overview of how these methods have been applied in that country. We then provide details on the specific relevant agencies within each country. The list is still in development; we intend to develop it over time to become more extensive and detailed.
We have initially selected the countries that have the greatest activity either presently or historically. Within each nation, we have focused on central government and the highest echelon in which foresight is used. Although we have tended to avoided regional organizations, we have included the European Union since it is responsible for high level governance of its member states.
Some nations have maintained projects and even federal agencies for many years that focus on long-term planning and preparation. So far, we have included Australia, Canada, European Union, Finland, France, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and United States of America. The current foresight activities of Sweden, mentioned above, were not considered substantial enough to include them in our first round of government organizations. Their historic significance, however, will no doubt be considered as we continually add to the list.
If you know of a significant government agency globally that uses futures/ foresight with public information available on their activities, please contact us so we can consider them for inclusion in the list.