Washington, September 8, 2021

200 Leaders Call for New UN Office to Coordinate Global Research to Prevent Human Extinction

Earth’s magnetic shield weakening, ocean-poisoning hydrogen-sulfide gas from advanced global warning, out-of-control nanotech and AI, are among the possible future threats to humanity, warn The Millennium Project, World Futures Studies Federation, and the Association of Professional Futurists.

In an open letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, internet pioneer Vint Cerf, Nobel Prize Laureate Oscar Arias, and other technological, business, political, technological, environmental, and academic leaders around the world are calling for a new UN Office of Strategic Threats to coordinate global research on long-range strategic or existential threats to humanity, and to their prevention.

The letter [attached] requests that the UN Secretariat conduct a feasibility study for the proposed UN Office. « The immediate crises always seem to overrule the long-term concerns about the future of humanity. So, we need a specific UN Office that just focuses on what could make us go extinct and how to prevent it, » said Jerome Glenn, CEO of The Millennium Project. »

The UN already has agencies that are addressing many of the serious trends today—such as decreasing fresh water per capita, concentration of wealth, and ethnic violence—but these do not pose a threat to the survival of our species.

Long-term threats

However, there are long-term threats that do, such as the ten below:

  • Weakening of the Earth’s magnetic shield that protects us from deadly solar radiation
  • Massive discharges of hydrogen sulfate (H2S) from de-oxygenated oceans, caused by advanced global warming
  • Malicious nanotechnology (including the « gray goo » problem)
  • Loss of control over future forms of artificial intelligence
  • A single individual acting alone, who could one day create and deploy a weapon of mass destruction (most likely from synthetic biology)
  • Nuclear war escalation
  • Uncontrollable, more-severe pandemics
  • A particle accelerator accident
  • Solar gamma-ray bursts
  • An asteroid collision.

« There is no single point for collaboration in the UN system that addresses such long-term threats to human survival, » said Ambassador Héctor Casanueva, former Chilean Ambassador to UN multilateral organizations in Geneva. « A UN Office on Strategic and Existential Threats to humanity could identify, monitor, anticipate, and coordinate strategic research on a global scale to prevent these threats, he suggested. « It would serve international agencies, multilateral organizations, nation-states, and humanity in general. »

The idea of a new UN Office was raised during the celebration of the annual « World Future Day » on March 1, 2021, a global online conference of nearly a thousand experts from 65 countries. The Millennium Project, which hosts World Future Day, suggested that a resolution be offered at the next UN General Assembly, to be held in September 2021. It would give the UN Secretariat the mandate to conduct a feasibility study of the proposed UN Office of Strategic Threats.

Open letter to the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for feasibility study of a UN Office of Strategic Threats

September 8, 2021

Dear Mr. Secretary General,

Long-range strategic threats to the survival of humanity are well-documented, ranging from the potential of advanced artificial intelligence growing beyond human control to weakening magnetic fields that protect life on Earth.

Although the United Nations includes agencies that are addressing many of the problems facing humanity today, there is no central office to identify, monitor, anticipate, and coordinate research on long-term strategic threats to humanity.

A UN Office on Strategic Threats, which would centralize and coordinate information and prospective studies on a global scale, could serve international agencies, multilateral organizations, nation-states, the private sector, academia, and humanity in general. We think that the Office could be created without putting pressure on the budget of the organization, reallocating resources and coordinating its work with universities and research centers around the world.

This idea was raised and discussed in detail during World Future Day, March 1, 2021, a 24-hour conversation of nearly a thousand experts from 65 countries, organized by several international associations of futurists and think tanks to discuss strategies for improving the global future.

The signatories of this open letter – academics, diplomats, scientists, and experts in foresight and strategy from different countries and sectors – ask Your Excellency to welcome and facilitate the adoption of a UN General Assembly Resolution at this September’s General Assembly that would give the General Secretariat the mandate to conduct a feasibility study on establishing a UN Office on Strategic Threats.


  1. Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, Author, Geostrategist, Former Dir. of Foreign Policy & Security Think Tank, Sri Lanka
  2. Nancy Ellen Abrams, Author, Philosopher of Science, Attorney at Law, USA
  3. Sergio Abreu, Secretary General, Latin American Integration Association (ALADI), Uruguay
  4. Philip Omoniyi Adetiloye, Professor, Federal University of Agriculture, Nigeria
  5. Rosa Alegria, Representative, Teach the Future Brazil, Brazil
  6. Soledad, Alvear, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Former Senator, Chile
  7. Jan Amkreutz, Author, futurist, speaker, The Netherlands & USA
  8. Janna Q. Anderson, Executive Director, Imagining the Internet Center, Elon University, USA
  9. Yul Anderson, President, African American Future Society, USA
  10. Amara D. Angelica, Editor-at-Large, KurzweilAI, USA
  11. Shahar Avin, Senior Research Associate, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk University of Cambridge, UK
  12. Diana Baciuna, Local Councillor, Bucharest Borough 4, Romania
  13. Guillermina Baena Paz, VP Latin America WFSF, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico
  14. Ying Bai, Vice President, Academy of Soft Technology, China
  15. SJ  Beard, Academic Programme Manager, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk Cambridge, UK
  16. Clem Bezold, Co-Founder, Institute for Alternative Futures, USA
  17. James Boyd, Complex Systems, SingularityNet, USA
  18. Pedro Bretes Amador, CEO and Co-Founder, NewWay, Foresight, Portugal
  19. Gregory Brown, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University, Senior Analyst, CENTRA Technology, USA
  20. Steve Brown, Founder, The Futures Collaborative, USA
  21. James E. Burke, Foresight and Solutions Navigator, DeepDive Foresight, USA
  22. Iurie Calestru, Program Director, Institute for Development and Expertise of Projects, Moldova
  23. Franklin A. Carrero-Martinez, Sr. Dir. Global Sustainability, National Academy of Sciences, Eng., and Med., USA
  24. Hector Casanueva, VP Chilean Council of Foresight and Strategy, Former Amb. Geneva, Prof.-Res. University of Alcalá, Chile & Spain
  25. Shiela R. Castillo, Futures Learning Advisor, The Center For Engaged Foresight, Philippines
  26. Vint Cerf, Internet Pioneer, Google, USA
  27. Sadok Chaabane, Former Min. of Justice & Higher Educ., GM, Polytechnique Internationale University, Tunisia
  28. Richard J. Chasdi, Professorial Lecturer, George Washington University, USA
  29. Puruesh Chaudhary, Founder &President , AGAHI, Pakistan
  30. Marvin Cheung, Board Member, Unbuilt Labs, USA
  31. Thomas J. Christiffel, Principal, Regional Intelligence-Regional Communities, USA
  32. Epaminondas Christophilopoulos, Deputy Chair Foresight Team, Office of the President of  Greece, Greece
  33. Reynaldo Treviño, Cisneros, Consultant, Systems and Strategic Planning, Mexico
  34. Anthony Clayton, Professor, University of West Indies, Jamaica
  35. Deborah Clifford, Head of Finance, Woolworths, South Africa
  36. Jose Cordeiro, Executive Director, Ibero-American Foresight Network, Venezuela and Spain
  37. Raluca Coscodaru, Consultant/Professor, Innovation and entrepreneurship, Romania
  38. Catherine, Cosgrove, Futurist, Canada
  39. William Cosgrove, Former Vice President, World Bank, Canada
  40. Shermon Cruz, Executive Director, Center for Engaged Foresight, Philippines
  41. Cornelia Daheim, Founder & Dir. Future Impacts; Chair, Futures Circle, Min. of Educ. and Res., Germany
  42. Jim Dator, Professor Emeritus, University of Hawaii, Manoa, Hawaii
  43. Philippe Destatte, Director, The Destree Institute, Belgium
  44. Mara Di Berardo, Technologist, Institute Nanoscience of the National Research Council , Italy
  45. Simone Di Zio, Associate Professor, University G. d’Annunzio, Italy
  46. Pedro Miguel Diegues, Consultant, Foresight & Strategy, Portugal
  47. Peachie Dioquino-Valera, Advisor, Center for Engaged Foresight, Philippines
  48. Hugh T. Dugan, Former Special Assistant to the President, National Security Council, USA
  49. Paul Epping, Chairman, Xponential, The Netherlands
  50.  Jelel Ezzine, President, Tunisian Association for the Advancement of ST&I (TAASTI), Tunisia
  51. Daniel Faggella, CEO, Emerj Artificial Intelligence Research, USA
  52. Horacio Martin Ferber, Faculty, National University of Avellaneda, Argentina
  53. Elizabeth Florescu, Director of Research, The Millennium Project, Canada
  54. Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, Former President of Chile, Chile
  55. Michael Friebe, Prof. Health Tech., Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg, Germany
  56. Caroline Figuères, Former Director, International Inst. for Com. and Dev.(IICD), The Netherlands
  57. Luciano Gallón, Professor, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Colombia
  58. Adolfo Arreola García, Professor, Anáhuac University, Mexico
  59. Banning Garrett, Faculty, Singularity University, USA
  60. Lydia Garrido Luzardo, UNESCO Chair Anticipation and Resilience, SARAS Institute, Uruguay
  61. Jose María Gil Robles, Former President , European Parliament, Spain
  62. Fausto Carbajal Glass, Member, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)., Mexico
  63. Jerome C. Glenn, CEO, The Millennium Project, USA
  64. Willis Goldbeck, Founder, Foresight Education, USA
  65. Blaž Golob, CEO GFS Institute, Chair, Forum on Future of Europe, Slovenia
  66. Abhik Gupta, Vice-Chairperson, Tripura State Higher Education Council, India
  67. Antonio Gutelli, Docente, Juan A. Maza University, Argentina
  68. Miguel Angel Gutierrez, Director, Centro Latinomericano de Globalización y Prospectiva, Argentina
  69. Mohammad Habib, Partner, Director, MENA Region, Siegel® MCAN, Jordan
  70. Cathy Hackl, Chief Metaverse Officer, Futures Intelligence Group, USA
  71. William E. Halal, CEO, TechCast International, USA
  72. Aharon Hauptman, Fellow, Zvi Meitar Institute for Implications of Emerging Technologies, Israel
  73. Peter Hayward, Co-host,, Australia
  74. Sirkka Heinonen, Professor Emeriti, Finland Futures Research Centre, Finland
  75. Lucio Mauricio Henao Vélez, CEO,, Colombia
  76. Éva Hideg, Professor, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary
  77. Brock Hinzmann, Partner, Business Futures Network, USA
  78. Cyrus Hodes, Chair AI Initiative, The Future Society, France
  79. Razvan, Hoinaru, Former Chief of Staff, EPP Romanian Delegation, EU Parliament, Romania
  80. Philip Horvath, Partner, Luman, Germany
  81. Adriana Hoyos, Professor/Senior Fellow, Instituto de Empresa (IE) Harvard University, Spain & USA
  82. Arnoldo de Hoyos, Professor, Pontificial Catholic University of Sao Paulo, Brazil
  83. Claudio Huepe, Director, Center of Sustainable Energy, Universidad Diego Portales, Chile
  84. Barry B. Hughes, Professor, University of Denver, USA
  85. Jan Hurwitch, Director, Visionary Ethics Foundation, Costa Rica
  86. Asif Iftikhar, Teaching Fellow, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan
  87. Enrique V. Iglesias, Former President, Intern-American Development Bank, Uruguay
  88. Lester Ingber, CEO, Physical Studies Institute LLC, USA
  89. Jose Miguel Insulza, former Secretary General, Organization of American States (OAS), Chile
  90. Silvia Iratchet, Institutional Relations, Suma Veritas Foundation, Argentina
  91. Abulgasem Issa, Associate Professor, Libyan Authority for Scientific Researches, Libya
  92. Garry Jacobs, President & CEO, World Academy of Art and Science, India
  93. Maciej Jagaciak, Member of the Board, Polish Society for Futures Studies, Poland
  94. Alejandro Jara, Former Associate DG WTO Geneva, Former Ambassador, Chile
  95. Robert E. Jarrett, Senior Fellow (ret.), US Army Environmental Policy Institute, USA
  96. Weiquing Jiang, Chairman, UN Ethics Chinese Union, China
  97. Zhouying Jin, Prof. and Former Director, Center for Technology Innovation and Strategy, Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China
  98. Maria João Rodrigues, Pres. Foundation for European Progressive Studies, Former Min. Employment, Former MEP and VP of the Group of the Socialists and Democrats, European Parliament, Portugal
  99.  Christopher B. Jones, Faculty, Walden University, USA
  100.  Michel Judkiewicz, Managing Director, Silver-Brains, Belgium
  101. Ted M. Kahn, CEO, DesignWorlds for Learning, USA
  102. David Kalisz, Head of Department , Management & Strategy, Paris School of Business, France
  103. Nikolaos Kastrinos, (signed in personal capacity) Foresight Team Leader, DG Research & Innovation, European Commission, Belgium
  104. Charlotte Kemp, Vice President, Global Speakers Federation, South Africa
  105. Stephen Killelea, Founder & Executive Chairman, Institute for Economics and Peace, Australia
  106. Tony Kim, President, Future Design Lab, South Korea
  107. Yusuke Kishita, Associate Professor, University of Tokyo, Japan
  108. Eric Klien, President, Lifeboat Foundation, USA
  109. Dana Klisanin, CEO, Evolutionary Guidance Media R&D, USA
  110. Norbert Kołos, Managing Partner, 4CF, Poland
  111. Tamás Kristóf, Associate Professor, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary
  112. Martin Kruse, Senior Executive Advisor & Futurist, Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, Denmark
  113. Osmo Kuusi, Adjunct Professor, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland
  114. Annah Kyoya, CEO, Leadership Impressions Ltd, Kenya
  115. Mounir Labib, Academy of Scientific Research & Technology, Egypt
  116. Patricio Leiva Lavalle, Dir. Latin American Inst. of Intl Relations, Miguel de Cervantes Univ., Chile
  117. Gerd Leonhard, CEO, The Futures Agency, Zurich, Switzerland
  118. Tiziano Li Piani, R&D Engineer, Leonardo Labs, Italy
  119. Marilyn Lienbrenz-Himes, Assoc. Prof. Emeritus , George Washington University, USA
  120. Lt-Gen Naeem Khalid Lodhi, Former Secretary of Defence, Pakistan
  121. Thomas Lombardo, Director, Center for Future Consciousness, USA
  122. José A. LugoSantiago, Chief Futurist, Institute for Leadership & Strategic Foresight, USA
  123. Pavel Luksha, Founder, Global Education Futures, Russia
  124. Patricia Lustig, Chief Executive, LASA Insight Ltd, UK
  125. François Mabille, General Secretary, International Federation of Catholic Universities, France
  126. Luciano Rodrigues Marcelino, Director General, Interinstitutional Relations, DGRI, Private Technical University of Loja – UTPL, Ecuador
  127. Carlos Alonso von Marschall Murillo, Head, Prospective Analysis and Public Policy, Min. of Planning and Political Economy, Costa Rica
  128. Jorge Máttar, Executive Director, Centro Tepoztlán Víctor L. Urquidi, Mexico
  129. Philip McMaster, Co-Founder, World Sustainability Coop, China
  130. John F. Meagher, Consultant, Futurist/Occupational and Environmental Health, USA
  131. Ricardo Torres Medrano, Professor, Catholic University of La Plata, Argentina
  132. Alvaro Mendez, Co-Dir. Global South Unit, London School of Economics, United Kingdom
  133. Maria Mezentseva, Member of Parliament, Chair of Ukrainian Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Ukraine
  134. Alvaro Cedeño, Molinari, Former Ambassador in Geneva, Costa Rica
  135. Cesar Monsalve Rico, Consultant, Development and Innovation Professional, Colombia
  136. Caryl Monte, CEO, International Wisdom Academy, Curaçao
  137. Iván Alonso, Montoya-Restrepo, Professor, National University of Colombia, Colombia
  138. Luz Alexandra Montoya-Restrepo, Professor, National University of Colombia, Colombia
  139. Juan Carlos Mora Montero, Professor of Planning & Foresight, National University, Costa Rica
  140. Morne Mostert, Director, Inst. for Futures Research, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
  141. Victor V. Motti, Director, World Futures Studies Federation, USA
  142. Leopold P. Mureithi, Professor of Economics, University of Nairobi, Kenya
  143. Eric Noël, Founder, Canada Towards 2030, Canada
  144. Kacper Nosarzewski, Partner, 4CF, Poland
  145. Pavel Nováček, Head Development & Environmental Studies, Palacký University, Czech Republic
  146. Erzsébet Nováky, Professor Emeritus, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary
  147. Concepcion Olavarrieta Rodriguez, Pres. Nodo Mexicano. El Proyecto del Milenio; Exec-Sec, RIBER, Mexico
  148. Erick Øverland, President, World Futures Studies Federation, Norway
  149. Karla Paniagua Ramírez, Head of Futures Studies, Center of Design and Communication, Mexico
  150. Ioan Mircea Pașcu, Former V.P., European Parliament; Former Minister of Defence of Romania, Romania
  151. Robert A., Pavlik, Futures/Environmental Studies, Marquette University, USA
  152. Martha Beatriz Peluffo Argón, Dean, Faculty of Education Sciences, Universidad de la Empresa, Uruguay
  153. Charles Perrottet, Principal, Futures Strategy Group, USA
  154. Jahna Perricone, Director of Mindfulness Programs, Center for Conscious Creativity, USA
  155. Jeremy Pesner, Doctoral Student, Carnegie Mellon University, USA
  156. Adrian Pop, Professor, National University of Political Science and Public Administration, Romania
  157. Mila Popovich, Founder, EVOLbing leadership, USA & Montenegro
  158. Patty Rangel, Author, International Astronautical Congress, Australia & Germany
  159. Kristian Ravić, Advisor, Office of the Mayor of Zagreb, Croatia
  160. Andrew W. Reynolds, Adjunct Professor, University of Virginia and DOS (ret.), USA
  161. Álvaro Ramírez Restrepo, Director, Futurion Ltda, Colombia
  162. Roman Retzbach, CEO, FutureInstitute Zukunftsinstitut, Germany
  163. Saphia Richou, Chercheur au LAREQUOI, Conseil en Prospective Stratégique et Coopétition, France
  164. Xiaobing Rong, Deputy Secretary General, UN international collaboration & coordination agency, China
  165. Stuart Russell, Center for Human Compatible Artificial Intelligence, University of California, USA
  166. Torben Riise, CEO, ExecuTeam; Founder, Institute for Futures Studies, Copenhagen, USA
  167. Clarissa Rios Rojas, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge, UK
  168. Stanley G. Rosen, Consultant, Strategy Analyst, USA
  169. Rebecca Ryan, Founder, CEO, NEXT Generation Consulting, USA
  170. Paul Saffo, Professor, Stanford University, USA
  171. Óscar Arias Sánchez, Former President of Costa Rica (1986-1990, 2006-2010), Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Costa Rica
  172. Rocco Santoro, Senior Statistician, Daccude, Italy
  173. Ramón Santoyo, President, WFS Mexican Chapter, Mexico
  174. Carlos Alberto Sarti Castañeda, Director, Fundación Propaz, Guatemala
  175. John M. Schmidt, Founder, CANSYNTH, Australia
  176. Kamal Zaky Mahmoud Shaeer, Chair, Council of Futures Studies and Risk Management, Academy of Scientific Research and Technology, Egypt
  177. Yair Sharan, Director, FIRS2T, Israel
  178. Mario Silberman, Former Ambassador, CTA, UNIDO/UNDP, Chile
  179. Mihaly , Simai, Former Chairman, United Nations University, Hungary
  180. Alexandra Sokol, Chief Sustainability Officer, EnviroDynamix, Santa Monica, CA, USA
  181. Roger Spitz, Founder, Disruptive Futures Institute, USA
  182. Maarten Steinbuch, Professor, Technical Univ. Eindhoven, Netherlands
  183. Veerappan Swaminathan, Founder & CEO, Sustainable Living Lab Pte Ltd, Singapore
  184. David Tal, President, Quantumrun Foresight, Canada
  185. Amos Taylor, Project Researcher, Finland Futures Research Center, Finland
  186. Rohit Talwar, CEO, Fast Future, UK
  187. Sadia Tariq, Research Associate, Sanjan Nagar Institute of Philosophy and Arts, Pakistan
  188. Paul Tero, Principal Consultant, Dellium Advisory, Australia
  189. Mohan Tikku, Journalist, Author, Futurist, Former Senior Fellow, Indian Council of Soc. Sci. Res., India
  190. Nicoleta Topoleanu, Human Resources Coach and Consultant, Romania
  191. Peter VanderWel, Principal Futurist, FutureVision, Netherlands
  192. Koen Vegter, Founder, Might Futures Design, Netherlands
  193. Sanja Vlahovic, Former Amb. of Montenegro to Italy, Malta and UN organizations in Rome, Montenegro
  194. Paul Werbos, Program Director(ret.), National Science Foundation, USA
  195. Jeremy Wilken, Broadcaster, Design for Voice podcast, USA
  196. Wilson Wong, Head of Insight & Futures, Horizon Scanning UK, UK
  197. Peter P Yim, CEO (retired), CIM3, Hong Kong & USA
  198. Jesús E. Caldera Ynfante, Dir., Intl and Interinstitutional Relations, La Gran Colombia University, Colombia
  199. Amy Zalman, CEO, Prescient, USA
  200. Xialin Zhang, Secretary-General, Intl. Cooperation Center for Future Strategic Research, China
  201. Duoyin Zhou, Deputy Director, UN International Collaboration &Coordination Agency, China
  202. Ibon Zugasti Gorostidi, Director, Prospektiker, Spain

