By Robert Hickson 30/11/2015

Motherboard has a short interview with Kristina Persson, whom they call the Minister of the Future. Although her official title is Minister for Strategic Development and Nordic Cooperation.  

Her work involves:

“… pursuing the long-term development of ideas at the Government Offices. This will include the green transition, jobs and distribution, and initiatives to influence the global agenda for sustainable development. I will also work to ensure that the Nordic countries cooperate and make use of their combined strength. Together we are an actor with clout.”

Sounds sensible, but hard to do, especially ensuring the Nordic countries cooperate.  It’s a new position, so not much evidence to determine if it is effective.

I’ve noted before that New Zealand doesn’t have strong strategic foresight capability, although there are pockets of foresight activities within individual agencies and organisations. Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, has noted this recently too (Pdf), and is thinking about how to bring some centralized foresight capability into the public sector. A similar point was made by Robert Wade at the end of his interview on RNZ’s Sunday Morning programme.

Room for foresight

The Scandinavians have had years of working in futures thinking, so we can’t expect to copy them, or the Singaporeans. But we can, and should start making steps in the same general direction. And it would be good to collaborate regionally, as the Nordic folk do. Jonathan Boston from Victoria University of Wellington will also be publishing a book next year on how a range of governments have implemented foresight.

Schmidt (abstract) has looked at how to implement “low-cost, high return” foresight in government agencies. He notes that maintaining effective foresight capabilities in government organisations has been “generally patchy”. He suggests establishing a small central foresight agency, that helps coordinate (and train) a distributed network across other agencies.

The risk of such central agencies is that they begin to focus too much inwardly and become an echo chamber for government. But its better to at least start taking a strategic, rigorous and coordinated approach to looking ahead.