Networking with the government's future analysts

My Tuesday morning was spent in the Westminster village at a meeting of the FAN Club, otherwise known as the Future Analysts Network. The participants were largely civil servants but the discussions on how to think about the future were very relevant.

Annabel Turpie from the Strategy Unit took us through the findings of Realising Britain's Potential: Future Strategic Challenges for Britain, which was published last week. This provides a wealth of useful data for considering drivers and their impact. We'll be reading it in depth and posting further items later this month.

In pulling the report together, the Strategy Unit undertook four tasks, which any voluntary organisation could do on a smaller scale when doing their own strategic analysis:

  1. They mapped out the key drivers (as we have done here, and you can do by following our practical guide)
  2. They explored public concerns and expectations about the future (which you can do by involving your users and other stakeholders in developing your strategy and finding out about their hopes and fears)
  3. They looked at existing scenarios of the future (we would like to create a scenarios bank on this site, which would include the excellent scenarios for the future of civil society created by the Carnegie UK Trust)
  4. They analysed the current strengths and weaknesses of the UK (so, that's like doing a SWOT analysis)

Nick Pearce, senior adviser to Gordon Brown and the head of strategic policy at Number 10 shared some of his thoughts on futures thinking. He talked about how futures methods emerged largely from defence planning and from thinking about the impact of new technologies. Both of these, he argued, were based on fear of the future, which I thought was interesting given the temptation we observe when we do this ourselves or with others to focus on risks rather than opportunities.

Two factors have made futures thinking more pressing and relevant to government according to Nick. The first is climate change (which, he felt, has also brought science back into fashion), and the second was the rapidity of globalisation.

His final reflection will certainly resonate with voluntary and community organisations, that it is very difficult to keep a long term view when you are constantly assailed by short term pressures. However, he argued that having a long term view to fall back on and refer to when up against it was invaluable.

Last updated at 18:47 Mon 12/Apr/10.
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How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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