Bringing Strategic Foresight to the Fore

By John Kamensky

John_Kamensky


What is NAPA’s Strategic Foresight Panel planning to do? This isn’t the first time NAPA has addressed the topic of creating a strategic foresight capacity for the federal government. But this time there is a better plan!

In preparation for the 2008 presidential transition, the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) published an issue paper, Governing with Foresight: Institutional Changes to Enhance Fact-Based Decision-Making in the Executive Office of the President. That paper noted that: “Some careful observers have found little if any institutional capacity to focus on cross-cutting outcomes and that there is an increasing lack of national consensus on priorities and future directions.” It outlined several potential approaches the incoming president might take, which included:

· Creating a broad context that stakeholders can agree on. The military calls this creating a “common operating picture,” where everyone can see the big picture. A good state-level example is the Council on Virginia’s Future.

· Creating plans to act on the broader context. This has been done in the defense community via capability-based resource planning, and in the homeland security arena via scenario-driven planning.

· Putting mechanism in place to act on the plans. In cities and states, this has been via “performance-stat” approaches such as Baltimore’s Citi-Stat.

Elements of these approaches have been adopted in various federal agencies, but not in a comprehensive way. And, in hindsight, these approaches were not really about “strategic foresight.” However, over the past eight years, more attention has been given to the topic of strategic foresight, and more interestingly, a bottom-up, self-organizing community of interest has evolved among staff in a wide range of federal agencies who are engaged in foresight initiatives. So the groundwork is being laid to build on these efforts in the next presidential Administration.

What’s our purpose? This Panel will examine efforts in Strategic Foresight that have been effective within the federal government and in other sectors to determine what principles and policies might be adopted by a new Administration.

Who are we? The Academy has appointed several panels to develop background papers for the upcoming presidential transition. The focus of these panels is based on a poll in mid-2015 of NAPA fellows who identified management topics they felt were critical for the success of the next president. This panel, on Strategic Foresight, is comprised of several NAPA fellows as well as invited experts from the field. In addition, Grant Thornton has provided staff support and Booz Allen Hamilton has offered to help organize strategic foresight sessions in support of the effort.

We plan to develop a background white paper and recommendations.The Panel will undertake a range of activities to develop a background white paper that outlines issues and options, and an accompanying set of recommendations, to include:

· An understanding of the state of the art in the federal community today.

· Identifying cases where the use of strategic foresight contributed to better decision making.

· Understanding existing statutory, regulatory, or administrative efforts that encourage or discourage the development and use of strategic foresight, and how it relates to other existing administrative processes (e.g., risk management, program evaluation, strategic planning)

· Understanding the range of proposals that have been developed over the years for the Federal government.

· Understanding the approaches being using by other countries, states, and private industry that might inform the development of options for the federal government

What is our plan of action? The Panel has already met several times and administered a survey to NAPA fellows to solicit their insights. It will launch a series of weekly blog posts, with this being the first, to share insights of panel members and solicit your insights in response. The intent is that these blog posts — and the comments from readers — will serve as the building blocks for our report.

These blog posts will run through February and then the Panel will begin drafting its report and recommendations, with a target completion of the end of April 2016.

In addition to the blogs, it will jointly host with Booz Allen Hamilton, beginning in March 2016, a series of in-person table-top exercises on selected topics to demonstrate how foresight scenarios are developed, and their potential value to decision makers. In the course of these exercises, we hope to engage opinion-influencers from a wide spectrum of perspectives.

If you have read this far, you must be interested! So, please join us on line in the blog forum and provide your insights. We would also like concrete examples of where foresight initiatives have been developed, and are particularly interested in examples of where foresight has influenced specific policy decisions in government.

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2 thoughts on “Bringing Strategic Foresight to the Fore”

  1. So sorry about the typo: the 5th last word would needed to be “concrete”, which was an essential element of the innovative new bridge network.

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  2. Thank-you for your valuable article relating strategic foresight to administration.
    Yesterday I talked with a senior highway and roads planner of a large city who passionately told me the importance of long-term planning for for the transportation network. He said that the effects of decisions that are made about roads are actually felt only about 15 years later! Unfortunately the administration of this city is presently only taking actions that makes the party look good, instead of taking a systems thinking perspective to plan into the distant future.
    On an encouraging note, I have often driven past a specific intersection, where the traffic congestion of the past was resolved with a very innovative solution. I had often wondered who had initiated this option. The road planner then told me that he had been involved, because in the early 1990s he had realised that if the traffic flow of this intersection is not resolved, it will cause signficant traffic flow problems for the whole city in future decades! What valuable strategic foresight perspective by one person that resulted in congrete (excuse the pun) action!

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