Futures and Foresight

Exploring future opportunities and challenges for policy development and understanding uncertainty.

Policies made today will have impacts for years to come. Current policy decisions need to be resilient to a range of possible future scenarios.

The Government Office for Science helps policy makers develop more resilient policies. We collect and analyse evidence from academia, industry and government, and apply ‘Futures’ techniques to explore future opportunities, challenges and uncertainty.

‘Futures’ refers to structured approaches to exploring possible and preferable futures. It typically involves identifying areas of uncertainty, underlying drivers, opportunities and challenges. Whereas ‘Foresight’ refers to the process of conducting Futures work and ‘Horizon Scanning’ is a specific technique.

Applying Futures techniques helps policy-makers anticipate and learn about future opportunities and challenges, helps generate visions to explore the actions they can take to shape the future, and engage relevant stakeholders to test and implement more resilient policies. This helps to challenge old ways of thinking and helps avoid unanticipated surprises.

Our programme helps policy-makers better navigate complexity and manage in uncertain environments.

The Government Office for Science supports policy development in many ways. These include:

  • Foresight exercises that build an evidence base relevant to policy priorities, in collaboration with government departments and agencies
  • resources to support trend analysis and forward-look exercises, such as the Futures Toolkit
  • advice and support about using futures and foresight in policy development
  • learning and development sessions to introduce and develop futures and foresight capability in government

Horizon Scanning Programme Team

The Government Office for Science, together with the Cabinet Office, forms the Horizon Scanning Programme Team.

The Horizon Scanning Programme team is responsible for:

  • coordinating futures and horizon scanning work between departments
  • bringing emerging issues to a senior-level audience, as well as commissioning work on areas of interest, most notably for the Cabinet Secretary’s Advisory Group, a permanent secretary group chaired by the Cabinet Secretary

The Horizon Scanning Programme Team does this by developing networks and forming communities of interest around specific topics, and feeding evidence into senior policy meetings.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office provides ministerial oversight of the programme. The programme is steered by the Cabinet Secretary’s Advisory Group, which meets at least three times a year.

Read our Foresight project reports

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