What is foresight and why do it?
Today, strategic foresight and scenario planning is being applied in strategy design and policy planning processes throughout the private and public sector. It plays an increasingly important role in assessing risks and unintended consequences of decisions in a highly volatile and uncertain environment. Strategic foresight aims at identifying 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 into 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 they are prepared in case of their emergence, contributing to the ability of ‘anticipatory governance’.
A quick example: taking into account only two dimensions relevant to European security in 2030 – European integration and security spending – can yield four very different scenarios, necessitating different action from decision-makers, offering different opportunities and displaying a different threat environment.
Current Dahrendorf Foresight Project (DFP) and workshop
The current DFP is titled “European Security in 2030”. Security is understood in the broadest possible sense, viewing Europe as subject and object of global security issues. The “long view” must account for developments in conventional security policy, such as the EU´s strategic autonomy, NATO, cybersecurity or non-proliferation but also bring in adjacent fields such as migration, technology, democracy and social cohesion. The DFP identifies those challenges beyond the immediate political horizon, thereby supporting appropriate policy responses to them.
The project is centered around a two-day scenario workshop, which took place in Berlin on October 24 and 25. 23 participants from 12 countries participated, including from 8 EU member states, the United States, Russia, Qatar und Japan. A variety of backgrounds was represented, including the public sector, think tanks, international organisations and academia. The workshop was led by two professional foresight analysts Oliver Gnad and Thomas Mehlhausen. The outcome, which is currently being finalized, will be a set of seven alternative medium-term futures for Europe´s security in 2030, with a focus on actionable indicators and policy options. We aim at publishing these scenarios in a pan-European outlet that specifically targets decision-makers and thus contributes actionable indicators and policy options to the EU’s deliberative process. The scenarios will also be presented and discussed with leading experts and policy-makers in Brussels, London and Berlin in the spring of 2019.
Short Bios of facilitators
Oliver Gnad is the co-founder and managing director of the „Bureau für Zeitgeschehen” (Bureau of Current Affairs), a Frankfurt-based think-and-do-tank specialized in strategic foresight and scenario planning. Since 2015, he is also an adjunct faculty member of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. He is the author of several books and articles on the Cold War, the German party system, sustainable development as well as foreign and security policy issues. He holds a doctoral degree in contemporary history from Goethe University Frankfurt.
Thomas Mehlhausen is assistant professor at the University of Potsdam. Since 2004 he has facilitated numerous scenario processes mainly on European integration. His most recent publications focus on EU deepening and widening, German-Polish relations and EU Eastern Partnership. He holds a doctoral degree in political science from the University of Potsdam.