19th April 2013 New Delhi, India

A look to the future

“For tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today”.

Undoubtedly, no one knows the future. Yet the above quote from Malcom X neatly encapsulates why strategic thinkers across the globe need to anticipate the future. Policy makers, businessman, militaries. All try to contemplate future scenarios in order to stay ahead of their global counterparts. This is difficult. Everyone’s heard of the ‘butterfly flaps its wing in Brazil and creates a tornado in Texas’ thought experiment, but it illustrates the point that sensitive dependence on initial conditions can lead to large variations in the future, especially in an intrinsically complex world.

So, fortune telling is tricky. But that’s not a reason to give up. Globally, scientists continue to develop the art of predicting the future. Organisations increasingly need a way to think systematically about the future and make intelligent decisions today – a process called ‘foresighting’. People who are most likely to benefit from this process move away from speculation into evidence based systematic thinking. With a mandate to share UK’s excellence in Foresight, a team of 10 experts from the UK’s Government Office for Science (affectionately known as ‘GO Science’) and Defense S&T Lab arrived in India for a 3 day workshop in New Delhi from 19th till 21st March.

The UK’s Foresight Programme aims to bridge the gap in policy making between the short and long term by helping Government to think systematically about the future. The key role of the department is to ensure that all levels of government, including the Prime Minister and Cabinet, receive the best scientific advice possible, and to enable the many science-using departments across government to create policies that are supported by strong evidence and robust arguments.

Working in partnership with Technology Information Forecasting Assessment Council (TIFAC) and Department of S&T; the workshop brought together a wide range of stakeholders from India to share best working practices in both countries. The program was packed with very thought provoking talks and presentations from leading experts in this field.

And panel discussions drew participation from an audience searching for answers to questions, continuously puzzling their imagination. Questions like how will factors like climate change, a rising middle class or GM crops affect the global food supply chain in another 20-30 years time? What course of action will India need to embark upon to give it ‘food security’ in decades to come? Questions like these, intertwined with complex mathematical equations and info-graphs, left us all engrossed during the whole three days (I’ve been dreaming Foresight ever since!).

The workshop ended on a positive note: experts from both countries echoed their satisfaction at participating and in drawing out possible areas of bilateral co-operation and joint working.  We look forward to continuing relationship and exchanges between UK Foresight and TIFAC as India and UK work towards understanding ‘our common future’.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Charles F Kettering that sums up my view: “my interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there”.  I hope that you think the same.

1 comment on “A look to the future

  1. There is also a vital role for the conversation to include the arts and humanities and move beyond the scientific frameworks to address their links with the human condition, the beliefs in society and the cultural inflection that adds much weight to the drive for evidenced based thinking.

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