A Note on the State of Futures Preparedness

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By Leopold P. Mureithi

Introduction

Curiosity and wonder about what the future holds has occupied humans as far back as scholars can tell.[i] Over time, Homo sapiens have come to realize that the future is not just one, but several futures[ii]. Given the reality of quantum interactions, the choices of the future can be – for example — among the probable, the possible and the preferred. This prospective foresight, though, has occurred at various degrees of scope, depth and intensity across the entities engaged in such futuristic preoccupation. These entities can be of any size: micro, meso, macro and other scales.

Definition

Future preparedness can be defined as the extent of readiness with capacity to face and deal with the challenges and leverage the opportunities of tomorrow by using scenarios analysis for futures search as an integral part of strategic direction. It is safe to assume that progression in an undertaking of this nature, which is essentially a learning exercise, would follow a logistics curve or sigmoid S-curve “from small beginnings that accelerates and approaches a climax over time.”[iii] It is “the classic change model.”[iv]

Analogous to the logistics curve, Terry Grim came up with a tool to assess progress towards foresight maturity. The “Foresight Maturity Model (FMM) defines best practices for the foresight field and measures the competency of those practices.”[v] It identifies five levels: ad hoc, aware, capable, mature, and world-class as follows:[vi]

  1. Ad hoc (level 1). The organization is not or only marginally aware of processes and most work is done without plans or expertise. This is the initial state for any practice.
  2. Aware (level 2). The organization is aware that there are best practices in the field and is learning from external input and past experiences.
  3. Capable (level 3). The organization has reached a level where it has a consistent approach for a practice, used across the organization, which delivers an acceptable level of performance and return on investment.
  4. Mature (level 4). The organization has invested additional resources to develop expertise and advanced processes for a practice.
  5. World-class (level 5). The organization is considered a leader in this area, often creating and disseminating new methods.

In keeping with the logic of the growth S-curve, “these levels are developmental and cumulative,”[vii] that is they are sequential along a learning curve and increasing institutional agility. Foresight maturity of any entity can be assessed at any one time by an examination of how high it has climbed up the maturity ladder; and comparative ranking of various entities can be established in a similar manner.

Human Resource

Of great importance in futures preparedness is the human resource formation. The rationale for this is that the recognized indicator of moving from an ad hoc level – which is really the default level for most entities — is to create awareness by futures education. The next step is training, which creates capability; followed by spreading that knowledge across groups to gain traction and maturate the entity. Further formation would yield a globally competitive entity by way of research, development of anticipation tools and publications.

A look at the institutions offering futures and foresight degrees, short courses and other programs reveals a rather skewed distribution. As shown in table 1, thirty six training programmes are hosted in the developed countries while twenty four are in the less developed ones.

Table 1: University Futures and Foresight Degrees and Programs

COUNTRY PROGRAMMES
PhD Masters Postgrad Diploma Undergraduate Short Courses Related Programmes
Argentina 1
Australia 1 1 1
Canada 1 1
Colombia 1 4 1
Costa Rica 1
Denmark 1 1
Finland 1 1
France 1 3 3
Germany 1 2
Hungary 1 1 1
India 1 1 1
Iran 1
Italy 1
Malta 1
Mexico 2
Peru 1
Portugal 1
South Africa 1 1 1
Sweden 1
Taiwan 1
UK 1 1 3 3
USA 2 2 2 1 1

Source: “University Futures and Foresight Degrees and Programs.” 21/01/2019. https://rossdawson.com/futurist/university-foresight-programs/

Only one African county – South Africa – features in this league, offering three programmes, all at Stellenbosch University. An earlier comprehensive documentation of foresight exercises captured only 11 in Africa out of the 846 “mapped in depth.”[viii] There is a prima facie case for making good this futures preparedness deficit.

One way to address the futures preparedness deficit is by outside training and skills mobility. But, even where that approach has been undertaken, it has served as a stop-gap measure, ultimately being replaced by locally training while allowing for international collaboration. This is necessary to move from the ad hoc and aware stages of Grim to the capable and higher levels.

Institutional Support

At the national level, foresight can play the role of informing, advice, and facilitation of policy process, design, formulation and implementation. It is given form by a think tank mechanism. How that comes about and where that mechanism’s function is placed institutionally can reflect foresight maturity of readiness at welcoming forward-looking activities.

