The oft-invoked “international community” has been caught off guard by a number of events in recent years: the refugee crisis, the rash of terrorist attacks by sympathizers of the Islamic State, regional instability across the Middle East, the Ebola and Zika viruses, the Panama Papers revelations and widespread cybersecurity breaches in almost every major industry. Nations and governments around the world have been criticized for their lack of preparation and foresight, raising an important question for policymakers: How can we preempt globally interconnected challenges in an increasingly uncertain world?
Of course, many of the aforementioned events were impossible to predict. But the international community could have been better prepared for them. In the Global Governance Futures – Robert Bosch Foundation Multilateral Dialogues (GGF) program, participants imagine possible futures – specifically, 10 years ahead – by applying the technique of scenario planning to governance challenges that span countries and sectors. At GGF, we believe this is an important first step in building crisis resilience and prevention.
In an increasingly fast-paced and polycentric world, simple forecasting will no longer do the job. Policymakers must learn to move beyond a strategic planning approach that deals with static environments and with only futures that are probable, not possible. Such an approach can easily lead to a rigid and narrow “official future,” leaving agencies and institutions unable to account for rapid changes in any given event. At GGF, integrating scenarios into strategic planning allows us to explore multiple potential futures, generate early warning signs and produce strategies for coping with uncertainty.
GGF is based on a dynamic process of engagement and debate between participants of diverse professional and country backgrounds. They work beyond codified knowledge and combine alternative assumptions about societal change at many levels, including economic, sociopolitical and technological developments. The participants collaborate on the creation of possible scenarios, or plausible stories of how the future might develop, thus offering insight into how policymakers should approach their work today.
Thinking in terms of complex environments and potential scenarios makes the critical difference between a purely reactive attitude and a futures-oriented approach towards global public policy. We may be unable to precisely predict the next crisis, but we can be better prepared for the future, whatever surprises it may hold, by considering possible, and not simply probable, scenarios.
GGF seeks to make a contribution to this end. Building on the success of three previous rounds, GGF 2027 brings together 25 young professionals (five each from China, Germany, India, Japan and the US) to look ahead 10 years and recommend ways to address global challenges in the areas of data governance, global health and transnational terrorism. The fellows first convened in Washington, DC, in May 2016, and they will continue to meet until June 2017.
Global governance will work only if different actors establish the trust needed to cooperate and negotiate what are often opposing interests. To this end, GGF fosters working relationships between young professionals from countries that are competitors in trade, research and development and political influence on the global stage. Crucially, the scenario-planning approach provides a platform for the fellows to share their normative convictions and to identify the competing views that future global governance mechanisms will have to manage.
We will be using this forum to publish columns by the fellows and to involve the broader public in our debates. The fellows will also produce scenario reports on possible developments over the next decade in their respective issue areas. They will contextualize their policy recommendations for specific actors and institutions in their respective countries. By translating their findings for local contexts, the fellows will be able to return home with insights into what policymakers should think about today to prepare for the challenges of tomorrow.
This piece originally appeared in Global Policy on June 14, 2016.
by Oliver Stuenkel
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
by Oliver Stuenkel