Namur (Wallonia), August 28, 2021

Anticipating means visualising and then acting before the events or actions occur. This implies taking action based on what is visualised, which just goes to show how complex the process is and how problematic our relationship is with the future. The saying “to govern means to foresee » is at odds with this complexity principle. It also refers to individual responsibility. Blaming politics is a little simplistic and unfair, as it is up to each of us to govern ourselves, which means we must “anticipate”. Yet we are constantly guilty of not anticipating in our daily lives.


1. Our relationship with the future

 Our relationship with the future is problematic. There are five different attitudes, of which anticipation is merely the fifth. The first is common: we go with the flow; in other words, we wait for things to happen. We hope everything will go well. It is business as usual, or we have always done this as they say in Wallonia. We can also echo the words used by the miners whenever the colliery tunnels were shored up: it can’t hurt, it’s not dangerous, it’s strong, it’s reliable, etc. My father taught me to ridicule this cavalier attitude and, above all, to challenge it.

The second attitude is more active: it involves playing by the rules and working within the norms. The elected officials pay close attention to this, and so do we all. We have to have an extinguisher in our car in case of fire, but mostly to comply with the legal obligations, regulations, technical checks, and so on. Note that public buildings and businesses are also required to have them and to ensure that they are checked regularly. Very few people have one or more fire extinguishers in their house or apartment, and, even if they do, they may not be in working order or suitable for the different types of fire that may occur. We know that it is not a legal requirement, so most people don’t bother about it.

The third attitude towards the future is responsiveness: we respond to external stimuli, and we adapt quickly to the situations that arise. Images of firefighters and emergency workers come to mind, of course, and entrepreneurs as well. Responsiveness may be a virtue, but we know that it is sometimes ineffective in the face of fast-moving events. In defence of their discipline, futurists often quote a saying which they attribute to the statesman Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754-1838): when it’s urgent, it’s already too late.

The fourth attitude towards the future is preactivity: our ability – or lack of – to prepare for changes once they are foreseeable. The word foreseeable is clearly related to forecasting, in other words, an assumption is made about the future which is usually quantified and associated with a confidence index based on an expectation. This involves taking a number of variables and system elements into account against a background of previous structural stability and analysing them and their possible evolutions. The likelihood of these possible evolutions is then calculated. Validation is always uncertain due to the complexity of the systems created by the variables. A common example is the weather forecast: it gives me a probability of rain at a given time. If I am preactive, I take my umbrella or I pile sandbags in front of my doors.

The fifth attitude towards the future is proactivity. In his work on the Battle of Stalingrad – 55 years after the event –, British historian and former officer Antony Beevor criticises the German general Friedrich Paulus (1890-1957) for not, as the military commander, being prepared to confront the threat of encirclement which had been facing him for weeks, particularly by not retaining a strong, mobile, armoured capability. This would have enabled the Sixth Army of the Wehrmacht to defend itself effectively at the crucial moment. But, Beevor adds, that implied a clear assessment of the actual danger [1]. This means that, faced with expected and identified changes (I would say exploratory foresight), or even desired changes, which I will cause or create (I would then say normative foresight), I will take action. Anticipating means both visualising and then acting in advance, in other words, acting before the events or actions occur. That is why we could also say, with Riel Miller, that if the future does not exist in the present, anticipation does. The form the future takes in the present is anticipation [2].


2. A threefold problem to comprehend the future

We are all faced with a threefold problem when confronting the future. The first problem is that, in the tradition of Gaston Berger (1896-1960) [3], we are expected to look far ahead but, in reality, the future does not exist as an object of knowledge. Clearly, it does not exist because it is not written and is not determined, as Marx believed or as some collapse theorists today believe.

We are also expected to take a broad view and to reflect systemically. But forecasts only focus on a limited number of variables, even in the era of Big Data. Yet we find ourselves faced with systems which are all complex and interwoven in a tangle of unlikely events. We are all familiar with emergences [4] or sudden occurrences linked to the relationships between participants and factors within the system. When driving my car, I can anticipate a puddle, to avoid aquaplaning, or a patch of ice by telling myself that I must not break. But, in reality, I never know what my reaction will be when I feel my wheels shaking, or how my car, my tyres or the road surface will react. Similarly, I never know what the reaction will be of the drivers in front of me or behind me, or in the other lanes, or of the bird that happens to strike my windscreen at that precise moment. So, I have to deal with the complexity, but I cannot reduce it.

The third problem is that, faced with world systems of such complexity, my own knowledge tools are limited. We are trained in disciplines, epistemologies, knowledge methods, vocabularies, and scientific jargon which do not encourage multidisciplinarity (studying one discipline through several disciplines), interdisciplinarity (transferring methods from one discipline to another) or transdisciplinarity (a demanding approach which moves between, across and beyond disciplines), to echo the distinctions expressed by the Franco-Romanian physicist Basarab Nicolescu in response to the works of Jean Piaget (1896-1980) [5]. Our narrowmindedness and reluctance to open up affect our humility, encourage received ideas, create ambiguity (words do not have the same meanings), prevent the necessary constructive dialogue, and adversely affect collective intelligence.

A key achievement of the French economists and futurists Jacques Lesourne (1928-2020) and Michel Godet was to demonstrate the limits of forecasting, which looks to the past for invariants or relationship models to suggest its permanence or its relatively constant evolution in the future, leading to conditional forecasts: ceteris paribus, all things being equal”. Michel Godet’s major work is entitled The Crisis in Forecasting and the Emergence of the « La Prospective », (Pergamon, 1979). In it, he writes that it was on account of the philosopher Gaston Berger, who was himself nurtured on the reflections of Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) and Maurice Blondel (1861-1949), and numerous Anglo-Saxon sources of inspiration, that the foresight approach developed. This intellectual stance involves taking the past and future into consideration over the long-term, comprehending the entire system in a seamless way, and exploring capabilities and means of action collectively.

Against our cultural, mental, intellectual, scientific, social and political background, this approach is not encouraged. It does, however, move us on from the question “what is going to happen” to the question “what may happen” and, therefore, “what if?”. This is also linked to one of our major preoccupations: the short-, medium-, and long-term impact prior analysis of the decisions we take.

Foresight has developed methods based precisely on the issue of these emergences. In addition to analysing trends and trajectories – which can identify crises such as the global financial crash in 2008 –, it also works with wildcards: major surprises and unexpected, remarkable, and unlikely events, which may have significant impacts if they occur: the 9/11 attacks, the Icelandic volcano in April 2010, the Covid crisis in 2019, the floods in July 2021, and so on.

There is also much talk today of black swan events as a result of the work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, formerly a trader and now professor of risk engineering at the University of New York. This involves identifying events that are statistically almost impossible – so-called statistical dissonance – but which happen anyway [6].


3. Constructing a political agenda for complexity

First of all, we must be sceptical about the retrospective biases highlighted by the economist, psychologist and future Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his colleague Amos Tversky, which involve exaggerating, retrospectively, the fact that events could have been anticipated. These biases are linked to the need we all have to make sense of things, including the most random events [7]. When the unpredictable happens, it is intellectually quite easy for us to see it as predictable.

Next, it should be noted that political leaders are faced with the core issues of appropriation, legitimacy, and acceptability – especially budgetary – of a decision taken at the end of a dialogue and negotiation process involving multiple participants. The public will not necessarily be in favour of the government spending significant amounts on understanding problems they cannot yet visualise. Like St. Thomas, if they can’t touch it, they won’t believe it. At the outset, the population is not ready to hear what the politicians have to tell them on the matter, whether it involves a “stop-concrete” strategy or a perishable supply of masks. For experts and elected officials alike, it is no longer enough to make claims. They now have to provide scientific proof, and, above all, avoid denial, as the emotional link can be considerable. The significant role played by the media should also not be overlooked. For a long time, it was thought that a pandemic was an acceptable risk, as in the 1960s with the Hong Kong flu which caused at least a million deaths globally between 1968 and 1970, whereas the sight of Covid-19 victims in intensive care is unbearable and makes us less willing to accept the number of deaths. Remember how, in France, Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot was criticised and accused of squandering public money when she bought health masks and vaccines for swine flu (H1N1 virus) in 2009-2010. At the same time, humans have a great capacity to become accustomed to risk. Think of the nuclear sword of Damocles that was the Cold War, which continued until the early 1990s. We should also question whether this military nuclear risk – the anthropic apocalypse – has disappeared.

We constantly find ourselves needing to agree on the priority of the challenges facing us. Constructing a political agenda for such complexity is by no means clear, and political leaders wonder whether they will be criticised for starting works that may not seem urgent or sufficiently important to merit sustained attention, stakeholder mobilisation, and the resulting budgets.

Finally, governing not only means solving organisational problems, allocating resources and planning actions over time. It also means making things intelligible, as the French historian Pierre Rosanvallon points out [8]. The political world does not appreciate the importance of the educational aspect. In Belgium, politicians no longer go on television to talk to people directly and explain an issue that needs to be addressed. Government communications have disappeared; now, there are only televised addresses from the Head of State, who in this way becomes the last actor to communicate values to the public in this way.


