News story

Horizon Scanning Programme: a new approach for policy making

The Civil Service is taking a new, joined-up approach to horizon scanning to help inform current policy making.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

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Following on from the recent Jon Day review of cross-government horizon scanning, the Cabinet Secretary is personally championing the joining-up of existing horizon scanning within government, and with his new Cabinet Secretary’s Advisory Group has commissioned several new strands of work to inform major areas of policy.

In a tight economic climate, it is more important than ever to have the best possible understanding of the world around us, and how that world is changing, so policy makers can prioritise and adapt effectively. Although a lot of horizon scanning work is already being done in government departments, the Jon Day review recommended that efforts could be more joined up. This will improve efficiency and ensure greater capability in understanding and addressing these issues.

What is horizon scanning?

The Jon Day review defined horizon scanning as:

A systematic examination of information to identify potential threats, risks, emerging issues and opportunities, beyond the Parliamentary term, allowing for better preparedness and the incorporation of mitigation and exploitation into the policy making process.

Horizon scanning is used as an overall term for analysing the future: considering how emerging trends and developments might potentially affect current policy and practice. This helps policy makers in government to take a longer-term strategic approach, and makes present policy more resilient to future uncertainty. In developing policy, horizon scanning can help policy makers to develop new insights and to think ‘outside the box’.

In contingency planning, horizon scanning helps to manage risk by planning ahead for unlikely, but potentially high impact events. There are a range of possible methodological approaches, such as developing alternative future scenarios. More information about tools and uses of horizon scanning in government can be found on the Foresight Horizon Scanning Centre website.

About the Horizon Scanning Programme

The cross-government Horizon Scanning Programme aims to embed better horizon scanning capabilities in the policy-making process in the UK Civil Service and to co-ordinate activity. It will:

  • ensure implications for policy are highlighted at the right levels
  • establish a common baseline of understanding across government departments and organisations
  • minimise duplication
  • share best practice

The programme is led by the Cabinet Secretary through a group of senior civil servants, the Cabinet Secretary’s Advisory Group. They are the ultimate customer for an existing network of officials in various government departments and agencies to escalate emergent trends and issues, and they will co-ordinate work on cross-cutting themes that will affect more than one part of government. They are supported by a small Horizon Scanning Secretariat within the Cabinet Office’s Government Innovation Group, working closely with the Foresight Horizon Scanning Centre in the Government Office for Science. The programme will ensure greater co-ordination of existing resources.

Ministerial oversight for the programme is provided by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, the Minister for Government Policy and the Minister of State for the Cabinet Office. They are informed of the findings from Cabinet Secretary’s Advisory Group meetings and any conclusions or policy recommendations arising. They will also meet periodically to review the programme and to commission further future work where required.

What are the new work strands?

Over 2013, departments will work together in ‘communities of interest’ to deliver horizon scanning on a series of work strands as part of the Horizon Scanning Programme, focussing on the following areas:

  • emerging technologies
  • emerging economies
  • changing supply and demand of resources
  • changing social attitudes of young people
  • the future of demographic change in the UK

Work on the implications of demographic change is led by Professor Sir Mark Walport, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA).

Background

In the Civil Service Reform Plan, the government committed to a cross-government review of horizon scanning capability. The Cabinet Secretary commissioned the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Jon Day, to consider how departments make use of horizon scanning, to assess the capabilities and structures used by the Civil Service to anticipate risk and identify opportunities over the medium-to-long term, and to make recommendations on how best to enable effective, shared strategic analysis across government on the future challenges facing the UK. The review was published on 21st January 2013.

Following the review, the Cabinet Secretary is acting as the senior champion for horizon scanning. The Cabinet Office provides strategic coordination of the horizon scanning activity through close working with the government’s Foresight Programme in the Government Office for Science, and other leading government departments and organisations.

To give direction and leadership to horizon scanning across government, the Cabinet Secretary is supported by a group of Permanent Secretaries, known as the Cabinet Secretary Advisory Group (CSAG). The role of this group is to challenge and consider key judgements with strategic implications for the UK. It will draw on horizon scanning work from across the Civil Service and the best of the private sector, academia and civil society to make sure that future challenges and opportunities are successfully identified and prepared for, and will commission further horizon scanning activity focused on the government’s strategic priorities.

Membership of the CSAG includes:

  • Sir Bob Kerslake (CLG)
  • Martin Donnelly (BIS)
  • Chris Wormald (DfE)
  • Simon Fraser (FCO)
  • Sir Mark Walport (GCSA)
  • Tom Scholar (HMT)
  • Mark Lowcock (DfID)
  • Jil Matheson (UKSA/ONS)
  • Bernard Gray (MoD)
  • Jon Day (CO)
  • Robert Devereux (DWP)
  • Una O’Brien (DH)

CSAG is supported by a second group of senior civil servants at director level known as the Horizon Scanning Oversight Group, which is chaired by Jon Day and reports to the CSAG. It coordinates the work of the communities of interest.

Ministerial oversight for the programme is provided by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, the Minister for Government Policy and the Minister of State for the Cabinet Office. They are informed of the findings from Cabinet Secretary’s Advisory Group meetings and any conclusions or policy recommendations arising. They will also meet periodically to review the programme and to commission further futures work where required.

Published 12 July 2013