Global Challenge 5

Challenge 5. How can decisionmaking be enhanced by integrating improved global foresight during unprecedented accelerating change?

Brief Overview

The Covid pandemic increased awareness of the need to use global foresight as input to national and transnational strategy. Although our major challenges and actions to address them are global in nature, global foresight and global-scale decisionmaking systems are rarely employed. To change this, the UN Secretary-General proposed five strategies in 2021 in Our Common Agenda: UN Summit on the Future, a UN Futures Lab, periodic Strategic Foresight and Global Risk reports, an Envoy for Future Generations, and repurposed the UN Trusteeship Council as a multi-stakeholder foresight body. An international panel of futurists and related experts overwhelmingly endorsed these proposed UN reforms as an inter-related system to improve global decisionmaking.

Governance systems are not keeping up with growing global interdependence and socio-technological change. Since governments and large corporations have to make decisions taking into account global changes that are beyond their control, many are creating future strategy or foresight units to contribute to their strategic planning. OECD’s Government Foresight Community is a collective improvement system for government foresight personnel. The number of such government units is increasing worldwide. The UN Strategic Planning Network provides a platform for UN agencies to exchange best practices. Finland’s Parliamentary Committee for the Future initiated the World Summit on the Parliamentary Committees for the Future in 2022 to encourage all countries to create their own Parliamentary Committee for the Future. The next Summit was held in Uruguay with representatives from 70 Parliaments to share how to improve foresight in their legislative processes.

Options to create and update national, global, corporate, and individual foresight are increasingly complex and changing so rapidly that it is almost impossible for decisionmakers to gather and understand the information required to make and implement coherent policy. At the same time, the consequences of incoherent policies are so serious today that new systems are urgently needed. We are so flooded with irrelevant info-noise that it is difficult to know what is truly significant. Decisionmakers are rarely trained in futures methods and decisionmaking, even though decision support and foresight systems are constantly being improved with artificial intelligence, big data analytics, simulations, collective intelligence systems, e-governance participatory systems, and a deeper understanding of psychological factors that impinge on decisionmaking.

Futures research is the systematic exploration of how future possibilities could emerge from the present and what developments might alter them. Unfortunately, its work has not been systematically evaluated and applied to improve its quality and demonstrate its effect on decisionmaking. Instead, the tyranny of the moment tends to overrule long-term global perspectives. Short-term, selfish, economic decisionmaking can be blamed for the 2008 global financial crisis, continued environmental degradation, and widening income disparities. The long-term goal to land on the moon accelerated technological innovations and economic growth and lifted the human spirit. The long-term goal to eradicate smallpox inspired many people to cooperate across cultural and political divides. A U.S.-China long-term goal on climate change could inspire even greater international collaborations and hope for a better future.

Humanity needs a global, multifaceted, general long-term view of the future with long-range goals to facilitate contemporary decisions that lead to a brighter future, and this requires a means for linking research agendas and R&D to those goals. The UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 provide much of that framework, but we still need to understand the potential consequences and opportunities afforded by accelerating future technological innovations. In the meantime, national foresight and decisionmaking can be improved.

Actions to Address Global Challenge 5:

  • Establish national permanent parliamentary Committees for the Future, as Finland has done, to provide foresight for government and other parliamentary committees.
  • Establish or improve future strategy units for heads of state and government.
  • Link these government units with corporate, UN, and academic future strategy units to improve international strategic coherence and coordination.
  • Create a network of government and nongovernmental futurists on call for quick futures assessments (Real-Time Delphi software could support this).
  • Compute and publish annual national and global State of the Future Indexes.
  • Develop national online collective intelligence systems on the future of the nation, with public access.
  • Create a classified collective intelligence system for the heads of government connected to related units in government to offer the opportunity for some continuity in national long-term strategy from one administration to the next.
  • Synthesize relevant futures research for an annual State of the Future report for nations, issues, sectors, and/or organizations.
  • Include 5-to-10-year allocations in government budgets based on rolling 10-year State of the Future Indexes, scenarios, and strategies.
  • Advisors to decisionmakers should participate in the informal long-term strategy networks to share and learn best practices.
  • Require a “future considerations” section in policy reporting requirements.
  • Institutions that teach decision-making should include foresight, risk, uncertainty, psychology, game theory, successful historical decision situations, and potential future crises.
  • Add foresight as a performance evaluation criterion for senior government officials.
  • Include how to connect foresight to decisionmaking in government training programs.
  • Test proposed policies before implementation by postulating random future events of all sorts and evaluating how these might affect the policies.
  • Teach decisionmaking, foresight, futures research, and synthesis as well as analysis throughout educational systems at all levels.
  • Futures methodologies can be converted to teaching techniques for primary and secondary schools so that people learn a subject and its future potentials.
  • Fund convergence among disciplines to address global challenges.
  • Create stronger links between R&D budgets and priority of problems that need solving.
  • Include existential risks in the proposed UN Global Risk reports.
  • Governments should establish a network of futurists on-call for advice.