Conclusion: uncertainty, responsibility, and anticipation

In May 2020, during the Covid-19 lockdown, the host of Signes des Temps on France-Culture radio, Marc Weitzmann, had the bright idea of recalling the first major debate of the Age of Enlightenment on natural disasters and their consequences for human populations [9], a debate between Voltaire (1694-1778) and Rousseau (1712-1778) about the Lisbon disaster of 1755 [10].

HRP5XD Lisbon Tsunami, 1755 – Woodcut – The Granger – NYC

On 1 November 1755 (All Saints Day), Lisbon was hit by a huge earthquake. Three successive waves between 5 and 15 metres high destroyed the port and the city centre [11], and tens of thousands of inhabitants lost their lives in the earthquake, tsunami and huge fire that followed. When he heard the news, Voltaire was deeply affected and, several weeks later, in view of the gravity of the event, he wrote a famous poem in which his intention was to go beyond mere evocation of the disaster and compassion for the victims.

Come, ye philosophers, who cry, “All’s well,”

And contemplate this ruin of a world.

Behold these shreds and cinders of your race,

This child and mother heaped in common wreck,

These scattered limbs beneath the marble shafts—

A hundred thousand whom the earth devours,

Who, torn and bloody, palpitating yet,

Entombed beneath their hospitable roofs,

In racking torment end their stricken lives.

To those expiring murmurs of distress,

To that appalling spectacle of woe,

Will ye reply: “You do but illustrate

The iron laws that chain the will of God »? [12]

In this “Poem on the Lisbon disaster”, from which these lines are a short excerpt, Voltaire ponders the appropriateness of attributing the event to divine justice, when, according to some so-called optimistic philosophers at the time, everything natural is a gift from God and, therefore, ultimately good and just [13]. Without calling divine power into question, Voltaire counters this concept, rejects the idea of a specific celestial punishment to atone for vices in the Portuguese capital, and instead declares fate responsible for the disaster.

As mentioned by Jean-Paul Deléage, who, in 2005, published in the Écologie et Politique review the letter which Rousseau sent to Voltaire on 18 August 1756, Voltaire went on to propose a new concept of human responsibility. This concept was social and political rather than metaphysical and religious. Thus, in his reply to Voltaire, Rousseau states as follows:

 (…), I believe I have shown that with the exception of death, which is an evil almost solely because of the preparations which one makes preceding it, most of our physical ills are still our own work. Is it not known that the person of each man has become the least part of himself, and that it is almost not worth the trouble of saving it when one has lost all the rest Without departing from your subject of Lisbon, admit, for example, that nature did not construct twenty thousand houses of six to seven stories there, and that if the inhabitants of this great city had been more equally spread out and more lightly lodged, the damage would have been much less, and perhaps of no account. All would have fled at the first disturbance, and the next day they would have been seen twenty leagues from there, as gay as if nothing had happened; but it is necessary to remain, to be obstinate around some hovels, to expose oneself to new quakes, because what one leaves behind is worth more than what one can bring along. How many unfortunate people have perished in this disaster because of one wanting to take his clothes, another his papers, another his money?  Is it not known that the person of each man has become the least part of himself, and that it is almost not worth the trouble of saving it when one has lost all the rest? [14] 

Whereas, for Voltaire, the Lisbon disaster was an accident and an unfortunate combination of circumstances, Rousseau feels that the natural seismic effects were compounded by the actions, urban choices and attitude of the people during the disaster. It is the responsibility of human behaviour that Rousseau highlights. In essence, he believes that, although Lisbon was destroyed, this was linked to the human decision to build a city on the coast and near a fault line. A lack of anticipation, perhaps.

Rousseau returned to these matters in his Confessions, in which he again absolves Providence and maintains that, of all the evils in people’s lives, there was not one to be attributed to Providence, and which had not its source rather in the abusive use man made of his faculties than in nature [15].

In the appropriately named Signes des Temps, or Sign of the Times, programme, Marc Weitzmann established a link between this debate, the question of uncertainty, nature and mankind, and the thoughts of French urbanist Paul Virilio (1932-2018). Scarred by the blitzkrieg and his lost childhood, and the idea that acceleration prevents anticipation and can lead to coincidence, Virilio, author of Speed and Politics (MIT Press, 2006), The Original Accidentl (Polity Press, 2007), and The Great Accelerator (Polity Press, 2012), emphasised that industrial and natural disasters progressed not only geometrically but also geographically, if not cosmically. In his view, this progress of contemporary coincidence requires a new intelligence in which the principle of responsibility permanently supplants the principle of technoscientific effectiveness, which is, considers Virilio, arrogant to the point of delusion [16].

Thus, as in Rousseau, our natural disasters seem increasingly inseparable from our anthropic disasters. All the more so since, as we now know, we have through our human and industrial actions altered the course of time in all its meanings: climate time, as well as speed time, or acceleration.

The fine metaphor used by futurists on the need to have good headlights at night – the faster we travel, the brighter they need to be – seems somewhat outdated. While, today, we are collectively wondering whether the road still exists, we can still enjoy inventing, plotting, and carving out a new path. For, in the words of Gaston Berger, the future is not only what may happen or what is most likely to happen, but is also, and increasingly so, what we want it to be. Predicting a disaster is conditional: it involves predicting what would happen if we did nothing to change the situation rather than what will happen in any event [17].

Risk management will remain a fundamental necessity on the path we choose. What is more, any initiative involves a degree of uncertainty which we can only ever partially reduce. This uncertainty will never absolve our individual and collective responsibilities as elected representatives or citizens. This uncertainty, in turn, creates a duty of anticipation [18].

Anticipation culture must feature at the heart of our public and collective policies. To that end, we must employ foresight methods that are genuinely robust and operational, along with impact prior analyses for the actions to be taken. That is the only way to tackle a new future without false impressions.

In his conclusions of The Imperative of Responsability, Hans Jonas decreed that, facing the threat of nuclear war, ecological ravage, genetic engineering, and the like, fear was a requirement for tackling the future [19]. We must treat anticipation in the same way. Thus anticipation meets hope, each being a consequence of the other.



Philippe Destatte


Related paper: Increasing rationality in decision-making through policy impact prior analysis (July 12, 2021)


Direct access to PhD2050’s English papers


[1] Free translation from: Antony BEEVOR, Stalingrad, p. 231-232 et 252 , Paris, de Fallois, 1999.

[2] Riel MILLER, Futures Literacy: transforming the future, in R. MILLER ed., Transforming the Future, Anticipation in the 21st Century, p. 2, Paris, UNESCO – Abingdon, Routledge, 2018.

[3] Gaston BERGER, L’attitude prospective, dans Phénoménologie et prospective, p. 270sv, Paris, PUF, 1964.

[4] According to the systemist Edgar Morin, emergence is an organizational product which, although inseparable from the system as a whole, appears not only at the global level, but possibly at the level of the components. Emergence is a new quality in relation to the constituents of the system. It therefore has the virtue of an event, since it arises in a discontinuous manner once the system has been constituted; it has of course the character of irreducibility; it is a quality which cannot be broken down, and which cannot be deduced from previous elements. E. MORIN, La méthode, t.1, p. 108, Paris, Seuil, 1977. – The concept of emergence finds its origin in George Henry Lewes. To urge that we do not know how theses manifold conditions emerge in the phenomenon Feeling, it is to say that the synthetic fact has not been analytically resolved into all its factor. It is equally true that we do not know how Water emerges from Oxygen and Hydrogen. The fact of an emergence we know; and we may be certain that what emerges is the expression of its conditions, – every effect being the procession of its cause. George Henry LEWES, Problems of Life and Mind, t. 2, p. 412, London, Trübner & Co, 1874. – André LALANDE, Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie, p. 276-277, Paris, PUF, 1976.

[5] See: Transdisciplinarité in Ph. DESTATTE & Philippe DURANCE dir., Les mots-clés de la prospective territoriale, p. 51, Paris, La Documentation française, 2009.

[6] Nassim Nicholas TALEB, The Black Swan, The Impact of the Highly Improbable, New York, Random House, 2007.

[7] Daniel KAHNEMAN & Amos TVERSKY, Prospect theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk, in Econometrica, Journal of the econometric society, 1979, vol. 47, nr 2, p. 263-291.

[8] Pierre ROSANVALLON, Counter-Democracy, Politics in an Age of Distrust, Cambridge University Press,  2008.

[9] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Lettre à Monsieur de Voltaire sur ses deux poèmes sur « la Loi naturelle » et sur « le Désastre de Lisbonne », présentée par Jean-Paul DELEAGE, dans Écologie & politique, 2005, 30, p. 141-154.

[10] Cfr Marc Weitzmann, Le Cygne noir, une énigme de notre temps, ou la prévision prise en défaut, avec Cynthia Fleury, Bruno Tertrais et Erwan Queinnec, Signes des Temps, France Culture,

[11] Sofiane BOUHDIBA, Lisbonne, le 1er novembre 1755 : un hasard ? Au cœur de la polémique entre Voltaire et Rousseau, A travers champs, 19 octobre 2014. S. Bouhdiba est démographe à l’Université de Tunis. – Jean-Paul POIRIER, Le tremblement de terre de Lisbonne, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2005.

[12] Translation taken from the Online Library of Liberty,

VOLTAIRE, Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne (1756), Œuvres complètes, Paris, Garnier, t. 9, p. 475. Wikisources :

[13] We are talking about theodicy here. This consists in the justification of the goodness of God by the refutation of the arguments drawn from the existence. This concept was introduced by the German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646-1716) in an attempt to reconcile the apparent contradiction between, on the one hand, the misfortunes that prevail on earth and, on the other hand, the power and the goodness of God. LEIBNITZ, Essais de théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l’Homme et l’origine du mal, Amsterdam, F. Changuion, 1710. – See Patrick SHERRY, Theodicy in Encyclopedia Britannica, Accessed 28 August 2021.

We know that in his tale Candide, or Optimism, published in 1759, Voltaire will deform and mock Leibnitzian thought through the caricatural character of Pangloss and the formula everything is at best in the best of all possible worlds … VOLTAIRE, Candide ou l’Optimisme, in VOLTAIRE, Romans et contes, Edition établie par Frédéric Deloffre et Jacques Van den Heuvel, p. 145-233, Paris, Gallimard, 1979.

[14] Translation from Internet Archive, Letter to Voltaire, Pl, IV, 1060-1062, p. 51.,

Lettre à Monsieur de Voltaire sur ses deux poèmes sur la « Loi naturelle » et sur « Le Désastre de Lisbonne », 18 août 1756. in Jean-Paul DELEAGE, op. cit.

[15] J.-J. ROUSSEAU, Confessions, IX, Paris, 1767, cité par Sofiane BOUHDIBA, op. cit.

[16] Paul VIRILIO, L’accident originel, p. 3, Paris, Galilée, 2005.

[17] G. BERGER, Phénoménologie et prospective…, p. 275. (Free translation).

[18] Voir à ce sujet Pierre LASCOUMES, La précaution comme anticipation des risques résiduels et hybridation de la responsabilité, dans L’année sociologique, Paris, PUF, 1996, 46, n°2, p. 359-382.

[19] Hans JONAS, The Imperative of Responsability, In Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age, The University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Namur, July 12, 2021

Challenges such as the imminent strategic choices posed by the European structural funds, the Recovery programme underway within the Government of Wallonia, questions on the interest in and the value of installing 5G, and whether it is even necessary, along with issues surrounding the implementation of a guaranteed universal income, and other energy, climate and environmental issues, raise the question of the impact of the decisions made by both public and private operators [1].

In their recent work The Politics Industry, while analysing the shortcomings and failure of American democracy and the possibilities for reconstructing it, Katherine M. Gehl and Michael E. Porter call for policy innovation. Katherine Gehl, founder of the Institute for Political Innovation, argues that laboratories of democracy have a role to play in the transformations within the political and social system itself to help governments achieve their objectives and, above all, to achieve the results their citizens deserve [2]. Although the authors, who are immersed in the business and entrepreneurship culture, focus primarily on democratic engineering in order to restore its negative effects on economic competitiveness, the issue of prior, objective analysis or assessment of the impacts that political decisions can have on society and its economy is not high on their agenda. In the absence of this type of approach, we believe that criticising policymaking and its lack of rationality – along with demonstrating the absence of general interest and common good – appears futile.

The weakening of a strong impact analysis probably contributed to Philippe Zittoun’s description, based on the work of the celebrated economists, sociologists and political scientists Herbert Simon (1916-2001) and Charles Lindblom (1917-2018), of complex cognitive tinkering. In this tinkering process, the necessary rational links between problem, objective, solution, tools, values and causes are absent [3]. Ignorance, intuitions, ideology and inertia combine to give us answers that look plausible, promise much, and predictably betray us, write the recent winners of the Nobel Prize for Economics, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo [4].

Dreamstime – Dzmitry Skazau

1. What is policy impact prior analysis?

The purpose of impact analysis is to establish a comparison between what has happened or will happen after the implementation of the measure or programme and what would have happened if the measure or programme had not been implemented. This comparison can be referred to as the programme impact [5].

Policy impact prior analysis can help to refine decisions before they are implemented and to comprehend their potential effects in different economic environments. The impact assessment provides a framework for understanding whether the beneficiaries do actually benefit from the programme, rather than from other factors or actors. A combination of qualitative and quantitative methods is useful to give an overview of the programme impact. There are two types of impact analysis: ex ante and ex post. An ex-ante impact analysis attempts to measure the expected impacts of future programmes and policies, taking into account the current situation of a target area, and may involve simulations based on assumptions relating to the functioning of the economy. Ex ante analyses are usually based on structural models of the economic environment facing the potential participants. The underlying assumptions for the structural models involve identifying the main economic actors in the development of the programme and the links between the actors and the different markets to determine the results of the programme. These models can predict the programme impacts [6].

In April 2016, in their common desire for Better Regulation, the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission decided to increase and strengthen impact assessments [7] as tools for improving the quality of EU legislation, in addition to consulting with citizens and stakeholders and assessing the existing legislation. In the view of these three institutions, impact assessments should map out alternative solutions and, where possible, potential short and long-term costs and benefits, assessing the economic, environmental and social impacts in an integrated and balanced way and using both qualitative and quantitative analyses. These assessments must respect the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, as well as fundamental rights. They must also consider the impact of the various options in terms of competitiveness, administrative burdens, the effect on SMEs, digital aspects and other elements linked to territorial impact. Impact assessments should also be based on data that is accurate, objective, and complete [8].

In recent years, the European Commission has gone to great lengths to update its technical governance tools in its efforts to achieve better regulation. This concept means designing EU policies and laws so that they achieve their objectives at the lowest possible cost. For the Commission, better regulation does not involve regulating or deregulating, but rather adopting a way of working which ensures that policy decisions are taken openly and transparently, are guided by the best factual data available, and are supported by stakeholder participation. Impact assessment (or impact analysis) is an important element of this approach to policy issues, as are foresight (or forward-looking) tools, and tools used for stakeholder consultation and participation, planning, implementation, assessment, monitoring etc., which are part of the public or collective policy cycle, and even, by extension, the business policy cycle [9].

Better regulation covers the entire political cycle, from policy conception and preparation, to adoption, implementation, application (including monitoring and enforcement [10]), assessment and revision of measures. For each phase of the cycle, a number of principles, objectives, tools and procedures for improving regulation are used to build capacity for achieving the best possible strategy.

