Thinking about the future differently - RSA

Thinking about the future differently


  • Behaviour change
  • Climate change
  • Health & wellbeing
  • Philosophy

While things are so up in the air, it’s difficult to plan for the now, let alone the future.  

Our normal operating environments are decoupled and in flux and countries and communities are caught switching between crisis response and recovery plans. We’re all uncertain of what comes next. 

The truth is, thinking about the future in a time of uncertainty demands a different mindset and skillset. Along with a new kit of approaches to hand. 

Why? We can only take on disruptive societal challenges, new or existing, if we think ahead. And the more complex the challenge, the more approaches we need to draw on to be able to respond effectively. 

Strategic foresight and futures approaches gives us a broad set of options and enough flexibility to imagine a better future and navigate a way forward – whether that’s with tentative steps or bold action. 

Our new report ‘A stitch in time?’ explores their value for organisations, for policymakers, decision-makers and society as a whole. It’s aimed at the creative problem solver, the intellectually curious and the changemakers in all of us. 

We’re all going to have to think about the future differently - It’s not that far away. 

Let’s not be fatalistic about the future…  

Almost no one says, ‘I prefer to only focus on the short-term and I don’t care about the future’. But there are reasons we get stuck focusing on the now – future uncertainty, everyday time pressures, political election cycles, a growth-at-any-cost mindset are just a few to mention. 

That said, there are things we can do to shift our ways of being and thinking. For example, focusing on the impact of our actions on future generations can change how we make decisions today. Are we up for the challenge? 

Our recommendations for making futures thinking a reality  

What does this look like in practice? We worked with MetroPolis and the Policy Evaluation and Research Unit at Manchester Metropolitan University to develop recommendations for organisations, policymakers, and society. 

For organisations, the most important thing is trying to embed long-term thinking into culture. That means prioritising sustainable growth and value generation. To guide this work, we recommend that organsiations establish a ‘Chief Foresight Officer’ with responsibility for long-term impact. 

This approach can also be embedded in policy. We have seen Wales pass the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. It outlines seven wellbeing goals public bodies must aim for, and put in place a Future Generation Commissioner who acts as a ‘guardian for future generations’. To adopt this approach, we recommend that a Future Generations Impact Assessment is required for major policy changes.  

Of course, policy isn’t all about policymakers. A big part of creating a ‘futures culture’ in the public is involving everyone in decision-making. One idea is to create a third chamber of Parliament to represent future generations. More immediately, we recommend establishing citizens’ assemblies to create a space to talk about the future.  

We see futures thinking as a key skill for everyone to adopt. Imagine if we developed a ‘future citizen’ qualification to cover systems thinking, decision-making and bias. It would make us better able to challenge our norms and assumptions about ourselves and our place in society. Better equipped to face disruption, complexity and uncertainty in our lives. Ready to plan for the future we want. 

Read A stitch in time: realising the value of futures and foresight

Related articles