UNESCO High Level Futures Literacy Summit, 8 December 2020


Remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

Paris, France, 8 December 2020

Dear friends,

I wish to congratulate UNESCO for organising this important and timely event. In an era of rapid changes and unprecedented uncertainties, the world needs futures literacy more than ever!

Everyday people around the world imagine the future in many different ways. We all “use” the future to make decisions and guide our actions. For example, we make plans to see friends or we invest in our education for a better life. We also “use” futures thinking in our institutions. We create strategic visions and national development plans. We prepare policies by making assumptions.

But why is futures literacy important? Let me briefly explain.

Futures literacy helps us to understand the psychological processes involved in imagining the future, and uncover the unintended biases this may entail. Developing futures literacy involves learning to recognise when we are putting the future to work.

At the OECD, one of the principal ways we engage with the future is by using strategic foresight to improve public policies.

Unlike what many of you might think, strategic foresight is not about trying to predict the future. Rather, it is a structured and practical approach to look beyond current expectations and to explore a broad diversity of possible future scenarios and their implications for policies today. Strategic foresight is used to help design policies that are more innovative and better prepared for new opportunities and challenges that could arise.

Put in the current context, the successful recovery from the COVID-19 crisis will depend on how much we can integrate strategic foresight in our policy thinking. We need to be equipped to make sense of the future as it emerges and to use it to make wise decisions in a context of high uncertainty and complexity. This way, we can be better equipped to navigate the changes that lie ahead.

Without strategic foresight, we may miss opportunities to innovate and improve. Or, we may unintentionally close important routes to creating a more equitable and inclusive world. This is why it remains paramount to bring together a wide range of “futures thinkers”, from public sector and business leaders, to students and artists.

We are now witnessing a realisation in the global community that our ability to build back better will require aligning strategies with longer term goals as well as stress-testing them against different future scenarios. This is exactly what the OECD has been working tirelessly on, as we advise governments on the best strategies for responding and recovering from this crisis.

Dear friends,

I hope this Summit brings diverse perspectives on how to keep organisations like UNESCO and the OECD at the forefront of policy-analysis and innovative thinking for the public good.

I wish you all productive exchanges and good foresighted discussions, during this conference, and beyond.

Thank you.


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