Although impact assessment is not a new tool, since it was theorised extensively in the 1980s and 1990s [11], its role in the process has been strengthened considerably by the European Commission, to the extent that, in our view, it is now of central importance. Even its content has been broadened. The Better Regulations Guidelines of 2017 highlight this transparency and draw a distinction with assessment practices: in an impact assessment process, the term impact describes all the changes which are expected to happen due to the implementation and application of a given policy option/intervention. Such impacts may occur over different timescales, affect different actors and be relevant at different scales (local, regional, national and EU).  In an evaluation context, impact refers to the changes associated with a particular intervention which occur over the longer term [12]. The Guidelines glossary also states that impact assessment is an integrated process for assessing and comparing the merits of a range of public or collective policy options developed to solve a clearly defined problem. Impact assessment is only an aid to policymaking / decision-making and not a substitute for it [13].

Thus, impact assessments refer to the ex-ante assessment carried out during the policy formulation phase of the policy cycle.

This process consists in gathering and analysing evidence to support policy development. It confirms the existence of a problem to be solved, establishes the objectives, identifies its underlying causes, analyses whether a public action is necessary, and assesses the advantages and disadvantages of the available solutions [14].

The Commission’s impact assessment system follows an integrated approach which assesses the environmental, social and economic impacts of a range of policy options, thereby incorporating sustainability into the drafting of EU policies. The impact reports formatted by the Commission also include the impacts on SMEs and on European competitiveness and a detailed description of the consultation strategy and the results achieved [15].

2. Complex, public-interest processes that make democracy more transparent

In a parliamentary context, impact studies designed as ex-ante assessments of legislation satisfy, firstly, an ambition to overhaul policy practices, secondly, an open government challenge to make public debate more transparent, and, thirdly, a desire for efficiency in the transformation of public and collective action, since assessment means better action. Generating knowledge on the objectives, the context, the resources, the expected results and the effects of the proposed policies means giving both parliamentarians and citizens the means to assess the consequences of the recommended measures. It also means supporting public decision-making by plainly revealing the budgetary impacts of the decisions policymakers want to make. These advantages are undoubtedly ways to revitalise our democracies [16].

Used for prior assessment of legislation, impact assessment aims to analyse all the behaviors and situations that present a direct or indirect causal link with the legislation being examined, to identify the unforeseen effects, the adverse effects [17]. It involves identifying the genuine changes expected in society which could be directly associated with the prescriptive (legislative or regulatory) measures implemented by the actors involved in the policy [18]. It is therefore understandable that questions relating to concerns such as the impact of technological choices on health or the extent to which the legislation is consistent with climate and sustainable development objectives are essential questions posed in impact studies [19].

Measuring the impact is therefore the key challenge of the assessment, but it is also the hardest issue to tackle from a methodological point of view [20]. As indicated in the Morel-L’Huissier-Petit report submitted to the French National Assembly in 2018, assessing the mobilisation of resources and the control of public expenditure when implementing legislation or a policy is the driving force for more effective public action which is able to innovate and evolve its management methods in order to adapt positively to the paradox of modern public action: how to do better with less, against a backdrop of cutting public expenditure, rising democratic demands and Public Service expectations, and accelerating economic and social trends [21]. This report also recommends expanding impact studies to cover tabled legislative proposals and substantial amendments in order to supplement the content, review the impact studies already accompanying the legislative proposals, develop robust impact and cost simulators and use them regularly, and, lastly, organise discussions within committees and at public hearings dedicated to assessing impact studies [22].

Concerning the low-carbon strategy, France’s High Council on Climate indicated, in December 2019, that, with regard to environmental and particularly climate assessment, the existing impact studies have not achieved their potential: they cover only a small portion of the legislation adopted (legislative proposals of parliamentary origin and amendments are not included), they are rarely used, and they are often incomplete [23].

However, these assessment works of the High Council on Climate are very interesting from a methodological perspective. When supplemented, impact prior analyses can be considered to follow a seven-stage process, guided by a compass as shown below.

Overall, it might be argued that the impact of a policy is all its effect on real-world conditions, including: 1. impact on the target situation or group, 2. impact on situations or groups other than the target (spill over effects), 3. impact on future as well as immediate conditions, 4. direct costs, in terms of resources devoted to the program, 5. indirect costs, including loss of opportunities to do other things. All the benefits and costs, both immediate and future, must be measured in both symbolic and tangible terms and be explained with concrete equivalences [24].

The main purpose of any ex-ante assessment is without doubt to clarify the political objectives from the outset, for example before voting on a law, and to help define or eliminate any incompatibilities within or between the general objectives and the operational objectives [25]. The fundamental problem seems to be that the impacts of changes brought about by public policies are often minor, or even marginal, compared with those caused by external social and economic developments. It then becomes hard to get the message across [26]. That is why demonstrating a significant public policy impact often means having to deal with a major programme, or series of programmes. The measures must be properly conceived, properly financed and made sustainable over time [27]. These measures can be discussed with stakeholders or even with citizens, as was the case with the measures in the independence insurance bill debated at the citizens’ panel on ageing, organised by the Parliament of Wallonia in 2017 and 2018 [28].

More than simply a judgment, impact assessment is a learning approach whereby lessons can be learned from the policy or action being assessed, and the content improved as a result. Any assessment requires collaboration and dialogue between its key participants, namely the representatives, assessors, beneficiaries of the policies, programmes, projects or functions, and stakeholders, in other words the individuals or bodies that have an interest in both the policy or programme being assessed and the results of the assessment. Assessment in this sense is merely a process in which the actors themselves adopt the thinking on the practices and the results of the subject being assessed [29]. The methods may be many and varied, but the key points are probably the ethics of the assessment and some essential quality criteria: a high-quality model, a large amount of robust data, meeting expectations, and genuine consideration of the common good [30].

 3. Interests and obstacles for a strategic intelligence tool

Impact prior analysis is one of the strategic policy intelligence tools promoted by the European Commission. It also respects the following principles:

principle of participation: foresight, evaluation or Technology Assessment exercises take care of the diversity of perspectives of actors in order not to maintain one unequivocal ‘truth’ about a given innovation policy theme;

principle of objectivisation: strategic intelligence supports more ‘objective’ formulation of diverging perceptions by offering appropriate indicators, analyses and information processing mechanism;

principle of mediation and alignment: strategic intelligence facilitates mutual learning about the perspectives of different actors and their backgrounds, which supports the finding of consensus;

principle of decision support: strategic intelligence processes facilitate political decisions and support their successful subsequent implementation  [31].

An impact assessment can therefore be broken down into traditional cost-benefit measures and measures relating to areas such as sustainable development, environment, technological innovation and social impact. The Sustainability Impact Assessment has been developed by the European Commission and includes a detailed analysis of the potential economic, social, human and environmental impacts of ongoing commercial negotiations. These assessments are an opportunity for stakeholders from the EU and the partner countries to share their points of view with the negotiators [32].

In recent decades, the literature on policy assessment has increased substantially and new methodologies have been developed to identify the causal effects of policies [33]. In addition, the openness approaches pursued by governments and parliaments are introducing democratic innovation aspects which need to be taken into account. Although the quality of the impact analysis methods, particularly environmental (air, water, ecological systems, socio-economic systems, etc.), has been improved and diversified considerably since the beginning of the 2000s, especially through the works of Christopher Wood [34] and Peter Morris and Riki Therivel [35], it must be acknowledged that, in practice, these processes are rarely applied and that, often, the public authorities prefer not to activate them. However, major clients such as the European Commission and the OECD are becoming increasingly demanding in this area in terms of assessment and climate/energy indicators. This is also a real opportunity to create closer links between impact assessments and public inquiries.

Beyond the technical sphere of civil servants and experts, many elected representatives tend to perceive policy impact prior analysis as an additional layer on top of the decision-making process – which generates a degree of indifference – rather than a beneficial layer which represents real added value for stakeholders.

We also know that, when taken to the extreme, impact assessment is a tool that can hinder or even prevent legislative and programme-based action. The Anglo-Saxons have an extreme vision of efficiency, even going as far as the concept – assumed – of a regulatory guillotine [36]. This fairly radical approach may involve two paths: one in which, faced with the proliferation of ex ante assessment procedures, the political system risks rigidity, the other in which, for fear of generating additional prescriptive complexity, the elected representatives avoid all legislative change. The OECD is interested in this aspect [37].

In this way, prior policy impact assessment could open a lively debate on legislative relevance. Something that is always healthy, particularly in parliamentary settings.


Philippe Destatte



[1] I would like to thank Sarah Bodart, analyst and economist at The Destree Institute’s Wallonia Policy Lab, for her advice and suggestions for finalising this paper.

[2] Katherine M. GEHL & Michaël E. PORTER, The Politics Industry, How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save our Democracy, p. 179, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press, 2020.

[3] Philippe ZITTOUN, La fabrique politique des politiques publiques, p. 146, Paris, Presses de Sciences-Po, 2013. – Charles E. LINDBLOM, The Policy-Making Process, Prentice-Hall, 1968.

[4] Abhijit BV. BANERJEE and Esther DUFLO, Économie utile pour des temps difficiles, p. 439-440, Paris, Seuil, 2020. – See also Esther DUFLO, Rachel GLENNESTER and Michael KREMER, Using Randomization in Development Economics Research: A Toolkit in T. Paul SCHULZ and John STRAUSS ed., Handbook of Development Economics, vol. 4, p. 3895–3962, Amsterdam, North-Holland, 2008.

[5] Lawrence B. MOHR, Impact Analysis for Program Evaluation, p. 2-3, Chicago, The Dorsey Press, 1988.

[6] Shahidur R. KHANDKER, Gayatri B. KOOLWAL, Hussain A. SAMAD, Handbook on Impact Evaluation: Quantitative Methods and Practices, p. 19-20, Washington, World Bank, 2010.

[7] The OECD defines impact as the positive or negative, primary and secondary long-term effects produced by an intervention, directly or indirectly, intended or unintended.  Niels DABELSTEIN dir., Glossaire des principaux termes relatifs à l’évaluation et à la gestion axées sur les résultats, p. 22, Paris, OECD, 2002.

See also the EVALSED glossary: Nick BOZEAT (GHK) & Elliot STERN (Tavistock Institute) dir., EVALSED, The Resource for the Evaluation of Socio Economic Development, Sept. 2013: Impact: The change that can be credibly attributed to an intervention. Same as « effect » of intervention or « contribution to change ». – A consequence affecting direct beneficiaries following the end of their participation in an intervention or after the completion of public facilities, or else an indirect consequence affecting other beneficiaries who may be winners or losers. Certain impacts (specific impacts) can be observed among direct beneficiaries after a few months and others only in the longer term (e.g. the monitoring of assisted firms). In the field of development support, these longer-term impacts are usually referred to as sustainable results. Some impacts appear indirectly (e.g. turnover generated for the suppliers of assisted firms). Others can be observed at the macro-economic or macro-social level (e.g. improvement of the image of the assisted region); these are global impacts. Evaluation is frequently used to examine one or more intermediate impacts, between specific and global impacts. Impacts may be positive or negative, expected or unexpected. – Philippe DESTATTE, Evaluation of Foresight: how to take long-term impact into consideration? For-learn Mutual Learning Workshop, Evaluation of Foresight, Seville, IPTS-DG RTD, December 13-14, 2007. – Gustavo FAHRENKROG e.a., RTD Evaluation Tool Box: Assessing the Socio-economic Impact of RTD Policies. IPTS Technical Report Series. Seville, 2002.

[8] Better Regulation, Interinstitutional agreement between the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission, Brussels, 13 April 2016.

[9] Better Regulation Guidelines, Commission Staff Working Document, p. 5sv, 7 July 2017 (SWD (2017) 350.

[10] Application means the daily application of the requirements of the legislation after it has entered into force. EU regulations are applicable from their effective date, while rules set out in EU directives will apply only from the effective date of the national legislation that transposes the EU directive into national law. Application covers transposition and implementation. Better Regulation Guidelines…, p. 88.

[11] For example: Saul PLEETER ed., Economic Impact Analysis: Methodology and Application, Boston – The Hague – London, Martinus Nijhoff, 1980.

[12] Better regulation guidelines, p. 89, Brussels, EC, 2017.

[13] Ibidem.

[14] Szvetlana ACS, Nicole OSTLAENDER, Giulia LISTORTI, Jiri HRADEC, Matthew HARDY, Paul SMITS, Leen HORDIJK, Modelling for EU Policy support: Impact Assessments, Luxembourg, Publications Office of the European Union, 2019.

[15] Better Regulation Guidelines…, p. 13.

[16] Pierre MOREL-L’HUISSIER and Valérie PETIT, Rapport d’information par le Comité d’Évaluation et de Contrôle des politiques publiques sur l’évaluation des dispositifs d’évaluation des politiques publiques, p. 7-24,  Paris, National Assembly, 15 March 2018.

[17] Geneviève CEREXHE, L’évaluation des lois, in Christian DE VISSCHER and Frédéric VARONE ed., Évaluer les politiques publiques, Regards croisés sur la Belgique, p. 117, Louvain-la-Neuve, Bruylant-Academia, 2001.

[18] In simple terms, a successful impact assessment aims to establish the situation that society would have experienced in the absence of the policy being assessed. By comparing this fictional, also called counterfactual, situation to the situation actually observed, a causal relationship can be deduced between the public intervention and an indicator deemed relevant (health, employment, education, etc.). Rozenn DESPLATZ and Marc FERRACCI, Comment évaluer les politiques publiques ? Un guide à l’usage des décideurs et praticiens, p. 5, Paris, France Stratégie, September 2016.

Cliquer pour accéder à guide_methodologique_20160906web.pdf

See also: Stéphane PAUL, Hélène MILET and Elise CROVELLA, L’évaluation des politiques publiques, Comprendre et pratiquer, Paris, Presses de l’EHESP, 2016.

[19] This extension can also be found in the AFIGESE definition: Impact: social, economic and environmental consequence(s) attributable to a public intervention. Marie-Claude MALHOMME e.a., Glossaire de l’Évaluation, p. 77, Paris, AFIGESE- Caisse d’Épargne, 2000.

[20] Jean-Pierre BATTERTI, Marianne BONDAZ and Martine MARIGEAUD e.a., Cadrage méthodologique de l’évaluation des politiques publiques partenariales : guide, Inspection générale de l’Administration, Inspection générale des Finances, Inspection générale des Affaires sociales, December 2012

[21] Pierre MOREL-L’HUISSIER and Valérie PETIT, Rapport d’information

[22] Pierre MOREL-L’HUISSIER and Valérie PETIT, Rapport d’information... p.11-13

[23] Where there is evidence that some provisions of a law have a potentially significant effect on the low-carbon trajectory, whether positive or negative, the text initiator decides to steer the text towards a detailed impact study relating to the national low-carbon strategy (SNBC). This detailed study is the subject of a detailed public opinion on its quality, produced by an independent authority with the capacity to do so. This process must be concluded before the legal text is tabled in Parliament. It is suggested that Parliament should expand detailed impact studies relating to the low-carbon strategy to cover legislative proposals. Évaluer les lois en cohérence avec les ambitions, p. 5-6, Paris, High Council on Climate, December 2019.

[24] Thomas R. DYE, Understanding Public Policy, p. 313, Upper Saddle River (New Jersey), Prentice Hall, 2002. The impact of a policy is all its effect on real-world conditions, including : impact on the target situation or group, impact on situations or groups other than the target (spillover effects), impact on future as well as immediate conditions, direct costs, in terms of resources devoted to the program, indirect costs, including loss of opportunities to do other things. All the benefits and costs, both immediate and future, must be measured in both symbolic and tangible effects. – See also: Shahidur R. KHANDKER, S.R., Gayatri B. KOOLWAL, & Hussain A. SAMAD, Handbook on Impact Evaluation, Quantitative methods and practices, Washington D.C, World Bank, 2010.

