Past Foresight

Foresight from the past

I came across this report from the Policy Studies Institute the other day, which made for a fascinating read. Written in 1991, it was an in-depth study where PSI experts devoted their efforts to suggesting what a future in 2010 was most likely to look like. They bill it as ‘painstaking research on what is happening now in the different areas of the project's field of enquiry and how that has been changing; and making informed judgements of the likely changes in the future, taking into account other likely developments.’ As a writer of our foresight drivers, I have to say that sounds rather familiar!

As a snapshot of a period of time, it is interesting for what they included, as much as what they left out. For example, they examine arms reduction and cold war redeployment; but gloss over the internet. Having said that with a wry smile, it is all too easy to look at such a report with hindsight and question inclusions and exclusions.

What this report really brings to light is the pitfalls inherent in trying to predict the future. Issues such as the cold war were of overwhelming importance at the time, yet they faded away from the global stage relatively rapidly. No matter how expert the contributions, how rigorous the research, anyone trying a futures prediction cannot hit every nail on the head. That’s why it’s essential to think through all implications of a trend or predicted change. What will it mean for you? For your organisation’s beneficiaries?

It is this process, as much as the actual ‘predicting’, that reaps rewards. It helps you see the opportunities as well as think through how you can respond. If you have a better idea of what the future could look like, you can contemplate the future you want to see and work your policies into shaping that future.

It made me think (and not for the first time – we do this quite a lot here!) What would I pick if I was going to write a report focusing on the important factors for 20 years time?

1.     Climate Change. I will put my futures hat on the line and say this one ain’t going away!

2.     Always on society. A biggie with its links to social and technological implications.

3.     Consumption culture and personal debt. This is an interesting one – will it still be an issue in 20 years time? I don’t think human nature will change that much. Let me know if you disagree!

4.     Ageing population

Do you think these will be the biggest trends in 20 years time? If you don’t, tell me what you do think will still be important….

Last updated at 16:09 Mon 21/Feb/11.
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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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