Organization-Based Tools: Scenario Planning and Strategic Foresight

Wikis > Agenda-Setting Tools > Types of Government Agenda Setting Tools (Hood/NATO) > Organization-Based Tools: Scenario Planning and Strategic Foresight
Source: Howlett, M & Shivakoti, R. (2014) Agenda-Setting Tools: State-Driven Agenda Activity from Government Relations to Scenario Forecasting.  DRAFT PAPER, Presented to ECPR Glasgow General Conference, Non-Implementation Tools Panel

Scenario planning is a policy tool used to plan for uncertain times in the future. It is a process of positing several informed, plausible and imagined alternative future environments in which decisions about the future may be played out, for the purpose of changing current thinking, improving decision making, enhancing human and organization learning and improving performance (Chermack, 2005). Within Hood’s (1986) NATO taxonomy, scenario planning can be seen as an ‘Organization’ resource used by the government to set the agenda for planning for the future. The government can used its resources such a people, information and materials to study various scenarios for the future and how it can better manage and prepare for them.

Scenario planning has become an important agenda-setting tool in recent years. Given the uncertainties of public policy-making, it has the potential to prepare and better manage complex decisions, and spot early warning signals about future problems. It can 4 also be used to identify and manage conflicts and to try find common ground for future action when there are diverging societal interests and values. As an agenda setting tool, it is important as it can first be used as a policy risk-free space to visualize, rehearse and test the acceptability of different strategies without being implicated by the actual constraints of day-to-day policy-making (Volkery and Ribeiro, 2009).

Even though people have been interested in the future and have used scenarios indirectly to explore it, scenario planning as strategic planning tool is firmly rooted in the military and has been employed by military strategist throughout history. Modern day scenario techniques however, only emerged in the post-war period in the 1960s with the emergence of two geographical centers in USA and France (Bradfield et al., 2005). Scenario planning is still not used extensively by governments and is usually executed in a rather ad-hoc and isolated manner. Volkery and Ribeiro (2009), in their review of evaluative scenario literature in public policy-making find that it is mostly geared towards indirect decision support in the early phases of policy-making such as agendasetting and issue-framing but not in later phases such as policy design and implementation. They conclude that political and institutional context factors need to be treated with greater care in the future as making decisions under conditions of deep uncertainty does not only require rigorous analysis, but also political will and more stable institutional settings and organizational capacities to build up trust and experience with adaptive, flexible process formats.

Future forecasting and strategic foresight are agenda setting tools used to help decision-makers develop future-oriented policies in uncertain times. Habegger(2010) differentiates between the two stating that future forecasting tries to capture and 5 anticipate potential future developments and to generate visions of how society evolves and what policy options are available to shape a desired future, while strategic foresight can be seen as a deliberate attempt to broaden the boundaries of perception and to expand the awareness of emerging issues and situations. It aims to support strategic thinking and decision-making by developing a range of possible ways of how the future could unfold. Like scenario planning, both future forecasting and strategic foresight also fall under the ‘Organization’ resource in Hood’s NATO taxonomy, as the government uses its available organized resources to plan for uncertain times in the future.

Various authors (Leigh, 2003; Calof and Smith, 2010; Habegger2010) have identified many different factors that lead to government-led foresight success. Leigh identified five ways in which strategic foresight teams can contribute to more innovative government: anticipating emerging issues, identifying unanticipated consequences, getting a sense of the ‘big picture’, drawing a wide range of information sources and involving the public. Based on experiences from the United Kingdom, Singapore and the Netherlands, Habegger includes having a scientific edge in terms of specific foresight methods and processes, allowing for innovation, fostering iterative interactions between stakeholders and obtaining the trust and support of top bureaucrats to support the idea of exploring futures that may be quite different from the present conditions as elements for successful foresight exercises.

At the agenda setting phase, future forecasting and strategic foresight can also be used to inform policy by enhancing the knowledge base for thinking about and designing policies and can even help in identifying current policy gaps. In many cases, it can be 6 used by policymakers as a signaling device to show the public that scientific rationale and planning are used in making policies.

In-Text Citations

Bradfield, R. et al., “The Origins and Evolution of Scenario Techniques in Long Range Business Planning,” Futures, 37, 2005, pp. 795-812.

Calof, Jonathan and Jack E. Smith, “Critical Success Factors for Government-led Foresight” Science and Public Policy, 37 (1), February 2010, pp. 31-40.

Chermack, T. J. (2005). Studying Scenario Planning: Theory, Research Suggestions and Hypotheses. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 72(1), 59-73.

Habegger, Beat, “Strategic Foresight in Public Policy: Reviewing the Experiences of the UK, Singapore, and the Netherlands” Futures, 42, 2010, pp. 49-58.

Hood, C. The Tools of Government. Chatham: Chatham House Publishers, 1986.

Leigh, Andrew, “Thinking Ahead: Strategic Foresight and Government” Australian Journal of Public Administration, 62 (2) June 2003, pp. 3-10.

Volkery, Axel and Teresa Ribeiro.” Scenario Planning in Public Policy: Understanding Use, Impacts and the Role of Institutional Context Factors,” Technological Forecasting & Social Change, 76, 2009, pp. 1198-1207




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