‘Cracks in the System’: Problematisation of the Future and the Growth of Anticipatory and Interventionist Practices

by Stephen McGrail


This paper will outline and discuss the growth of anticipatory and interventionist practices in ‘niches’ where policy-as-usual is being modified. Four niches are described: initiating and achieving ‘sustainability transitions’; industry adaptation and transformation strategies; governing emerging technologies to enable responsible innovation; and experimentation with planning and policy-making approaches for more uncertain futures (e.g. in climate change adaptation). Intervention by foresight practitioners in such developing niches is recommended. In doing so, the paper also outlines: 1) the rapidly evolving social context for applied foresight work; and 2) emerging methodological approaches, and associated action frameworks combining futures methods with prescriptions for interventionist actions, which are being developed. These approaches are argued to be responses to the increasing problematisation of the future generated by climate change and other important wicked problems. Such changes also make visible a potential shift away from technocratic, or ‘modernist’, styles of planning and policy towards a new ‘anticipatory interventionist paradigm’.

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