OECD Secretary-General

3rd annual meeting of the Government Foresight Community: opening remarks


Opening remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

OECD, Paris, 26 September 2016

(As prepared for delivery) 



Ladies and Gentlemen,


I would like to welcome you to the third annual meeting of the OECD Government Foresight Community. I am delighted to see this community coming together and building momentum, with over 60 experienced foresight practitioners from 23 governments. Our ambition is for this to become an epicenter for strategic foresight experts in governments. To make the OECD “su casa”, your home, your hub.


We need strategic foresight more than ever. Indeed, the future does not look bright today. A low-growth trap has taken root, as poor growth expectations further depress trade, investment, productivity and wages. We just launched our interim economic outlook last week and warned that weak trade growth and financial distortions are exacerbating slow global economic growth. This is even more worrisome in the current uncertain political context and geo-strategic instability. 


But we need to go beyond these trend-based forecasts and not be prisoners of them. We need to do so because we are living in times of turbulence, uncertainty, novelty and ambiguity, these famous "TUNA" conditions that Angela has alerted us about in the last three years.


Indeed, deep uncertainties abound. Disruption is the new normal. For example, how will digitalisation impact our economies and societies? It will for sure impact on the relevance of a number of current policies and require quite innovative perspectives to ensure that it results in better outcomes for all. Queensland has developed quite interesting scenarios on this matter, which illustrate perfectly how foresight can provide meaningful insights to policy making. And we will use these insights in our up-coming strategic and horizontal reflection on digitalisation.


Although we know that what worked in the past is no longer guaranteed to work in the future and that we can never fully predict everything, however big our statistical databases, foresight allows us to expand our attention beyond the ‘expected’ or ‘business-as-usual’ versions of the future. It also allows us to engage with the complex and connected nature of our world. It can for example help us to reflect on the current challenge posed by migration, which requires a whole-of-government perspective to ensure a smart and sustainable policy answer. It can also provide insights on the complexity and numerous trade-offs implied by the necessary energy transition ahead of us, as shown in the scenarios developed by the Dutch government.


In such TUNA conditions, our policy-making process must enhance our preparedness, agility and flexibility, thus boost our resilience. The scenarios developed by our Development Centre on the future of livelihoods, or our long-term scenarios for food and agriculture serve as an alert about the urgent needs for policy options that promote more inclusiveness and resilience across the world. 


Foresight helps us harness our imagination and shape a better future. It does so by strengthening our capacity to identify and make sense of signals and trends which may be less familiar to us. By forcing us to test and contest our deeply held assumptions.


Governments recognise the enormous potential that foresight offers. You are all delivering insightful projects that add real value to government policy making. But often there are barriers which hinder the effective development and use of strategic foresight. As a result, high-quality, policy-driven foresight is underused. We call this challenge the ‘impact gap’.


The GFC’s raison d’être is to support this international community of practitioners in closing this impact gap. Through your stories of success, through your exchanges on what works and what doesn’t, you are strengthening the case for policy-relevant foresight. You are also encouraging new demand and keeping the OECD at the forefront of foresight in government policy making.


Over the past year, you have achieved a number of important milestones. You have contributed 14 case studies for tomorrow's workshop and have exchanged on new and promising methodologies to help further enhance the impact of your work. On this basis we will build together a report on principles of effective practice. You are also increasingly using the Government Foresight Community web platform to support these fruitful exchanges.


More importantly, looking forward, this community could join forces to coproduce neutral global foresight that can be used for public good. The OECD can support and host such efforts. We are, after all, a collective of expert, horizon-scanning communities; a multidisciplinary window on a faster shifting and increasingly complex world.


I am thus convinced that the OECD is the ideal place for a community like this one to flourish. We can facilitate the exchange of national and sectoral perspectives, help forge a shared understanding and facilitate international co-operation.


At the OECD, we are pressing ahead with our own strategic foresight upgrade, with the support of our member countries. We are working with foresight tools and hybrid methods in order to complement and challenge our more quantitative, long-term, conditional projections. These methods include: horizon scanning; visioning and back-casting; scenario planning, etc.


There is increasing awareness and demand for foresight approaches in our Directorates, with several foresight-based projects underway. Focal points throughout the Organisation are pooling their collective knowledge to enhance their own work while also delivering insights for new whole-of-house projects, such as a horizon scan on the theme of consumption.


Ladies and Gentlemen, by engaging with different plausible futures, we are preparing ourselves for the policy challenges of tomorrow. We are doing better than predicting the future: we are creating it.


I look forward to hearing how we can continue to champion the role and the value of policy-related foresight. After all, it’s all about designing, developing and delivering better policies for better lives. The Government Foresight Community will help us do just that!


Thank you.


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