The very first formal futures programme was the Hawaii Research Centre for Futures Studies in the Department of Political Science at Manoa campus in Honolulu. It was created by the Hawaii State Legislature and thrived as “The Manoa School” under the able leadership of Professor Jim Dator (James Allen). That school pioneered the Manoa School’s Alternative Futures Method utilizing four futures archetypes: grow, collapse, discipline, transform.[ix]

This pledge of support by an arm of government is evident also in Finland where Parliament has an active 25-year-old Committee on the Future. This has not been replicated so well in the United States of America where, in spite of the effort by the late Senator John Culver of Iowa, in establishing a “foresight provision” in the House Rules, “it is often ignored.” According to Clement Bezold, “elected officials who understand foresight, much less promote it, are rare. John Culver was one of those.”[x]This lacklustre cavalier attitude is widespread. Herein lies a wake-up call to move from a passive or reactive to a proactive position with respect to future preparedness.

Quantifying the Benefits

The main problem seems to be a deficit in “policy coherence”[xi] brought about by “silo thinking.”[xii]Fortunately, a mature foresight programme has tools to address policy coherence, change management, consensus building, and active key actors and stakeholders engagement on a continuous basis; hence the need to develop that capacity in situ. The payoff would be a positive social rate of return on the investment (ROI) involved — thus delivering on the promise by Grim’s foresight maturity level three, stated earlier in this note. Empirical evidence of benefits arising from futures preparedness is documented at the economy-wide level”[xiii] and at the micro plane”[xiv]

Conclusion

Grim identifies four core competence: leadership, framing, scanning, forecasting, visioning and planning[xv] for futures maturity. Many entities are wanting on this score. This note argues for putting in place a state of futures preparedness by way of human resource development and institutional support.

Correspondence

Leopold P. Mureithi is a Professor of Economics at the University of Nairobi. He can be contacted at Lpmureithi@hotmail.com

References

[i]Gidley, Jennifer M. (2017). The Future: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, passim.

[ii]The picture above depicts Janus – the Roman god who was reputed to look both backwards and forwards simultaneously with his two heads, and an aerial added for a high-tech modern feel – symbolizes capacity for 360-degrees horizon scanning.

[iii]Sigmoid function. 201/01/2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigmoid_function

[iv]Logistic Growth (S-curves). 20/01/2019. http://www.foresightguide.com/logistic-growth-s-curves/.

[v] Grim, Terry, “Foresight Maturity Model (FMM): Achieving Best Practices in the Foresight Field.” Journal of Futures Studies, Vol 13, No. 4 (May 2009), p. 69.

[vi] Ibid, p. 72.

[vii] Loc. cit.

[viii]Popper, R. Keenan, M. Miles, I. Butter, M. and Sainz, G. (2007). Global Foresight Outlook. EFMN: Delft, Netherlands, p. 5.

[ix]Dator, Jim, “Alternative Futures at the Manoa School.” Journal of Futures Studies, November 2009, 14(2): 1–18.

[x] Clement Bezold in an Email to World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF) members on 31/12/2018. cbezold@altfutures.org. One could surmise that short-termism by politicians is the curse of election cycles, a challenge that needs closer attention.

[xi] Curran, P. Dougill, A. Pardoe, J. and Vincent, K. 26/01/2019.  Policy brief: Policy coherence for sustainable development in sub-Saharan Africa. http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Policy-coherence-for-sustainable-development-in-sub-saharan-Africa_Curran-et-al.pdf, p. 1.

[xii] Ibid, p. 2.

[xiii] Havas, Attila. Socio-Economic and Developmental Needs: Focus of Foresight Programmes. Budapest: Institute of Economics, Hungarian Academy of Sciences Discussion Paper MT 2003/13, ISBN 963 9321 91 5, p. 1.

[xiv]Paliokaitė, Agnė and Pačėsa, Nerijus, “The relationship between organisational foresight and organisational ambidexterity”, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Vol. 101 (December 2015), p. 165. See also Rohrbeck, René. andKum, Menes Etingue, “Corporate foresight and its impact on firm performance: A longitudinalanalysis.” Technological Forecast and Social Change 129 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2017.12.013, p. 114.

[xv] Grim, op. cit., p. 72.

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