Administration, planning, and foresight are three siblings of varying age with different familial responsibilities.
Administration is the elder and has been moving things ahead, which often requires negotiation and some degree of compromise.
Planning, the middle child, feels the same pull of the present as her elder sibling but also recognizes the importance of looking ahead, if only to forge a path forward.
Foresight, the youngest, is the rebel in the family and champions not being tied down to a single path as change can come swiftly and disrupt even well laid plans.
When separated, the limits and constraints of each practice are evident, but when integrated, these three interrelated operations can and might enable an anticipatory capacity for not just navigating uncertain futures but also shaping the future. This cohesion is precisely what UN Montenegro sought to develop in using a foresight approach to enhance the UNDAF planning process. As anyone who has siblings can attest, tensions are certain to arise, but at the end of the day, family is what matters most. Here is what this family looks like.
Whereas administration focuses on the here and now, planning moves a bit further afieldin time and usually necessitates including additional perspectives. Foresight requires one to imagine effects and impacts on a grander scale by mandating a diverse range of perspectives and broadening the scope of time under consideration. Conversations invariably change when one begins to think about the effects of climate change upon his own grandchildren and beyond, and some have called for the advent of “Ministries of Future Generations” to institutionalize a forward-looking and anticipatory approach to policy, planning, and strategy development.
Looking Back… Insider’s perspective
“Old ways won’t open new doors”
If someone told me few years ago that I would actually enjoy every step of a process of developing a new five-year programme of cooperation so much, I would declare them mad. Apart from the dull process of planning and strategizing the new plan, there were other challenges: How to align it with the new global Agenda for Sustainable Development? How to make the process innovative? How to involve new voices?
Foresight workshop with young people, Montenegro - June 2015. Photo: Miloš Vujović
And all of that having in mind the positioning of the UN in the relatively developed andEuropean Union candidate country?
But, I enjoyed it all thanks to the youngest, the rebel in the family. Integrating administration, planning and foresight seemed as a challenge at the beginning. But, you have to open your mind for new opportunities and insights. Like the rebel child does, it woke me up from a routine and changed the way of doing things, living, meetings, practices, and deliberations.
With foresight, we discussed probable and preferred futures by 2021 and even by 2030, once we, citizens, government, private sector and civil society, implement the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. We employed this methodology of thinking and planning by developing and playing a serious game, which we have also put online. The colorful board and numerous cards and tokens that we played and used to discuss the futures from the perspective of challenges, opportunities, partners, actions and values, helped us unleash our mindsets. We touched the blind spots of our futures and emerging issues to discover the critical uncertainties of what the future on which we could have a lot of influence holds for us. We saw opportunities that seemed uncommon before but feasible now.
Thus, we learned that citizens prioritize family values and culture before all. They see thebiggest potential in the youth, the generations to come, for whom we should leave at least the same opportunities for development and growth which we inherited. Sustainable future. We learned that experts see the same strength in the youth, the agents of change who have opportunities to transform the world for the better. We learned that people want employment and quality education and health services, they want to be equal in all terms and help save the planet.
We also learned that they saw UN’s role in all of this challenging but possible work. We learned that most of people are optimists, ready to give their wholehearted contributions in helping develop the sustainable country in areas of social inclusion, democratic governance, environmental sustainability and economic development.
We learned all of this and much more from more than 700 people, young and older, experts and non-experts, public servants and citizens, who took active part in development of the new UN’s programme of cooperation with Montenegro.
We also learned that one cannot live without good old administration and strategic planning but one can make them much more proactive with innovative approaches such as foresightand backcasting.
Looking Back… Outsider’s perspective
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower
As it has been six months since UN Montenegro held its strategic prioritisation discussion with the government, the question of institutionalization has been on my mind. While the results from our public consultations and the outputs from a joint Backcasting exercise with UN Montenegro’s government partners were well-received and impactful, my ultimate goal, as well as my primary metric for success, centres on the degree to which foresight gets institutionalized and becomes part of the normal planning process. In short, did it scale?
My sense is that there continues to be lots of interest and future initiatives will be driven bychampions rather than institutional mechanisms, but this is often how big changes begin.
It is easy for foresight to get lost, or take a back seat, once the drive to move forward with a plan takes over. Foresight works best, as in the above family, when it is integrated into administration and planning processes. This, however, is easier said than done, but there aregood examples of how to do it. Yes, it requires resources of various scope and scale, and, perhaps most importantly, the process is more important than the product to paraphrase Eisenhower.
One clear lesson learned from Montenegrin UNDAF development process comes from theFutrplay platform. First and foremost, we should have gone fully mobile. When we tracked how participants were accessing the site, it became evident that a mobile application would have provided a more seamless user experience and likely reached more participants. Face-to-face events, such as mini-workshops at schools and universities, could have supported further participation, and with more time these would have certainly been easy to organize. Overall, I am excited to see if others can learn from what we did and take our efforts further. Let us know!