[25] Paul CAIRNEY, Understanding Public Policy, Theories and Issues, p. 39, London, Palgrave-MacMillan, 2012.

[26] Karel VAN DEN BOSCH & Bea CANTILLON, Policy Impact, in Michaël MORAN, Martin REIN & Robert E. GOODIN, The Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, p. 296-318, p. 314, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006.

[27] Th. R. DYE, op. cit., p. 315.

[28] Ph. DESTATTE, Que s’est-il passé au Parlement de Wallonie le 12 mai 201 ?7 Blog PhD2050, Namur, 17 June 2017,

[29] Philippe DESTATTE and Philippe DURANCE dir., Les mots-clefs de la prospective territoriale, p. 23-24, Paris, La Documentation française, 2009.

Cliquer pour accéder à philippe-destatte_philippe-durance_mots-cles_prospective_documentation-francaise_2008.pdf

[30] Jean-Claude BARBIER, A propos de trois critères de qualité des évaluations: le modèle, la réponse aux attentes, l’intérêt général, dans Ph. DESTATTE, Évaluation, prospective, développement régional, p. 71sv, Charleroi, Institut Destrée, 2001.

[31] Alexander TÜBKE, Ken DUCATEL, James P. GAVIGAN, Pietro MONCADA-PATERNO-CASTELLO ed., Strategic Policy Intelligence: Current Trends, the State of the Play and perspectives, S&T Intelligence for Policy-Making Processes, IPTS, Seville, Dec. 2001.

[32] Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA)

[33] Massimo LOI and Margarida RODRIGUES, A note on the impact evaluation of public policies: the counterfactual analysis, JRC Scientific & Policy Report, Brussels, European Commission, Joint Research Center, 2012. (Report EU 25519 EN).

[34] Christopher WOOD, Environmental Impact Assessment, A Comparative Review, Harlow, Pearson Education, 2003. (1st ed. 1993).

[35] Peter MORRIS & Riki THERIVEL, Methods of Environmental Impact Assessment, London – New York, Spon Press, 2001.

[36] Thanks to Michaël Van Cutsem for this remark.

[37] La réforme de la réglementation dans les pays du Moyen-Orient et d’Afrique du Nord, Paris, OCDE, 2013.

Referring to a study in March 2017 by the Institute for the Future (Palo Alto, California), the Mosan Free University College (HELMo) [1] noted, at the start of the 2018-2019 academic year, that 85% of the jobs in 2030 have not yet been invented [2]. The HELMo team rightly pointed out that population ageing, climate and energy changes, mass migrations and, of course, digital technologies, robotisation and other scientific advances are all drivers of change that will revolutionise the entire world. Highlighting its vocational emphasis as a higher education institution, it wondered whether the jobs for which it was training people today would still exist tomorrow. At the same time, its Director-President Alexandre Lodez, along with the teaching staff representative, lawyer Vincent Thiry, and the student representative, pointed out that HELMo did not only want to train human operational resources in response to a particular demand from the labour market, but also wanted to train responsible citizens capable of progressing throughout their careers and lives. Everyone was asking a key question: What, therefore, are the key skills to be consolidated or developed?

I will try to answer this question in three stages.

Firstly, by mentioning the global upheavals and their effects on jobs. Then, by drawing on a survey carried out by futurists and experts from around the world this summer, the results of which were summarised in early September 2018. And finally, by a short conclusion expressing utopia and realism.

1. Global upheavals

On the issue of technical and economic changes, we could proceed by mentioning the many contemporary studies dealing with this topic, including those by Jeremy Rifkin [3], Chris Anderson [4], Dorothée Kohler and Jean-Daniel Weisz [5], François Bourdoncle and Pierre Veltz and Thierry Weil [6]. We could also describe the New Industrial Paradigm [7]. Or, to reflect current events, we could even call on Thierry Geerts, head of Google Belgium, whose work, Digitalis [8] is very popular at present.

But it is to Raymond Collard that I will refer. Former professor at the University of Namur, Honorary Director-General of the Research, Statistics and Information Service at the Ministry of the Wallonia Region – the current Public Service of Wallonia – and scientific coordinator of the permanent Louvain Research and Development Group, Raymond Collard was born in 1928, but his death in Jemeppe-sur-Meuse on 8 July 2018 was met with indifference by Wallonia. It was only through an email from my colleague and friend André-Yves Portnoff on 13 September that I learned, from Paris, about his death.

On 15 March 1985, an article in the journal La Wallonie caught my attention. The title of this paper by Raymond Collard was provocative: Seeking Walloon pioneers! But the question was specific and could be asked again thirty-three years later: Are there, among the readers of this journal, men and women who can identify large or small businesses in Wallonia that truly live according to the principles of the “intelligence revolution”? The paper made reference to the presentation, in Paris, of the report drawn up by a team led by futurists: according to the report on the state of technology, we are witnessing the advent not of the information society, as is often said, particularly in Japan, but of the “creation society”, whose vital resource is intelligence and talent rather than capital. That is also why we talk of the intelligence revolution, a revolution which requires the harnessing of intelligence, something which cannot be done by force. The normal relationships between power and skills are altered at all levels.

The report itself, entitled La Révolution de l’intelligence [9], complemented my reading of the works of John Naisbitt [10] and Alvin Toffler [11]. It was described extensively by Raymond Collard. This relationship builder, as André-Yves Portnoff [12] called him, had travelled to Paris for the presentation of this document by Thierry Gaudin, civil engineer and head of the Centre de Prospective et d’Évaluation [Foresight and Assessment Centre] at the French ministry of Research, and Portnoff, then editor-in-chief of Sciences et Techniques, published by the French Society of Scientists and Engineers. The Minister for Research and Technology, Hubert Currien, and the Minister for Industrial Redeployment and Foreign Trade Edith Cresson were present at the event. Both were members of the government of Laurent Fabius while François Mitterrand was President of the Republic. It is not surprising that two ministers were present since the Centre de Prospective et d’Évaluation (CPE) was a service common to both ministries.


After finding this report, then photocopying it in the library, I literally devoured it – and then bought it on eBay. In 2018, it spells out a first clear message: the upheavals we are experiencing today are not new, even if they seem to be gathering momentum. Another message from Thierry Gaudin is that the cognitive revolution, reflected in the changes underway, has been ongoing since the start of the 1970s and will continue for several more decades.

I was not surprised then, as I am not surprised now. The conceptual context of the evolution of the technological system, leading to widespread change in all areas of society, is one I was familiar with. It had been taught to me at the University of Liège by Professor Pierre Lebrun, a historian and economist with a brilliant, incisive mind, whose astute words I would go and listen to, as one might listen to some freebooter down at the harbour. I taught this conceptual context to my students at Les Rivageois (Haute École Charlemagne) and at the High School Liège 2, and I teach it still at the University of Mons and even in Paris. Which is only fitting.

The analysis model for this context was conceptualised by Bertrand Gille, a technology historian and Professor at the École pratique des Hautes Études in Paris. In it, the director of the remarkable Histoire des Techniques in L’Encyclopédie de La Pléade, at Gallimard [13], clearly showed that it was the convergence of the rapid changes in the levels of training among the population and the spread of scientific and technical knowledge that was the driver of the technological progress that brought about the engineering Industrial Revolution. It will come as no surprise that Bertrand Gille was also a former teacher of Professor Robert Halleux, who was himself the founder of the Science and Technology Centre at the University of Liège. In this way, Bertrand Gille left his mark on several generations of researchers, historians and futurists, some devoting themselves to just one of the tasks, others to the other, and still others to both.

This model, which was reviewed by Jacques Ellul and Thierry Gaudin, imagines that the medieval technological system, highlighted by Fernand Braudel, Georges Duby and Emmanuel Leroy Ladurie, corresponds to an industrial technological system, which was the driving force and the product of an Industrial Revolution, described by Pierre Lebrun, Marinette Bruwier et al.[14], and, finally, a technological system under development, under construction, fostering the Intelligence Revolution and far from over. Land was key in the first revolution, capital in the second, and the third is based on the minds of men and women. Each time, it is materials, energy, the relationship with living beings and time that are involved.

In 1985, Raymond Collard explained what he had clearly understood from the report produced by Gaudin and Portnoff and the several hundred researchers they enlisted: the importance of the four major changes in the poles that are restructuring society:

– the huge choice of materials and their horizontal percolation, ranging from uses in the high-tech sectors to more common uses;

– the tension between nuclear power and saving energy resources, in a context of recycling;

– the relationship with living beings and the huge field of biotechnology, including genetics;

– the new structure of time punctuated in nanoseconds by microprocessors.

Raymond Collard explored all these points some time later in a remarkable speech to the first Wallonia toward the future Congress in Charleroi, in October 1987, entitled: Foresight 2007 … recovering from the crisis, changes in work production methods and employment, which is still available online on The Destree Institute website [15]. In this speech, Collard, who was Professor at the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Namur, noted the following: it has been written that microelectronics is intellectualising industry. We are experiencing an industrial revolution that can be described as an “intelligence revolution”. The development of the possibilities created by the dramatic advances in microelectronics has opened up vast spheres to computer technology. Tomorrow, we will make greater use of artificial intelligence, which will be in evidence everywhere with the implementation of fifth-generation computers [16].

The 1985 report by the CPE remains a mine of information for anyone wanting to understand the changes underway, by looking both retrospectively – examining futures that did not happen – and prospectively – envisaging possible futures to construct a desirable future. There are some precepts to be drawn that are useful mainly for higher educational institutions and our businesses. The following give us cause to reflect:

experience shows that the introduction of new technologies is harmonious only if the training comes before the machines” (p.15).

it is no longer possible to develop quality without giving each person control over their own work” (p.15).

giving a voice only to management means wasting 99% of the intellectual resources in the business” or the organisation. (…) Harnessing all the intelligence is becoming essential (p.42).

“a successful company is one that is best able to harness the imagination, intelligence and desire of its staff” (45).

“the new source of power is not money in the hands of a few, but information in the hands of many”. Quotation taken from the works of John Naisbitt (p.45).

But, above all, the text shows, in the words of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, that the essence of technology has nothing to do with technology [17]. Everything in technology was first dreamed up by man, and what has been successful has also been accepted by human society, states the report [18]. For this report on the state of technology is also a lesson in foresight. It reminds us, specifically through retrospect, that we are very poor at anticipating what does not already exist. Of course, as Gaston Berger stated on several occasions, the future does not exist as an object of knowledge. It exists solely as a land for conquest, desire and strategy. It is the place, along with the present, where we can innovate and create.

We often mistakenly believe that technologies will find their application very quickly or even immediately. Interviewed in February 1970 about 1980, the writer Arthur Koestler, author of Zero and Infinity, envisaged – as we do today – our houses inhabited by domestic robots that are programmed every morning. He imagined electric mini-cars in city centres closed to all other forms of traffic. He thought that telematic communications would, in 1980, allow us to talk constantly by video so as to avoid travelling. Interviewed at the same time, the great American futurist Herman Kahn, cofounder of the Hudson Institute, imagined that, in 1980, teaching would be assisted by computers which would play, for children, an educational role equivalent to the role filled by their parents and teachers[19].

The world continues to change, sustained, and also constrained, by the four poles. The transition challenges us and we are trying to give the impression that we are in control of it, even if we have no idea what we will find during its consolidation phase, sometime in the 22nd century.

Which jobs will survive these upheavals? Such foresight concerning jobs and qualifications is difficult. It involves identifying changes in employment and jobs while the labour market is changing, organisations are changing and the environment and the economic ecosystem are changing. But it also involves taking into account the possible life paths of the learners in this changing society [20], anticipating skills needs and measuring workforce turnover.

What we have also shown, by working with the area authorities, vocational education institutions and training bodies is that it is often at micro and territorial level that we are able to anticipate, since it seems that the project areas will be required, in ten to fifteen years at the latest, to be places for interaction and the implementation of (re)harmonised education, training and transformation policies for our society, with varying degrees of decentralisation, deconcentration, delegation, contractualisation and stakeholder autonomy. It is probably the latter context that will be the most creative and innovative, and one in which progress must be made. This requires cohesive, inspirational visions per area at the European, federal, regional and territorial level.

In leading the permanent Louvain Research and Development Group since the mid-1960s, particularly with the help of Philippe le Hodey and Michel Woitrin and the support of Professor Philippe de Woot, Raymond Collard had successfully set up and operated a genuine platform of the sort advocated by the European Commission today. Referring, as always, to Thierry Gaudin, he noted in 2000 that understanding innovation means grasping technology, not in terms of what is already there but in terms of revealing what is not yet there [21]. And although Raymond Collard recognised that this required a considerable R&D effort, he observed that this was not enough: as an act of creation which the market has to validate, innovation is the result of an interdisciplinary and interactive process, consisting of interactions within the business itself and between the business and its environment, particularly in terms of “winning” and managing knowledge and skills [22]. With, at the heart its approach, the idea, dear to François Perroux and highlighted by the work of the Louvain Research and Development Group in 2002, that a spirit is creative if it is both open and suited to combining what it receives and finding new combinatorial frameworks [23].

This thought is undoubtedly still powerful, and will remain so.

2. Foresight: from technological innovation to educational innovation

Like any historian, the futurist cannot work without raw material, without a source. For the latter, collective intelligence is the real fuel for his innovative capacity.

To that end, in 2000, The Destree Institute joined the Millennium Project. This global network for future studies and research was founded in 1996 in Washington by the American Council for the United Nations University, with the objective of improving the future prospects for humanity. It is a global participatory think tank, organised in more than sixty nodes, which are themselves heads of networks, involving universities, businesses and private and public research centres. Since 2002, The Destree Institute has represented the Brussels-Area Node which aims to be cross-border and connected with the European institutions [24].


In preparation for a wide-ranging study entitled Future Work/Technology 2050, the Millennium Project Planning Committee drafted some global scenarios to which they sought reactions from around 450 futurists and other researchers or stakeholders. A series of seminars was organised in twenty countries in order to identify the issues and determine appropriate strategies to address them. It was on this basis that a series of real-time consultations with experts (Real-Time Delphi) was organised on issues of education and learning, government and governance, businesses and work, culture and art and science and technology. From a series of 250 identified actions, 20 were selected by the panel of experts in the field of education and learning.

The complete list of the 20 actions is shown below. I have ordered them, for the first five at least, according to their level of relevance – effectiveness and feasibility –, as they were ranked by the international panel.

The first action on this list concerns the educational axes. This involves:

4. Increase focus on developing creativity, critical thinking, human relations, philosophy, entrepreneurship (individual and teams), art, self-employment, social harmony, ethics, and values, to know thyself to build and lead a meaningful working life with self-assessment of progress on one’s own goals and objectives (as Finland is implementing). 

The second will delight futurist teachers, since it involves:

20. Include futures as we include history in the curriculum. Teach alternative visions of the future, foresight, and the ability to assess potential futures. 

The third action is a measure of social cohesion:

6. Make Tele-education free everywhere; ubiquitous, lifelong learning systems.

The fourth, in my view, is probably the most important at the operational level:

2. Shift education/learning systems more toward mastering skills than mastering a profession. 

The fifth will totally transform the system:

3. In parallel to STEM (and/or STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) create a hybrid system of self-paced inquiry-based learning for self-actualization; retrain teachers as coaches using new AI tools with students.

