Dahrendorf Foresight Project

What is foresight and why do it?

Today ‘strategic foresight’ and ‘scenario planning’ are being applied in strategy design and policy planning processes throughout the private and public sectors. They play an increasingly important role in assessing the risks and unintended consequences of decisions in a highly volatile and uncertain environment. Strategic foresight aims to identify weak signals of change and reveal ‘unknown unknowns’. Depending on their interplay, their dynamics and their influence on the system at stake, they may lead to completely different kinds of futures (scenarios). These alternative futures may hold risks and dangers but also chances, opportunities and leeway for action. The more decision-makers have thought through such alternative narratives of change, the better prepared they will be to respond to these alternatives should they arise, thus enabling them to exercise ‘anticipatory governance’.


Foresight I –“European Security 2030”

During 2018-19, the Dahrendorf Foresight Project “European Security in 2030” brought together experts from 12 countries to look into the future, engaging in a strategic and systematic conversation about the drivers of European security in the decade ahead. The result is a collection of six ‘alternative futures’ that – taking into account political, technological, socioeconomic and migratory trends – suggest various versions of tomorrow’s reality. While the presented scenarios are simply representations of what “could be”, they are uniquely informative for anyone considering where current global trends might lead  in 10 years’ time.

Read the full report here.


Foresight II – “Enhancing Europe’s Global Deployment of Power: Eight Proposals”

In 2019, the Dahrendorf Forum’s second foresight project “Enhancing Europe’s global deployment of power: Eight proposals” focused on the strategic challenges confronting Europe from inside and outside the continent and how they undermine Europe’s ability to fully exercise its sharp and soft power. Our researchers asked the question: What is responsible for this under-utilization of sharp and soft power?

To approach that question, the project applied a ‘back-casting’ approach: instead of developing different scenarios for Europe in 2030, the project began with an ideal scenario and asked experts from government, business and academia to develop measures to reach this scenario. During the process, different factors were identified that might undermine the ideal development of these measures. Starting from a best-case scenario for Europe, participants were asked to develop measures that lead from the current under-utilization to a fuller and more effective use by 2030.

By looking at four policy fields (finance and investment; trade; creation and control of knowledge; data ownership and regulation), participants came up with an initial set of measures, which have since been vetted and further developed.

Why under-utilization?

Europe has many assets, yet it does not seem to be able to fully use them: it has a sizable population only exceeded by India and China, and it is a global market power, generating 16.3% of global GDP in 2018, roughly equivalent today to the shares of both China and the US. The EU is the world’s largest free-trading zone and has the 2nd most important international reserve currency. Lacking commensurate hard power, Europe has traditionally seen itself as the global champion of ‘soft power’, defined as the ability to project its values and norms onto the global stage without relying on force or coercion.

The EU is, however, increasingly less able to coherently exercise this soft power. It is a union of citizens and states in which power ultimately remains in the hands of the states, which compete against one other to a considerably greater extent than their counterparts in China and the US. In relation to many of the major challenges of the day, individual member states are frequently the global interlocutors, rather than there being a collective European voice.

“Europe in 2030”

In 2030, we envisage the EU acting as a self-confident and united market power that offers a democratic and socially inclusive alternative on the global stage. Furthermore, we see the EU as a champion of:

  1. Economic growth with high-quality employment;
  2. Open trade with equitable access for those outside the single market or customs union;
  3. A rule-based order with norm setting ambitions, enhancing and further developing today’s multilateral order.

Project outcome

An initial workshop was held in early May 2019 at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), attended by around 20 experts from  across Europe. The results of the initial workshop were subsequently tested at a validation workshop in July 2019 at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at The Johns Hopkins University and in another round of online validation with experts from Asia.

The project report, which describes all developed measures in detail, was presented at the European Political Strategy Centre in Brussels in early October 2019.

Watch this space for the final report, which will be online soon.