Six Steps to Strategic Foresight as a “Sexy” Civil Servant
Six Steps to Strategic Foresight as a “Sexy” Civil Servant
used to describe something that attracts a lot of interest and excitement
This article explores the insights delivered at the ‘Fit for the Future? Strategic Foresight in Government event, which took place in February 2023. The event explored the practical advice from local and international experts on how civil servants can embrace strategic foresight to improve policy outcomes – with a focus on how being ‘sexy’ and generating interest and excitement can create a space for policy innovation.
What is strategic foresight?
We live in a time of growing uncertainty and change – driven by post-pandemic reverberations, climate collapse, technological disruption and a shifting geo-political landscape. The organisations and governments that will be successful in the future are those who are innovative and prepared for the possibilities of the future.
Consider just one of these forces for change – technological disruption and the emergence of AI has already started to transform professional retail, services, manufacturing and far more. Let’s, for example, consider how AI emergence will impact education and labour – two vital state-led priorities. Strategic foresight guides us in considering these implications and examining how future scenarios could play out.
Strategic foresight is your policy-making tool for the 21st century that will help you overcome an uncertain world. It is the mindset of thinking forward to envision a hopeful future to be prepared for change, crisis and opportunities, and a vital tool for creating robust and adaptive policy.
How can you start practising strategic foresight?
Dr Noah Raford, as the keynote speaker at this event and expert in the space of strategic foresight, holds a wealth of knowledge on this topic. For those of us just beginning to explore the potential of strategic foresight, he imparted key and practical advice:
1. Start by envisioning a hopeful future.
What would the world look like if the government, private sector and academia could unite to make changes for the public good? Stepping away from current constraints of time, resources and red tape, we are encouraged to take a speculative approach to the future – imagining what ‘could’ be.
Dr Noah Raford highlighted an example of this in his work with the Dubai Government. They asked the question, ‘What could the future of health care look like?’ and, in the end, they did not present a report or paper – but rather a bathroom. They created an immersive and speculative experience that their decision-makers could physically engage with. Every element of this ‘bathroom of the future’ explored how citizen healthcare could look in the future through an everyday experience. This included a handprint scanner capable of telling you your chance of catching the flu that day and, in response, intelligently adding an extra dose of vitamin C to your breakfast.
2. Build Engagement.
So why create the ‘bathroom of the future’? As Dr Noah Raford explains in his keynote, this was not a product they developed or a piece of technology they planned to roll out – it was the method through which they could engage with their decision-makers in a meaningful way. Creating and building engagement is key to getting the buy-in that we need to create change and pursue innovation.
You certainly don’t need to create the ‘bathroom of the future’- but, as public servants, consider what you could do and who you can involve in building engagement around the hopeful future you envision. Sometimes, as Dr Raford highlights, this will call on us to be ‘policy pirates’ – being able to steer through red tape and restrictions or reaching out to those who can point us in the right direction. You can find such help close to home through the Department of the Premier and Cabinet’s Strategic Foresight Team.
3. Generate Demand.
Creating engagement with your hopeful future will generate a demand to make that future a reality. This is your window to pursue change and to continue building excitement and interest from all areas, giving you the momentum to make powerful and positive change.
Dr Raford shared another example of how generating demand created the catalyst for policy transformation. As part of his work in Dubai, his team demonstrated the potential of a holographic learning tool for the classroom of the future. He shared that as soon as his decision-makers had the chance to interact with this futuristic teaching aid, they immediately wanted three hundred of them. Being an experiential piece, this was not at all possible at the time, but it generated the demand for this future and opened the window further for policy that would help bring this future into reality.
“boldness and sexiness – not often do we think of our jobs as being bold, sexy civil servants”
Dr Noah Raford, 2023
4. Capitalise on this moment of interest and capture policy imagination.
Can you imagine your driver’s licence or passport being delivered by a drone? In 2014 this was a possibility unexplored in Dubai (or almost any other place), and, as Dr Raford shared, it was a moment in time when public interest and policy imagination intersected. As Dr Raford’s team announced their intent to make the first service deliveries via drone in Dubai, another department was quick to reach out and tell them what they were doing was technically illegal. The support from even at the ministerial level for drone service delivery and combined public interest created the space for Dr Raford and his team to address and rework policy that was not suited to the future they were trying to create. If they had approached this at another time, without the demand they had generated, they would have likely been doomed to failure by his own admission.
Consider in your hopeful future how you are going to create or leverage that window of opportunity. This window is where your decision-makers are ready to hear your imaginative or innovative approach to policy.
5. Set ambitious targets with confidence that they can be accomplished.
Aiming high and with confidence that you can achieve your hopeful future is vital in creating the environment for innovation success. The typical restraints we foresee with innovative policy, such as red tape, resource constraints and risk aversion, can all be overcome. As highlighted by Dr Raford, by generating interest in your project or policy, you will draw in the interest of partners and stakeholders, capable of creating new openings and opportunities. Dubai’s ambitious policy target of having 25% of new houses 3D printed by 2030 may not be achieved, but as Dr Raford shared, this isn’t the point. By pursuing their policy ambitiously and confidently, they created the environment for its success and, in turn, created a thriving new economy sector in the 3D printing industry.
6. Grow and scale successful initiatives.
With success sometimes comes complacency, but Dr Raford encourages us not to settle on our first win and, instead, continue growing and innovating. Continuing focus on foresight creates a “virtuous circle” where the ideas and innovations we pursue today will come full circle to inspire further innovations and a continuing reach towards a “hopeful future”.
So, are you inspired to start looking at today’s problems through a new and hopeful lens? To learn more about the concepts of Strategic Foresight in Government and hear from the other insightful speakers featured in this event, please view the recording in full below.
If you have enquiries regarding the Strategic Foresight network within South Australia and want to get involved, please contact the Strategic Foresight Team from the Department of the Premier and Cabinet here.