The 15 other actions are listed in no particular order, some complementing initiatives on the ground, particularly in the Liège-Luxembourg academic Pole.

1. Make increasing individual intelligence a national objective of education (by whatever definition of intelligence a nation selects, increasing “it” would be a national objective). 

5. Continually update the way we teach and how we learn from on-going new insights in neuroscience. 

7. Unify universities and vocational training centres and increase cooperation between schools and outside public good projects.

8. Utilize robots and Artificial Intelligence in education. 

9. Focus on exponential technologies and team entrepreneurship.

10. Change curriculum at all levels to normalize self-employment. 

11. Train guidance counsellors to be more future-oriented in schools. 

12. Share the responsibility of parenting as an educational community. 

13. Promote “communities of practice” that continually seek improvement of learning systems. 

14. Integrate Simulation-Based Learning using multiplayer environments. 

15. Include learning the security concerns with respect to teaching (and learning) technology. 

16. Incorporate job market intelligence systems into education and employment systems. 

17. The government, employers across all industry sectors, and the labour unions should cooperate in creating adequate models of lifelong learning. 

18. Create systems of learning from birth to three years old; this is the key stage for developing creativity, personality. 

19. Create mass public awareness campaigns with celebrities about actions to address the issues in the great transitions coming up around the world [25].

We can appreciate that these actions do not all have the same relevance, status or potential impact. That is why the top five have been highlighted. However, the majority are based on a proactive logic of increasing our capacities for educating and emancipating men and women. The fact that these actions have been thought about on all continents, by disparate stakeholders, with a genuine convergence of thought, is certainly not insignificant.

3. Conclusion: in the long term, humans are the safest bet

As regards Wallonia, and Liège in particular, we are familiar with the need to create value collectively so that we are able to make ourselves autonomous and so that we can be certain of being able to face the challenges of the future. Without question, we must place social cohesion and energy and environmental risks at the top of this list of challenges. Innovative and creative capacities will be central to the skills that our young people and we ourselves must harness to address these challenges. These needs can be found at the core of the educational and learning choices up to 2050 identified by the Millennium Project experts.

The 1985 report on The Intelligence Revolution, as highlighted by Raymond Collard, is both distant from us in retroforesight terms and close to us in terms of the relevance of the long-term challenges it contains. In this respect, it fits powerfully and pertinently into our temporality. In the report, Thierry Gaudin and André-Yves Portnoff noted that setting creation in motion means sharing questions before answers and accepting uncertainty and drift. Dogmatism is no longer possible (…) as a result, utopia is evolving into realism. In the long term, humans are the safest bet [26].

Of course, betting on humans has to be the right decision. It is men and women who are hard at work, and who must remain so. This implies that they are capable of meeting the challenges, their own and also those of the society in which they operate. Technically. Mentally. Ethically.

Philippe Destatte


[1] This text is a revised version of a speech made at the start of the HELMo 2018-2019 academic year, on 18 September 2018, on the subject of The jobs of tomorrow... A question of intelligence.

[2] The experts that attended the IFTF workshop in March 2017 estimated that around 85% of the jobs that today’s learners will be doing in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. This makes the famous prediction that 65% of grade school kids from 1999 will end up in jobs that haven’t yet been created seem conservative in comparison. The next era of Human/Machine Partnerships, Emerging Technologies, Impact on Society and Work in 2030, Palo Alto, Cal., Institute for the Future – DELL Technologies, 2017.

[3] In particular, his best book: Jeremy RIFKIN, The End of Work, The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the PostMarket Era, New York, Tarcher, 1994.

[4] Chris ANDERSON, Makers, The New Industrial Revolution, New York, Crown Business, 2012.

[5] Dorothée KOHLER and Jean-Daniel WEISZ, Industrie 4.0, Les défis de la transformation numérique du modèle industriel allemand, p. 11, Paris, La Documentation française, 2016.

[6] François BOURDONCLE, La révolution Big Data, in Pierre VELTZ and Thierry WEIL, L’industrie, notre avenir, p. 64-69, Paris, Eyrolles-La Fabrique de l’Industrie, Colloque de Cerisy, 2015.

[7] Philippe DESTATTE, The New Industrial Paradigm, Keynote at The Industrial Materials Association (IMA-Europe) 20th Anniversary, IMAGINE event, Brussels, The Square, September 24th, 2014, Blog PhD2050, September 24, 2014.

[8] Thierry GEERTS, Digitalis, Comment réinventer le monde, Brussels, Racine, 2018.

[9] La Révolution de l’intelligence, Rapport sur l’état de la technique, Paris, Ministère de l’Industrie et de la Recherche, Sciences et Techniques Special Edition, October 1983.

[10] John NAISBITT, Megatrends, Ten New Directions Transforming our Lives, New York, Warner Book, 1982. – London and Sydney, Futura – Macdonald & Co, 1984.

[11] Alvin TOFFLER, The Third Wave, New York, William Morrow and Company, 1980.

[12] André-Yves PORTNOFF, Raymond Collard, un tisseur de liens, Note, Paris, 10 September 2018.

[13] Bertrand GILLE dir., Histoire des Techniques, Techniques et civilisations, Technique et sciences, Paris, Gallimard, 1978.

[14] Pierre LEBRUN, Marinette BRUWIER, Jan DHONDT and Georges HANSOTTE, Essai sur la Révolution industrielle en Belgique, 1770-1847, Brussels, Académie royale, 1981.

[15] Raymond COLLARD, Prospective 2007… sorties de la crise, transformations des modes de production, du travail et de l’emploi, dans La Wallonie au futur, Cahier n°2, p. 124, Charleroi, The Destree Institute, 1987.

[16] R. COLLARD, Prospective 2007…, p. 124.

[17] This was his 1953 lecture. Martin HEIDEGGER, Essais et conférences, Paris, Gallimard, 1958. – Our translation.

[18] La Révolution de l’intelligence…, p. 182.

[19] La Révolution de l’intelligence…, p. 24.

[20] Didier VRANCKEN, L’histoire d’un double basculement, preface to D. VRANCKEN, Le crépuscule du social, Liège, Presses universitaires de Liège, 2014.

[21] Thierry GAUDIN, Les dieux intérieurs, Philosophie de l’innovation, Strasbourg, Koenigshoffen, Cohérence, 1985.

[22] Raymond COLLARD, Le Groupe permanent Recherche – développement de Louvain, p. 11, Brussels, Centre scientifique et Technique de la Construction (CSTC), 2000.

[23] Permanent Leuven Research and Development Group, 37th year, Peut-on industrialiser la créativité?, 2002. – François PERROUX, Industrie et création collective, t. 1, Saintsimonisme du XXe siècle et création collective, p. 166, Paris, Presses universitaires de France, 1964.


[25] Jerome GLENN, Results of the Education and Learning Real-Time Delphi that assessed 20 long-range actions to address future works-technology dynamics, Sept 2, 2018.

[26] La Révolution de l’intelligence…, p. 187.

Hour-en-Famenne, August 29, 2017

If we set aside the political tactics, the individual frustrations of certain elected representatives and the bitterness of recent weeks during the summer of 2017 and regard them as setbacks, we might ponder the partial changes in majority in Wallonia in the light of the possible trajectories envisaged before the process initiated by Guy Lutgen, president of the Human Democratic Centre, or cdH, on 18 June 2017. An analysis of this kind had been carried out in 2016 by a group of independent actors and experts as part of the preparation for a conference organised by the Open University and the University of Mons (UMONS), in Charleroi [1]. This exercise was continued in 2017 with the Regional Foresight College of Wallonia, resulting in a Manifesto published in the journal L’Echo in March 2017 [2]. How should we try to interpret this at the end of August 2017?

First of all, we must consider the fact that those who had identified future bifurcations for Wallonia envisaged them only at the time of the next regional elections, in 2019 or 2024 – it is worth repeating that bifurcations are moments when the system can evolve in several directions and it follows one of the options open to it. Those observers did not necessarily see such bifurcations in changes in political majority, but thought instead that the scale of the expected transformation required an examination of the strength of the policies adopted, the problem being that the elected representatives in the majority that came to power in 2014 did not seem willing to implement them. As is often the case, incidentally, most of the elected representatives were concentrating on the demands of public opinion, as reported or stimulated by the press: providing responses to an effect of the disease symbolised by the benefits received by the ruling elite [3] rather than to the particularly disturbing socio-economic signals emerging from the actors and researchers [4].

The June 2017 wild-card

However, if we try to anticipate the bifurcations in order to prepare for them, and this was indeed the case for the elections in 2019 and 2024, we tend to forget that trajectories do not necessarily originate within the expected timescales: they may materialise spontaneously depending on their centre of gravity and the impetus they provide. This is what is called a wild-card, a major surprise or an unexpected, surprising and unlikely event that may have considerable impact if it occurs. In the exercise carried out on the trajectories for Wallonia, the experts chose various centres of gravity. However, they examined the uniqueness of the institutions of Wallonia and the political parties and identified the Elysette, the meeting place of the government, as the seat of regional power. This logic is fairly consistent, for example, with the bifurcation at the elections on 13 June 1999, with the emergence of the Rainbow government and the introduction of the Future Contract for Wallonia at the instigation of Minister-President Elio Di Rupo. This bifurcation offered a trajectory of potential transformation. We also know that clear bifurcations, major opportunities for change, might also not offer any positive change, as was the case with the communitisation of education in 1989 in which, ultimately, almost nothing happened due to the lack of an appropriate financing law and of any desire to change an educational model that clearly needed changing. But that, as Rudyard Kipling once wrote, is another story.

What we forget, however, and what may explain the events of this summer, is that the centre of gravity of the Wallonia trajectory has, to date, been located in the Elysette only to a very limited extent. Elio Di Rupo, who rose rapidly to become president of the Socialist Party, realised this in 1999 since he felt that the Boulevard de l’Empereur, headquarter of that party, restricted his political activity. In retrospect, there are two bifurcation moments that clearly illustrate the importance of the centre of gravity represented by the political parties. The first took place in 1997, just twenty years ago. The second was in 2005.

The Forgotten Bifurcation

1997: the president of the Christian Social Party (PSC) instigates a new Regional Policy Declaration (DPR)

Since 1994, Robert Collignon had led a Socialist-Christian Social coalition in the Wallonia Region. The Minister-President, who was in charge of the economy, was pursuing a policy of strengthening the existing centres of excellence: biogenetics and pharmaceuticals in Walloon Brabant, aeronautics in Charleroi, astronautics in Liège, environment in the Mons-Borinage region, water in Verviers, agrifoods in Gembloux, etc. He also restructured the steel industry and its three centres: Cockerill-Sambre, Forges de Clabecq and Boël La Louvière. However, at the end of May 1997, based on evidence that the economy of Wallonia was ailing, the President of the PSC (now the cdH), Charles-Ferdinand Nothomb, advocated a new regional policy declaration with some major reorientations to tackle both the economic and the political issues that had arisen in Wallonia. For the Christian Social president, it was a question of rebuilding people’s trust [5]. Since the first quarter of 1993, Wallonia industrial production had undergone a period of decline [6]. But of greater concern to the analysts assembled by the PSC were the comparisons they were drawing with Flanders over the long term: in particular, an unemployment rate that was twice as high in the south, an annual growth slowdown of 0.5 to 1%, a worrying investment rate and a negative trade balance[7]. For the PSC, and in particular for member of Parliament André Antoine, these economic problems were accompanied by a lack of public regulation [8]. A supplementary regional policy declaration was adopted in November 1997 and acted as a valuable recovery plan by promoting decompartmentalisation and transversality of action, calling for leadership from a Minister-President who had influence over his team, and offering new initiatives [9]. Seven years later, the 2004-2009 DPR indicated that an initial step towards recovery had been achieved by the 1997 supplementary regional policy declaration [10].

2005: the presidents of the cdH and the PS evoke the Marshall Plan

The second example is no longer fresh in people’s minds, even though the initiative continues to be at the heart of the political debates in Wallonia. It was June 2005 and Jean-Claude Van Cauwenberghe had been leading the government of Wallonia for five years. Since the 2004 elections, the Christian Socialists had replaced Liberals and Socialists as partners of the Socialists. The new DPR, mentioned above, stated as follows: Wallonia is recovering. But its economic weakness was so intense that the road to prosperity is still long! And then the phrase which has become a mantra for positive minds: One thing is certain: Wallonia has stopped declining [11].

But a year later, while the government was calmly undertaking its legislative work and implementing this regional policy declaration, cdH President Joëlle Milquet and PS President Elio Di Rupo, in turn, called for mobilisation. I’m calling for genuine Walloon action, declared the PS leader. We need a Marshall Plan for Wallonia that requires real ownership and accountability from everyone (government, unions, bosses, universities, teachers, organisations). It’s urgent. It is imperative that we all quantify the actions to be implemented and measure their effectiveness. We know that there are problems in Wallonia despite an improvement which, whatever people say, is still insufficient. The government has taken some positive steps through its strategic plan to stimulate activity. But the best measures in the world are worthless if they are not implemented on the ground. We must all roll up our sleeves; we are at a pivotal moment in Wallonia’s history [12]. Once again, it was clear, as reported by the journalist Didier Grogna at the time, that the President of the Socialist Party was aware of the worsening economic situation in Wallonia and the criticisms levelled at the Socialist partner by cdH vice-president André Antoine, especially concerning the problems experienced by the Minister-President in fulfilling his mandate. As the L’Echo columnist explained: We must shift mindsets and dare to say « no » to Socialist sub-localism; we must be bold enough to shake up the acquired rights and some of the « questionable » behaviour within the public bodies. It seems increasingly unlikely that Jean-Claude Van Cauwenberghe will be able to stay the course for the entire legislature. It appears inevitable that he will be replaced. But by whom? Who will dare to confront the local political bosses who have not been held to account for decades? Wallonia needs a Marshall Plan; that means putting political differences aside and all moving in the same direction[13]. Thus, throughout the summer of 2005, the government of Wallonia was bypassed by the presidents of both parties who, themselves, presented the Priority Plan for Wallonia to the press and, it seems, to the government. The PS and the cdH remained united or, in any event, given the agenda of the declarations in 2005 and 1997, the Socialist presidents adopted the Christian Socialists’ state of mind and expressed their own position alongside them. It is clear that the relations between Nothomb and Busquin were very constructive, as were those between Elio Di Rupo and Joëlle Milquet subsequently. Those relationships were clearly not working in 2017 since, for the first time since it came into being, therefore nearly 25 years, the constructive no-confidence ejector seat was activated to the detriment of the Socialists.

As we can see, 1997 and 2005 represent forced bifurcations, probably even wild-cards, originating from the centre of gravity of the political parties that formed the government majority, and they may help with our understanding of 2017.

A trajectory of hope, two years ahead of time

What seems to have been the problem in early summer 2017 is not so much the issue of the poor governance that has seriously affected almost the entire political world in Wallonia, but rather the convergence of opinion between these « matters » and the now evident inability to respond to the maldevelopment in Wallonia. Admittedly, in the strategy put forward by cdH President Benoît Lutgen, it was these cases of poor governance that constituted the casus belli, which caused scepticism among a number of observers since the cdH itself was also not exempt from criticism. However, as the leader of the Christian Social group reminded the gallery in the Parliament of Wallonia on 28 July, it would be wrong to downplay the signs which confirmed, in 1997 and in 2005, that Wallonia was not on the right road to recovery, since they came from the Economic and Social Council, the universities and the Business Association of Wallonia (Union wallonne des Entreprises). The trend trajectory, entitled Au fil de l’eau… usée, written in February 2016 by the working party assembled for the initiative organised by the Open University and UMONS, is particularly revealing. I quote as follows:

If we practice governance from another time, with an artificial evaluation and a lack of anticipation, if we are incapable of dealing with budgetary challenges and social and territorial cohesion challenges, if we are unable to survive electoral shocks in 2019 and 2024, the seventh reform of the State and the structuring of the skills and resources dedicated to teaching, training, research, etc., we will jeopardise regional cohesion. Wallonia would then experience a downward spiral that would challenge Walloon social and territorial cohesion.

