Futures methods

Large institutions are often bound by inflexible planning cultures, with few immediate incentives for strategic long-term planning, policy thinking and enduring process innovation.

‘Just in time’ mindsets create significant risk of being caught out by surprises and unexpected consequences.

Reducing this risk is both possible and compatible within the predictable structure – and focus on delivery – that effective institutions need to maintain.

Futures analysis – careful structured thinking about trends, directions of change and likely implications – helps minimise surprise for organisations without undermining other strengths.

This is not a new concept; the Singaporean government and organisations such as the US Defense Department have been building capability in futures analysis for years.

Good futures analysis is focused on understanding the range of ways the future could plausibly unfold, rather than bold predictions or outlandish forecasts.

Providing decision-makers a credible spectrum of what may happen helps them better understand key and potentially misleading assumptions upon which current policy is based, and test future policy and capability plans in different contexts.

The National Security College Futures Hub is a significant repository of techniques and is actively developing new techniques that are tailored for policy thinking.

With partners across the Futures Network, we are constantly testing and refining the most useful techniques for the public sector.

A strong public-sector futures culture will be integral to understanding what constitutes the ‘public good’ of the future and testing the roles for the governments of tomorrow.

It will still be governments – even allowing for the internet’s capacity to diffuse power and influence – which retain the systemic authority to shape change in service of that broad public interest.

Singapore, the UK, Finland and Canada are considered as having the most established Futures capabilities. Their experience suggests successful Futures units rely on dedicated resources, strong mandates and being empowered to consider a wide range of sensitive issues in an interdisciplinary context.