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Strategic Foresight in Government

From a NAPA Panel for the 2016 Presidential Transition

In 2016, a Panel of distinguished Academy Fellows prepared a report for the future Administration on strategic foresight in governance and the integration of long-term planning in daily policymaking. Their primary question was: How can we best ensure that the long term is properly factored into day-to-day policymaking? It has been done it before – just look back at the race to the Moon or the development of the Internet.

Yet today, government leaders repeatedly fail to assess the potential effect of actions today on events tomorrow—or into the more distant future. To be sure, there are a few selected areas within the U.S. federal government that incorporate a future-oriented focus, such as in the financial, defense, intelligence, and health arenas. In the main, however, senior leaders lack an overarching commitment to address the future impact of current decision-making, even in cases when the potential consequences of today’s actions are easily foreseeable. As a result of this lack of commitment to understanding the potential impact of future trends has contributed to an increase in large-scale government failures over the last two decades.

But such failures are not inevitable. The next President and his / her Administration can take steps to ensure they are not tarred by costly shocks or strategic failures by committing now to integrating the use of Strategic Foresight into their decision-making processes.

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