It should be noted that the working party addressed the issues of future symmetries or asymmetries between coalitions at the various power levels and therefore the possibilities of accepting them more normally and more sincerely than in the current onerous climate of dissension. The participants also noted that political life in Wallonia is characterised by its stability concerning a central point, namely the permanence of the Socialist Party in power, with the resulting dominance across the entire political and administrative landscape. As one of the rapporteurs writes, by refraining, however, from expressing political opinions, and especially preferences, it is arguable that (sometimes, often, …) this stability may be confused, or risks being confused, with a certain rigidity. Yet the theory that the PS might be relegated to regional opposition is not beyond the realm of possibility: this is demonstrated by the results of the 2007 legislative elections and the remarkable scope given to the « little » Ecolo parties and the cdH to choose their « major » partner for federal coalitions in 2009. Whatever we think, and whatever the consequences (particularly institutional and administrative), this fundamental change in political habits would represent a major discontinuity in the regional common thread.

Admittedly, alternative trajectories were expected and they will, perhaps, be reviewed to establish whether they are the ones that the bifurcation of summer 2017 will bring. However, it is my conviction that, in addition to what might be a political game and contrary to what was said the day after this bifurcation, Wallonia, in the way that it was being run by the Magnette-Prévot government, was not on the road to recovery. Not because its policies were inadequate – both camps praised the Marshall Plan, its competitiveness centres, Creative Wallonia, the Digital Plan, etc., and the initiative of the Socialist Minister for the Economy, Jean-Claude Marcourt –, but because the mobilisation of the actors was not addressed and sufficient resources had not been allocated to the recovery and therefore to allow the economy to take off.

If we accept this idea, the new bifurcation undoubtedly represents the hope that stems from a transformative, regenerative trajectory that may finally materialise for Wallonia. This is the current rhetoric of the new government led by Willy Borsus. Admittedly, rhetoric is not a trajectory. If the new Minister-President succeeds in mobilising the men, women and resources in Wallonia to realise our redeployment ambitions, the change in majority will allow the regeneration to happen two years ahead of time, which is valuable particularly for those who have suffered from Wallonia’s maldevelopment for too long.


Philippe Destatte


[1] Philippe DESTATTE, Les trajectoires prospectives de la Wallonie (2016-2036), in Virginie de MORIAME and Giuseppe PAGANO, Où va la Wallonie? Actes du cycle de conférences UO-UMONS, p. 65-87, Charleroi, Open University, 2016. – Blog PhD2050, Charleroi, 25 February 2016,

[2] Wallonie, la trajectoire socio-économique, résolument, in L’Echo, 10 March 2017.

[3] I use this term in the Russian sense employed by Alain Rey which refers to the members of the regime who are entitled to exceptional prerogatives. A. REY dir. Dictionnaire historique de la langue française, p. 2389, Paris, Le Robert, 2006.

[4] See inter alia the convergence of the following analyses: Regards sur la Wallonie 2016, Liège, CESW, June 2016. – Etudes sur la situation de l’entreprise, Portrait des Entreprises en Wallonie, Evolution, Wavre, UWE, 08/2016. – Séries statistiques du marché du travail en Wallonie, Namur, IWEPS, December 2016. – Communiqué de presse du 10 février 2017 relatif aux comptes régionaux, Brussels, Banque nationale, Institut des Comptes nationaux, 4 p. – Paola ANNONI, Lewis DIJKSTRA & Nadia GARGANO, The EU Regional Competitiveness Index 2016, WP02/2017, European Commission, Regional and Urban Policy, 2017. – Rapport sur l’économie wallonne 2017, Namur-Liège, SOGEPA – SPW-DGO6 – IWEPS, February 2017. – Didier PAQUOT, Economie wallonne: 15 ans de plans de redressement, où en est-on? Speech to the Financial Forum of the Banque nationale, Louvain-la-Neuve, Ephec, 27 April 2017.

[5] Nothomb réclame une nouvelle déclaration, in L’Echo, 27 May 1997. – Nothomb réclame un grand pacte social: « Quand le temps du devoir de deuil sera passé, il faudra redonner confiance aux gens, Interviewed by Vincent JUMEAU and Jean-Léon WAUTERS, in L’Echo, 24 May 1997.

[6] Tendances économiques, SES, no.16, June 1999, p. 38.

[7] Une Wallonie moderne, Congrès de Liège du 24 mai 1997, Actes, p. 16sv, Brussels, PSC, 1997.

[8] André ANTOINE, De la nécessité de sortir du pragmatisme sous-régional en Wallonie, dans Une Wallonie moderne, Congrès de Liège du 24 mai 1997, Actes, p. 56-58, Brussels, PSC, 1997.

[9] Marnix BEYEN and Philippe DESTATTE, Un autre pays, Nouvelle histoire de Belgique 1970-2000, [volume 9 of the Nouvelle Histoire politique de la Belgique contemporaine de 1830 à nos jours, under the direction of Michel Dumoulin, Vincent Dujardin and Mark Van den Wijngaert], coll. Histoire, p. 272-273, Brussels, Le Cri, 2009, 428 p.

[10] Déclaration de politique régionale 2004-2009, p. 3, slnd, 2004, p. 3, 153 p.

[11] Ibidem.

[12] Elio Di Rupo appelle à un “sursaut” wallon et veut mettre fin au sous-localisme, Interview, in L’Echo, 11 June 2005.

[13] Didier GROGNA, L’argent n’est pas tout, in L’Echo, 8 June 2005.

Boston, April 30, 2018

In order to conclude the symposium Grappling with the Futures, Insights from History, Philosophy, and Science, Technology and Society, hosted in Boston by Harvard University (Department of the History of Science) and Boston University (Department of Philosophy) on Sunday, April 29 and Monday, April 30, 2018, the organizers wanted to hear about related organizations or initiatives. They wanted to both learn more about them and figure out the potential added value of these possible new additions to the network, which should not duplicate existing ones and should foster mutually beneficial synergies. We therefore heard from Ted Gordon for the Millennium Project, Keri Facer for the Anticipation Conference, Cynthia Selin for the Arizona State University initiatives, Terry Collins for the Association of Professional Futurists, Philippe Durance for the CNAM, Jenny Andersson and Christina Garsten for the Global Foresight Project[1], and myself for The Destree Institute. This paper is a revised version of my short contribution given in this final panel.

 1. A Trajectory from Local to Global

Some groups mainly know The Destree Institute as a local NGO with quite a long history (it will be 80 years old in June 2018) of modest size (10 researchers), a foundation that operates as a ‘think and do tank’ and is close to the Parliament of Wallonia and government, a partner of the regional administration and very open to the world of entrepreneurship. It works at the crossroads between five or six universities in cross-border collaboration. Twenty years ago now, after 15 years of research in history and future studies, The Destree Institute created its Foresight Unit, supplementing this last year with a laboratory of collective, public and entrepreneurial policies for Wallonia in Europe: the Wallonia Policy Lab [2]. Its work in this area is intellectually supported by a Regional Foresight College consisting of 30 leaders from various spheres of society.

To others, The Destree Institute is first and foremost a European and global research Centre in the field of foresight, a worldwide NGO with a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and an official partner of UNESCO (with consultative status) since 2012; a member of the Open Government Partnership Civil Society Community; a founder of the Brussels Area Node of the Millennium Project; a leading partner of many European initiatives; and the headquarters of the Millennia2025 Women and Innovation Foundation, a global foresight initiative for women’s empowerment and equality, involving more than 10,000 members, researchers and grassroots workers in five continents, whose international foresight research process was launched in 2008 with the support of the Millennium Project and the patronage of UNESCO’s Director-General.

Both views are correct. The Destree Institute’s development from a local history research Centre in Wallonia to a European and global foresight actor is easily traced; at the same time, it has succeeded in maintaining strong local roots.

One of the main ambitions and achievements of The Destree Institute lies in its ability to develop a strong operational conception of foresight. We use foresight not only to think about the future but to shift the system, to trigger transition and transformation. Far from just thinking that one could modify the future simply by looking at it, Gaston Berger – whose importance has been emphasized by the organizers of the symposium – saw change as a process that is hard to implement and difficult to conduct, as the American researchers in social psychology whose models inspired him had shown. Berger particularly referred to the theories of change and transformation processes described by Kurt Lewin, Ronald Lippitt, Jeanne Watson and Bruce Westley[3]. With this in mind, we developed in 2010 a tool named the Bifurcation Method (in the sense of ‘bifurcations’ used by Nobel Prize-Winner Ilya Prigogine) in order to identify the different moments when the system, or a part of it, or an actor, could take different directions or trajectories. We first apply this tool to the past in what we call the retroforesight phase, identifying trajectories that could have been taken at particular past moments and what developments would have ensued. We can then use the techniques of foresight to try to identify bifurcations and trajectories in the future, using institutional rendezvous, assumptions and wildcards, events of low probability but with high impacts which can open up the cone of the future and cause movement in the system.

In this way, we are able to structure concrete operational work drawing on the kind of expertise described during the symposium by historians, philosophers, STS experts and others.

2. History does not hold the keys to the future

From History to Foresight is also the title of a well-known book by Pierre Chaunu [4]. It was written by the great French historian and Sorbonne professor in 1975 for a collection named Liberty 2000.

Chaunu wrote that a good reading of the present, integrating the past, leads imperceptibly to the future. It is, by nature, foresight-oriented [5]. He added that this foresight is, of course, linked to the idea of mankind. It therefore involves the « unfolding » of history [6]. He also observed: History does not hold the keys to the future. It cannot map out the path, but a history that is made part of the human sciences can correct us; it can impose a check on infantile projections that are captive to the short term [7]. I think that the integration of future studies in the human sciences will always remain a real and difficult challenge.

Those who were able to attend the Harvard meeting certainly feel, as I do, that more than 40 years after Chaunu’s analysis, we are fully on track to achieve the aims that the main organizer Yashar Saghai (Johns Hopkins University) proposed at the opening of the symposium for the meeting and its follow-up: to end isolation within each discipline (history, philosophy, science, technology and society) and between countries, to learn from each other in depth beyond interdisciplinary conferences, to gain an up-to-date knowledge of current research, to deepen connections with future studies practitioners and theorists. Yashar also insisted on the importance of probing the needs for a permanent network or platform for our communities. The challenge is, as Riel Miller said in his keynote address but also in his new book[8], to reinforce our understandings, practices and capacities.

3. Main requirements for a permanent network or platform

With its partners, The Destree Institute has launched and/or managed many networks and platforms in the last twenty years: the Millennia2015 foresight process, the Millennia2025 Foundation, the Internet Society Wallonia Chapter, the European Regional Foresight College, the European Millennium Project Nodes Initiative (EuMPI), the Regional Foresight College of Wallonia, the Wallonia Territorial Intelligence Platform, etc.

In all cases, the main requirements were the same:

1. to define clear aims that make sense and generate a desire to involve all the actors. These goals should be understood by all the partners without ambiguity. Clarifying words and concepts is a key task for all scientific ambition, and as such is shared by the futurists;

2. to stay firmly connected to the ground and able to come back to the present: what we will do tomorrow needs to be thought about in the present. We need our heads in the stars but our feet in the clay…

3. to fight against certainty. We often talk in terms of trying to throw light on our uncertainties, but we should also fight our great certainties about our disciplines, our fields, our methods and our perceptions of the world;

4. good leadership with proper respect for the members. In March 2018, the Women’s Economic Forum awarded my colleague Marie-Anne Delahaut the Woman of the Decade in Community Leadership Prize for her work for Millennia2025 [9]. We all know how sensitive these tasks are;

5. professionalism in management, because we need to improve our work and gain precious time for our researchers instead of wasting it;

6. relevant communication materials (logos, websites, etc.), although I tend to say, as General de Gaulle might have done, that logistics should follow ideas rather than vice versa;

7. and finally, as Professor Michel Godet often repeats, loyalty, competence and pleasure.

Pleasure in thinking together, pleasure in working hard together, pleasure in meeting together.

I feel that we have assembled these ingredients during these two days shared at Harvard and Boston Universities. Thank you to the organizers for bringing us together.


Philippe Destatte



On the same subject: What is foresight?

Direct access to Philippe Destatte’s English papers


[1] Global Foresight Project :

[2] Philippe DESTATTE, A Wallonia Policy Lab on the Foresight Trajectory, Blog PhD2050, Namur, April 11, 2018,

[3] Gaston BERGER, L’Encyclopédie française, vol. XX : Le Monde en devenir, 1959, p. 12-14, 20, 54, in Phénoménologie du temps et prospective, p. 271, Paris, PuF, 1964.

[4] Pierre CHAUNU, De l’histoire à la prospective, Paris, Robert Lafont, 1975.

[5] Une bonne lecture du présent intégrante du passé débouche, insensiblement, sur l’avenir, elle est, par nature, prospective. P. CHAUNU, op. cit. p., 283.

[6] Elle est, bien évidemment, liée à une idée de l’homme. Elle implique donc le « déroulé » de l’histoire. Ibidem, p. 285.

[7] L’Histoire n’a pas les clefs de l’avenir, elle ne peut pas tracer la voie, mais une histoire intégrée aux sciences de l’homme peut rectifier, elle peut réduire les projections enfantines, prisonnières du temps court. Ibidem.

[8] Riel MILLER, Transforming the future, Anticipation in the 21st Century, Paris-Abingdon, UNESCO-Routledge, 2018.


Liège, 22 September 2017 [1]

Foresight is firmly on the agenda in Wallonia for the educational year 2017-2018. In Liège, at the instigation of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum of Liège Creative, companies such as Engie and Citius Engineering, operators such as GRE and Liège-Métropole, the University and the Institut Destrée will gather on 2 October for an event on Foresight as a tool of transformation in a context of economic and territorial change [2]. In Charleroi, the Opened University, The University of Mons and The Destree Institute are launching a university certificate devoted to operational foresight this academic year [3]. In Namur, the Regional Foresight College of Wallonia has, since 26 August, marked its resumption of activities after Summer at the Cercle of Wallonia with a seminar dedicated to R&D and the challenges of innovation for Europe and Wallonia. Also in Namur, the foresight work of the Wallonia Territorial Intelligence Platform has fuelled the strategic thinking of the Territorial Development Unit and the Standing Conference on Territorial Development (CPDT) to contribute at the beginning of 2018 to the development of a new Territorial Development Plan. In Liège, again, the Strategic Intelligence Research Group (GRIS) at HEC will on 4 October be considering ‘Interpretations of reality and decision-making. The shape of intelligence for tomorrow, in collaboration with the Digital Café, IWEPS and The Destree Institute [4]. Not to mention the Academic Pole Liège-Luxembourg which, at the beginning of September, held a seminar at the Château de Colonster to define a vision for 2030, led by the last spin-off of the Institut Destrée, Pro Te In. Clearly, raising an issue such as research into teaching young people foresight (the Young Foresight Research initiative) is essential today and falls on fertile ground.


