Promoting Strategic Foresight By Doing It: Putting Experts to the Test

By Robert Hale and Angela Antonelli

The Strategic Foresight Panel of NAPA’s Presidential Transition 2016 project seeks to help government leaders understand, value and utilize strategic foresight. By using strategic foresight, government leaders can better perceive the significance of events before they occur, which should lead to decisions that have the resiliency to withstand future challenges and support the policy and program needs of the future. The Panel hopes that, by finding ways for government agencies to better use strategic foresight, government leaders can move beyond immediate crises and improve their long-term planning and decision making.

Strategic foresight is already used at federal government agencies.  As NAPA Fellow and Panel Chair John Kamensky noted in his blog on January 11, it can be embedded at the most senior levels of government such as the White House or at the agency staff level. Agency-level foresight efforts are occurring today at the Department of Defense, Veterans Administration, and FEMA. Strategic foresight can also be practiced at arm’s length through a third party, such as a university or non-profit. This is happening at the Council on Virginia’s Future.

Promoting Strategic Foresight By Doing It.  The Panel decided that one way to promote the use of strategic foresight is to test it by doing it. The Panel have selected several topics and plan to apply the strategic foresight framework to better understand how future trends could challenge a new Administration. The selection of the specific scenarios was informed, in part, by the input provided through a survey of NAPA Fellows.

For each topic, NAPA and the Panel will conduct a “table-top” exercise.  Each exercise will bring together ten or more participants, including NAPA Fellows, who have substantive knowledge of the topic and relevant leadership experience or potential. The goal of each exercise is to see how participants perceive and respond to the significance of the scenario and then develop and recommend plans and processes that will anticipate and improve outcomes if the scenario actually occurred. NAPA and the Strategic Foresight Panel will be assisted in this initiative by Booz Allen Hamilton, whose experts will arrange and facilitate the table-top exercises.

Topics for Strategic Foresight Table-Top Exercises.  NAPA and the Panel will undertake these table-top exercises over the next several months. The first exercise seeks to identify and clarify alternative futures related to the ability of the U.S. government to influence the outcomes of important events. Many factors will determine our government’s influence including the state of the economy, geopolitical challenges, and the ability of the President to achieve consensus for action. Participants in this initial table-top exercise will be asked to consider a world several years in the future and make alternative assumptions about the strength of the U.S. economy, the state of national security, and more. They will then be asked to consider how different alternative futures could shape the ability of U.S. government to act and to suggest ways to strengthen U.S. influence and capabilities.

Subsequent table-top exercises will focus on specific topics, drawing on insights from the first exercise and input from the Fellows survey. One exercise will focus on cyber security, a topic raised by several NAPA Fellows. Exercise participants will be confronted with a cyber crisis occurring in the future. However, they will not be asked to focus on crisis management, as important as that might be during the event. Instead, the scenario will require that exercise participants use strategic foresight in responding to direction from the President requiring a plan to avoid future cyber crises including requirements for funding, expertise, and technology. The plan will have to take into consideration the possible alternative futures that shape those requirements.

Other Topics for Consideration.  There may be additional topics for table-top exercises, perhaps including future events related to national security, health care, and others. The Panel is interested in identifying topics of interest even if time and resources do not permit us to conduct table-top exercises for all of them. To that end, we would welcome comment posts to this blog suggesting topics that the Panel should consider.

By using rather than just discussing strategic foresight, the Panel hopes to hopes to learn and share some important lessons about how a new Administration can benefit from its use. We also hope to expose future government leaders to the strategic foresight process and its benefits.

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