Exploring futures for policymaking

On 27 September the WRR launched Out of sight: studying the future with policy (Uit zicht: toekomstverkennen met beleid), which looks at the practice of future research.

Good future research

The future is unpredictable. Not every future that can be imagined is possible, and not every possible future is relevant for policy. The authors of this study conclude that governments and policymakers are often too ready to forge ahead blindly with just one type of future research: studying a future that is free of surprises. Good future research, however, takes uncertainty seriously and makes allowance for different possible future scenarios. What would happen if everything continued in the future just as it has in the past? This type of future research is often dismissed as prediction. And that is a problem, because we are then not adequately prepared for unexpected events, such as an economic crisis. Every attempt at future research should be accompanied by the question: Is it wise to assume stability and continuity?

Blind spot

This publication provides pointers for the innovative use of scientific knowledge in thinking about the future. Many future studies contain ideas about what is desirable, and as long as there is a consensus about what constitutes a desirable future, this is not a problem. However, there are also sufficient examples of where different perspectives lead to very divergent views of the future. In the Netherlands there is a blind spot in respect of what the authors of this study call ‘normative future research’: the presentation of a range of policy choices with explicit estimates of the degree to which they are desirable, and for whom.