Regional Considerations

Sub-Saharan Africa: UN’s Global Pulse is applying Big Data to improve African development decisionmaking. Foresightfordevelopment.org makes research documents, projects, scenarios, futurists, and blogs available to support African futures research. Hopefully, this will promote more foresight-oriented think-tanks to collaborate with sub-regional blocks such as ECOWAS and SADC in decision making. Africa stands to benefit by popularizing foresight literacy in schools, universities, governments and civil organizations. China has become a force in African long-range planning; it will be the second largest export destination for Africa. Daily management of many African countries makes future global perspectives difficult; hence, more-regional bodies like the African Union, UN Economic Commission for Africa, and the African Development Bank are more likely to further futures work in Africa and should build on 10 years of work of UNDP/African Futures. Private sector investment in modern digital technology could improve decisionmaking capabilities. Civil society is also becoming a bigger factor in foresight, although it may need external pressure for freedom of the press, accountability, and transparency of government. Corporations are also helping. For example, Microsoft is implementing e-government systems to improve transparency and decisionmaking. Most African countries are adopting the e-government digital transformation. The continent’s E-Government Development Index (EGDI) scores rose from 0.2 in 2003 to 0.3914 in 2020. Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa, Rwanda, and Seychelles are leading in the adoption of e-government. If the brain drain cannot be reversed, the African diaspora should be connected to the development processes back home through Internet tele-nation systems. Much of Africa continues to struggle with keeping the cultural advantages of extended families, while making political and economic decisions more objective.

Middle East and North Africa: The Egyptian Arabic Futures Research and Studies Association is connecting futurists and think tanks in the region to share insights. The Arab Spring or Renaissance, is yet to open the decisionmaking processes, increasing freedom of the press to better inform the public. Israel is developing a strategic program in cooperation with the U.S. to anticipate science/technology revolutions. New diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia facilitated by China along with the Abraham Accord with Israel and some Arab nations could help stabilize the region allowing for new foresight to improve decisionmaking.

Asia and Oceania: Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, ASEAN, the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank could be the key institutions to help improve long-term decisionmaking systems in the region. Since China tends to make decisions in a longer time frame than other countries – aided by the presumed continued predictable stability of Chinese Communist Party leadership, as opposed to factoring in term limits or party administration changes as with democratic countries’ decisionmaking – its increasing power could also inspire more global, long-term decisionmaking elsewhere as its interactions with the rest of the world deepen. Japan includes private-sector companies in the Prime Minister’s long-term strategic planning unit. Asian societies tend to focus personal decisions more for the good of the family than for the good of the individual. Might the individualistic Internet change this philosophy? Possible synergies among Asian spirituality and collectivist culture with the Western more linear, continuous, and individualistic decisionmaking systems could produce new decisionmaking philosophies. The Prime Minister’s Office of Singapore is developing an informal international network of government future strategy units. Pakistan created a State of the Future Index. The South Asia Foresight Network is exploring synergetic relations among nations instead of just zero-sum power politics.

