Futures, Foresight and Horizon Scanning

Thinking about the future is fundamental to policymaking.

Everyone in the Civil Service has a responsibility to think about the future in the work they do. Policy decisions made today have long-term consequences. However, the future in which these decisions have an impact is uncertain and making these decisions is difficult.

What are Futures, Foresight and Horizon Scanning?

‘Futures’, or Futures studies, refers to different approaches to thinking about the future and exploring factors that could give rise to possible and probable future characteristics, events and behaviours. ‘Foresight’ refers to a process of conducting Futures work and ‘Horizon Scanning’ is one specific technique.

Applying Futures techniques helps policymakers anticipate and learn about future opportunities and challenges, helps generate visions to explore the actions they can take to shape the future, and engages relevant stakeholders to test and implement more resilient policies.

The Government Office for Science (GOS) supports embedding Futures tools and techniques across the Civil Service to support policymaking. This helps to get the best possible policy and strategy outcomes.

Why does Futures work matter to the Civil Service?

It is critical that the Civil Service takes a forward-looking approach to ensure policy making is future-proof and has the greatest possible positive impact.

Using these preventative techniques, the Civil Service is able to explore the many outcomes that could result from various pathways. It helps evaluate our knowledge – in particular, any blind spots that we might have. Collectively, a greater understanding of uncertainty and complexity helps develop more resilient strategies and policies.

Futures thinking should be used by everyone, in all departments, at all levels of responsibility.  

Who we are

GOS Futures team and the support we provide

GOS advise the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet, to ensure that government policies and decisions are informed by the best scientific evidence and strategic long-term thinking. GOS is led by Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA).

To support strategic long-term thinking in government, GOS collaborates with the Cabinet Office through the Horizon Scanning Programme Team (HSPT). The HSPT coordinates Futures work across government to integrate Futures into policymaking. It also supports a Cabinet Secretary chaired Heads of Department – Horizon Scanning meeting, where Permanent Secretaries consider the long-term impact of key Futures topics.

GOS has 20 years of experience working with Futures and, as a result, offers advice and support to the Civil Service on how to use Futures tools (either on a long-term basis or a one-off).

We leverage our policy and academic networks, our evidence-collection and analysis capabilities, including on emerging technologies, and Futures and Foresight techniques to help policymakers navigate complexity and manage in uncertain environments.

Responsibilities​

How does GOS Futures team support the Civil Service to think about the future?

The GOS Futures team is here to demonstrate, enable, and support Futures work. We have developed a range of tools and resources to help Government Officials implement their own Futures work in an effective way.

We deliver this through our capability development programme, networks, resources, advice service and projects.

Capability Development:

We deliver learning and development sessions to introduce and develop Futures and foresight capability in government.

Our capability development work builds on materials such as the Futures Toolkit, which provides a set of tools and techniques to help government officials use long-term strategic thinking in policy making

Contact the GOS Futures team for: Support, Workshops and Training. Use our: Futures Toolkit

Networks:

We convene cross-government networks and events to coordinate Futures work, share learning and develop a ‘Futures culture’ in Government.

Our Futures, Foresight and Horizon Scanning Blog, policymakers, stakeholders and academics connect with findings from our programme and others.

Contact the GOS Futures team for: Futures Drop-In Sessions, Emerging Technology Scanning Programme, Heads of Horizon Scanning Network and Heads of Department - Horizon Scanning Meeting.

Advice Service:

We carry out Futures projects to provide quality analysis on cross cutting issues, demonstrate best practice and the value of Futures work. ​

Our advice function has provided support and mentoring to hundreds of UK civil servants. 

Contact the GOS Futures team for: Support, Expert Advice, Mentoring

Resources and Projects:

We provide teams with the resources they need to start their own Futures work quickly and rigorously.

Our Foresight projects build an evidence base relevant to policy priorities, in collaboration with government departments and agencies. Key resources you will find useful include the Trend Deck which provides details on more than 200 trends important to Government and the Megatrends which considers themed global trends.

Access Futures tools: Emerging Technologies (EmTech) database, Trend Deck, Megatrends, Case Studies, and Foresight Reports.​

Futures Procurement Framework:

We’ve worked with a range of suppliers to give government departments and public bodies easy access to a variety of services to help them think about the future.

Access the Framework and further information about the services available.

Corporate information

Contact Us:

If you are a policymaker interested in how you could work with uncertainty in your policy area, please get in touch with the GOS Futures team.