The WRR was established in 1972 as a temporary advisory council. This was a period in which advisory councils were used mainly in specific policy domains and to increase the public voice in policy decisions. The WRR was a new kind of institute with a new kind of task.
The WRR is tasked with identifying and advising on future trends and developments. In particular the council seeks to bring 'hidden' problems 'above water'. The first council took a predominantly theoretical approach based on international scientific literature, supported by the emerging disciplines of political science and public administration. In order to be able to provide scientifically based advice, it is clearly important to have close ties with the academic world. It quickly became apparent that the council also explicitly wished to be in communication with civil society organisations and the research offices of political parties. The practice of communicating by means of 'reports to the government' arose in 1975, as a means of distinguishing this form of output from other types of WRR publications, namely the 'preliminary studies' and 'background studies'.
In around 1974, the question arose of wether the WRR should carry out future research. This was regarded as a task for the council and as something that was needed by the government and society. However, the Cabinet could do little with future scenarios unless these were accompanied by recommendations. Henceforth, reports were therefore never published without accompanying policy recommendations.
Involvement in policy
The report "Maken wij er werk van? ('Are we working to make it work?') (1977) was one of the first reports in which the WRR demonstrated its close involvement in policy. According to some officials, politicians and journalists, that involvement was actually too close and the council was not far enough removed from the day-to-day actions of government. The council took these criticisms to heart and set a trend by focusing on policy development in relation to broad social issues, a decision given extra legitimacy by the success of the council's first report on the position and future of Dutch industry ('Plaats en toekomst van de Nederlandse Industrie') (1980). During this period, several attempts were made to increase further the social and policy relevance of the council's work. During this period, several attempts were made to increase further the social and policy relevance of the council's work. Put briefly, the aim was to place the emphasis on 'real future problems' which encompass multiple sectors and multiple ministries and which therefore require a multidisciplinary approach with 'realistic solution pathways for the long term', according to the then chairman Theo Quené.
In the 1990s, under the chairmanship of Piet Hein Donner, a number of shifts of emphasis which had already been mooted were formalised. For example, futures research was displaced by 'future proofing', while attention also shifted away from substantive policy and to a focus on shaping those parameters of policy and to a focus on shaping those parameters. The style of the reports also changed: henceforth they were geared more directly towards putting foreward policy arguments.
Following the first external evaluation of the WRR, carries out by the Rinnooy Kan Commission in 2001 ('Spiegel naar de toekomst'), the council raised its public profile. The composition of the council was also made more flexible, with Dutch and foreign experts being brought in and verbal presentations of reports to various stakeholders.
From around 2003 onwards, more current and normative themes were placed on the WRR agenda, including topics such as the relationship between religion, state and society, media in the digital era and changes in the social communication structure, as well as the dynamic of Islamic activism.
The WRR has published approximately 88 reports in the 40 years of its existence, plus 170 preliminary studies and investigations and more than 250 working documents, including the present webpublications. A number of reports have been widely disseminated internationally, especially those concerned with agriculture, development cooperation and foreign policy.