Europe:  The EC’s Horizon 2025-2027 strategic plan includes major support for futures research and foresight programs including the Strategic Foresight Network, an annual Strategic Foresight Report, and the Competence Centre on Foresight. The EC’s Competence Centre on Foresight fosters a strategic, future-oriented and anticipatory culture in the EU policymaking process. European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS) is an early alert horizon scanning system. The European Parliamentary Technology Assessment is a network and database of 18 European Parliaments integrating futures into decisionmaking. Longer range thinking in Europe is stimulated by changing ethnic demographics, forecasts of Asian and African migrations, the emergence of China, new technologies like AI, and public finances for social and health services for an aging population Tensions between the EU and its member governments and among ethnic groups are making decisionmaking difficult. The EU 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and previous social market economy strategies build on The Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs. The merger of the European Regional Foresight College with The Millennium Project European Nodes has created the Foresight European Network to improve European futures research and instruction. The Netherlands constitution requires a 50-year horizon for land use planning. Russian Ministries use Delphi and scenarios for foresight, while corporations tend to use technology roadmaps. Poland 2050 encourages more qualitative than quantitative approaches for long-term analyses. State of the Future Indexes have been created for the first time in Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia, and updated in the Czech Republic. Europe is experiencing “reporting fatigue” due to so many treaties and bureaucratic rules.

Latin America: The Inter-American Dialogue has documented the growing interest in futures research in the region (See Why and How Latin America Should Think About the Future ) such as Brazil 2022, Visión Nacional 2030 (Mexico), México 2042, Chile 2025, Surfeando Hacia el Futuro: Chile en el Horizonte 2025, Latinoamérica 2030 (The Millennium Project Latin American Nodes), América Latina 2040 (CAF), Plan Perú 2021, Visión Colombia 2019 (that includes Vision Colombia 2050), Estrategia Nacional 2010/2025 (Ecuador), Estrategia Nacional de Desarrollo 2030 (Dominican Republic), Un Viaje de Transformación Hacia un País Mejor, 2030 (Dominican Republic) and Estrategia Nacional de Desarrollo 2030 (Dominican Republic). The Millennium Project’s Latin American Nodes and others have formed RIBER (Red Iberoamericana de Prospectiva). Since the average age in Latin America is only 24, it is fundamental to incorporate the visions of the next generation via social networks and apps. Chile is pioneering e-government systems that can be models for other countries in the region. For e-government to increase transparency, reduce corruption, and improve decisions, Internet access beyond the wealthiest 20% is necessary. The remaining 80% suffer from inefficient service, difficult access locations, restricted operating hours, and nontransparent processes. Latin America has to improve citizen participation and public education for political awareness. However, the acceleration of residential fixed broadband subscriptions in 2023 (8.4% across Latin America and Caribbean reaching 117 million households or 53.7% penetration), with projected growth through 2030 of 3.9% p.a. should contribute positively to that improvement.

North America: The “Anticipatory Governance” report explains how to create a foresight capacity in the White House: Create a map of individuals and organizations with foresight and use it to create a virtual organization at the White House (USA) and Langevin Block (Canada) for regular input to the policy process. “Future considerations” should be added to standard reporting requirements. Examples of successful global long-range activities should be promoted (see Factors Required for Successful Implementation of Futures Research in Decisionmaking) along with cases where the lack of futures thinking proved costly. Global perspectives in decisionmaking are emerging due to perpetual collaboration among different institutions and nations that has become the norm in addressing the increasing complexity and speed of global change. Global long-term perspectives continue to be evident in the climate change policies of many local governments.

In 1997 IBM’s Deep Blue beat the world chess champion; in 2011 IBM’s Watson beat top TV quiz show knowledge champions. What’s next? Apps on mobile phones for collective intelligence? Blogs and self-organizing groups on the Internet are becoming de facto decisionmakers in North America, with decisions made at the lowest level appropriate to the problem. Approximately 20% of U.S. corporations use decision support systems to select criteria, rate options, or show how issues have alternative business positions and how each is supported or refuted by research. Intellipedia provides open-source intelligence to improve decisionmaking. The region’s dependence on computer-augmented decisionmaking—from e-government to tele-business—creates new vulnerabilities to manipulation by organized crime, corruption, and cyberterrorism, as discussed in Challenges 6 and 12.