Useful concepts and required skills

Citizenship, complexity and foresight, which we consider in this paper, are among those ‘useful concepts’ that are described by Philippe Meirieu as illuminating our experience and enabling us to organise, understand and control it, ‘rather than whatever external factors compel me to refrain from doing so, or artificially complicate my problems. A “useful concept”,’ the educationalist writes, ‘does not replace previous knowledge, although it may shake up my thinking: it gives form to my experience, makes reality easier to grasp and enables me to act on it’[5].

Citizenship refers to the recognition of a person’s participation in a community, in the form of a legal status with associated freedoms, rights and duties, of a share in sovereignty and of political legitimacy. The notion is historically conditioned and profoundly subject to evolution, and we may therefore join Dominique Schnapper in considering how it should be revisited to ensure ‘that it effectively organises collective behaviour in societies open to the world, where the economy now plays a preeminent role’ [6]. Foresight is a process of cross-disciplinary collective intelligence, which works with long term, temporality and the analysis of complex systems to act on the present and bring about transformations [7]. Complex thinking develops a multidimensional knowledge of systems, discerns the ways in which they are incomplete and the uncertainty of their evolution, and recognises and distinguishes the interaction (and retroaction) between their elements, yet avoids considering them in isolation from each other, from their context, from their antecedents and from their likely future [8]. The analysis of complexity is without doubt a form of insurance against over-simplicity, off-the-peg intellectualism, the pressing certainties of the immediate, and the commonplaces of the digital gurus who would have us believe that any form of future intelligence of any importance can only be artificial. In a now famous lecture given at UNESCO in 2016, Edgar Morin emphasised that complex thinking has the virtue of providing a potential response to the crisis of thought. What makes it so necessary, said the author of La Méthode, is its four capacities, the fact that complex thinking is simultaneously:

– able to grasp the relationships between numerous different processes,

– able to detect antagonisms and complementarities,

– able to expect the unexpected,

– able to scrutinise the probable and the improbable.

This is why, said Morin, complex thinking has now become both urgent and vital [9]. We may add that these four qualities are also among those we recognise in foresight.

André-Yves Portnoff was obviously right to point out, almost fifteen years ago, that a revolution in intelligence, which he had already identified twenty years earlier with Thierry Gaudin, preceded and encompassed the digital turn. This revolution in intelligence was of course not just technological, just as the current transformations are clearly not just technological. In fact, the intelligence revolution primarily calls into question and challenges our human capacities, our skills, our ability to use knowledge and expertise to obtain a desired result. Such skills, he said, enable us to produce more and more value by processing the growing mass of information available. As Portnoff notes, it is skill that gives value to information [10]. Of course, it has become commonplace today to distinguish knowledge from both understanding and information. The first relates to elaborate cognitive abilities and mobilises creativity in the form of concepts, methods, theories and so on – all the rules that cannot be simply codified once and for all, or for which information cannot be obtained or stored in bulk. It is here that the human being will remain superior to artificial intelligence, for a long time to come. Understanding (savoir) takes the form of both attitude (savoir-être) and know-how (savoir-faire), and focuses on the production of applied knowledge and learning abilities. Information is merely the raw material of knowledge. We must submit it to rigorous and methodical criticism before any use is made of it [11]. Robots will be able to help us in this task, but again, our confidence in them must remain a matter of dispute for a long time to come.

Who could believe for a moment that the skills required in the 21st century are and will be the same as those needed in the societies of the past? No one doubts that these skills will be supplemented by others. Nevertheless, our analysis is that however they evolve, foresight and complex thinking will remain necessary skills for future generations. Systems have, as Donella H. Meadows has done well to remind us, the property of self-organisation, the capacity to develop themselves, to create new structures, to learn, to diversify, and to become more complex [12].

Teaching foresight

The study day organised by The Destree Institute on 22 September 2017 at the Economic and Social Council of Wallonia marks the end of the first phase of the interuniversity research project on new prospects for the development of foresight in Wallonia. It focuses on the question of the acculturation of young people to foresight and on the learning of the processes and methods of studying the future in secondary and higher education [13]. This initiative is inspired by and is forming collaborative partnerships with similar experiments developed in the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, the United States and now France. Synergies have been established with the work of Peter Bishop at the University of Houston (Texas) and of Erica Bol in Europe around Teach the Future, whose highly innovative initiatives we have followed from the start. Links have also been formed with the experiments developed by Michel Lussault, former director of the French Institute of Education, who has trialled a course in prospective geography at three academies – Lyon, Lille and Aix-Marseille. The objective of The Destree Institute is to come up with a robust methodological framework as well as a series of credible proposals for implementation in Wallonia and Brussels. The research builds on our previous experiments with young people in connection with Wallonia 2020 in which, together with my futurist colleague Pascale Van Doren, we involved a class of the Institut Félicien Rops of Namur, three classes of the Athénée of Soumagne and a class of the Institut provincial d’Enseignement technique of Nivelles from 2002 and 2003 onwards. On the initiative of Engelbert Petre, we continued this experiment with an arts centre, the Maison culturelle d’Ath, and a dialogue – not a very fruitful one, it must be admitted – with the Minister of Education at that time, Ms Marie Arena. We also knew about the projects and findings of Young Foresight in the UK and Jugend denkt Zukunft [14] in Germany, which our colleagues Gordon Ollivere (RTC North, Sunderland) and Henning Banthien (IFOK Berlin) had sent us at that time. We have of course stayed in touch with them. The current research, Wallonia Young Foresight, also builds on the work carried out over the last year by an interdisciplinary team of researchers consisting of Chloë Vidal, a geography PhD and philosopher, Fabien Moustard, a graduate in earth sciences and political scientist, and Michaël Van Cutsem, a political scientist and urban planner. They have formed international contacts, notably on the basis of several relationships identified within European programmes previously carried out by The Destree Institute, in particular ForLearn and the Mutual Learning Platform. All these efforts have been supported by the Minister for Research and Higher Education, Jean-Claude Marcourt. The very concrete objective of this initiative is therefore to draw up a review of experiments at the international level, to identify European actors and to found a network of these actors who recognise the growing importance that foresight activities can play in the work of science (teaching or research) and the shaping of public policy. The common denominator of the various projects identified will be that they draw attention to foresight as a form of civic education that promotes the learning of science (territorial, political and social sciences). This twofold challenge – both educational (enabling young people to become the drivers of their own learning and authors of their own knowledge) and developmental (guiding young people to become citizens) – calls for a multidisciplinary and multi-factorial approach that assigns an important role to the humanities and the arts; input is thus also provided by initiatives such as the biennial event Nos Futurs, launched by Théâtre Nouvelle Génération in Lyon in autumn 2016, or the exhibition A Temporary Futures Institute, organised at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp in summer 2017.

To help it carry out this task successfully, the Institut Destrée has the support of three universities of Wallonia and of the intellectual forum of the Regional Foresight College of Wallonia, which is open to actors from business, research, the public sector and civil society. Three university representatives have agreed to get involved in supporting this research and contributing to its interuniversity character:

– Christian de Visscher, Professor of Political Science and Public Management, President of the Institute of Political Sciences of Louvain-Europe, Co-Director of the Montesquieu Centre for Public Policy Studies, Catholic University of Louvain;

– Didier Vrancken, Professor of Sociology, Director of the Centre for Sociological Research and Action, President of the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Liège;

– Giuseppe Pagano, Professor of Economics, Vice-Rector for Institutional and Regional Development at the University of Mons, Director of the Public Finance and Tax Service and General Coordinator of the University of Mons for the Charleroi site.

Three functions of thinking

The same design has been used for the study day of 22 September 2017 as that recommended in our foresight exercises; in other words, it uses the triple functionality that is at the heart of Thierry Gaudin’s Discours de la méthode créatrice, itself inspired by the works of Georges Dumézil. Thinking, according to this interpretation, is based on a triple recognition which constitutes the principle and process by which the mind returns to the vicinity of where it has been and recognises:

  1. recognition of things, in which we dance around the object in order to determine the facts; the mind focuses on that which exists, on gathering data, on establishing reality, on analysis;
  2. recognition of others, in which we dance with other subjects in order to deliberate; the mind focuses on interaction, on the deliberation that takes the researcher or actor further with his or her thinking and allows other points of view to be compared;
  3. self-recognition, in which, by a kind of withdrawal, we dance with ourselves, we conceptualise: this is the dance of the neurons, writes Gaudin, the waking dreams in which illumination arises among the members of a nucleus, and key concepts emerge.

This tri-functional approach is a powerful cognitive tool [15].

Thus, all our actions are structured firstly on exposition, analysis and criticism of the facts, then on deliberation, and finally on the work of conceptualisation.

We also wish to recall the ultimate goals of all our efforts. We defined these throughout our Wallonia in the future process culminating in the charter of The Destree Institute; they were last revised in 2013 and are formulated as a twofold objective: an exemplary democracy – today we might use the term ‘open’ – and better development, which we specified as being ‘sustainable’. As we conceive it, following Gro Harlem Brundtland, such development is systemic, links together all spheres of society, represents a long-term approach and leads to concrete action. Understood in this way, there could be no better way to embrace such development than through foresight.

Philippe Destatte



[1] This paper is a revised version of the opening contribution to the study day Wallonia Young Foresight Research, Learning in the 21st c.: citizenship, complexity and foresight, organised by The Destree Institute and the Regional Foresight College of Wallonia with the support of the Federation Wallonia-Brussels and held at the Economic and Social Council of Wallonia in Liège on 22 September 2017.




[5] Philippe MEIRIEU, Apprendre, oui, mais comment…, p. 27, Paris, ESF, 24th ed., 2016.

[6] Dominique SCHNAPPER, Citoyenneté, in Encyclopaedia Universalis, vol. 5, p. 915-917, Paris, EU, 2002. – D. SCHNAPPER, L’esprit démocratique des lois, p. 46ff., Paris, Gallimard, 2014. – Thierry BALZACQ et al., Fondements de science politique, p. 103, Louvain-la-Neuve, De Boeck, 2014.

[7] Philippe DESTATTE, What is foresight?, Blog PhD2050, May 30, 2013.

[8] Edgar MORIN, Introduction à la pensée complexe, p. 11-12, Paris, Seuil, 2005.

[9] E. MORIN, Congrès mondial pour la pensée complexe, Paris, UNESCO, 9 December 2016.

[10] Pierre-Yves PORTNOFF, Le pari de l’intelligence, Des puces, des souris et des hommes, p. 7, Paris, Futuribles, 2004.

[11] Pierre MUSSO, « Révolution numérique » et « société de la connaissance » in Ena hors des murs, p. 48, 1 April 2014.

[12] Donella H. MEADOWS, Thinking in systems, A primer, p. 81, London, Earthscan, 2009.

[14] Jugend denkt Zukunft

[15] Thierry GAUDIN, Discours de la méthode créatrice, Entretiens avec François L’Yvonnet, p. 77-79, Gordes, Ose savoir – Le Relié, 2003.

Namur, April 11, 2018

There are some words that we try in vain to translate but do not manage to clarify satisfactorily. This is the case with the English words policy and policies. We can, of course, get close to the meaning when, in French, we allude to une politique [1] or les politiques publiques. Except that policy does not necessarily relate to a political context [2] and does not always belong to the register of the public arena. The Oxford English Dictionary defines policy as a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organisation or individual [3]. Policies can therefore be organisational, corporate, individual or collective, and can assume multiple forms, from intention to action, including streams of ideas and their execution in legislation, regulatory implementation and everyday changes [4]. For a long time, the Anglo-Saxon academic world has adopted the distinction between politics and policies, indicating moreover that policies may be public. Thus the London School of Economics and Political Science distinguishes between British Politics and Policy and UK Government, Politics and Policy [5].


1. Intentions, decisions, objectives and implementation

Drawing its inspiration from the works of theorists in the concept, especially the Yale University professors Harold Dwight Lasswell (1902-1978) [6] and Aaron Wildavsky (1930-1993) [7], the Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration (ed. 2015) defines Policy as a decision or, more broadly, a series of interlinked decisions relating to a range of objectives and the means of implementing them. The author of the definition, William H. Park, a lecturer and researcher at a British military academy [8], states that this process involves identifying a problem that requires a solution or an objective that is worth achieving, evaluating the alternative means of attaining the desired results, choosing between these alternatives and implementing the preferred option, in addition to solving the problem or achieving the objective. Park observes that such a process should entail the participation of a limited number of decision-makers, a high degree of consensus on what constitutes a policy problem or a desirable objective, a capacity for evaluating and comparing the probable consequences of each of the alternatives, a smooth implementation of the chosen option and the absence of any impediments to achieving the objectives. This also implies that this process ends with the execution and implementation of the decision [9]. Clearly, however difficult it may be to grasp the notion, it is above all the rationality of the process that seems to characterise it [10]. There is also the fact that, as Lasswell points out, policy approaches tend toward contextuality in place of fragmentation and toward problem-oriented not problem-blind perspectives [11]. This second consideration points to the systemic aspect, which we prioritise in foresight – even if it is beyond the context. Furthermore, according to the Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, policy studies and foresight share the characteristic of being explicitly normative and fundamentally action-oriented [12]. They are also normative because they rely on values that determine their objectives. In what Yehezkel Dror calls Grand Policies, the common good, the public interest and the good of humanity as a whole, or raison d’humanité, are pursued to highlight strategies. As the former professor of political science and politics at Harvard and the University of Jerusalem points out, Grand Policies try to reduce the probability of bad futures, to increase the probability of good futures, as their images and evaluations change with time, and to gear up to coping with the unforeseen and the unforeseeable[13]. Unsurprisingly, to achieve this, Dror particularly recommends engaging in thinking-in-History and practising foresight [14].

2. In governance: identifying and organising the actors

Democratic governance, in other words governance by the actors, – including the Administration [15] –, particularly as highlighted since the early 1990s by the Club of Rome and the United Nations Development Programme[16], also shows, as sociologist Patrice Duran has pointed out, that government institutions have lost their monopoly on governance [17]. This observation was also made by David Richards and Martin J. Smith in their analysis of the links between governance and public policy in the United Kingdom. For these two British political scientists, governance demands that we consider all the actors and locations beyond the « core executive » involved in the policy making process [18]. If we take proper account of this trend, we can make a distinction, as Duran does, between the two complementary rationales on which public action as a process is founded:

– an identification rationale, which makes it possible to determine the relevant actors, define the scope of their involvement and specify their degree of legitimacy; the challenge relates to the status of the actors in the sense that this determines their authority and thereby their legitimacy to act.

– a rationale for organising these actors for the purpose of producing effective action. The actors are also evaluated on what they do, in other words on their contribution to dealing with the problems identified as public problems which are therefore the responsibility of the public authorities. It is their power to act, in the sense of their capacity to act, that is at stake here rather than their authority [19]. This way of understanding governance and of giving the government an instrumental role in collective action has been at the heart of our approach for twenty years [20]. It clearly implies societal objectives that support a vision, shared by the actors, of a desirable future for all. We have often summarised these objectives as being the shared requirement for greater democracy and better development [21]. But, as Philippe Moreau Defarges rightly pointed out, the public interest no longer comes from the top down, but develops, flows and belongs to whoever exploits it [22]. Moreover, it is from this perspective that the rationale of empowerment is not only reserved for elected officials with responsibility for the issues under their mandate but extends to other stakeholders in distributed, shared, democratic governance [23], especially the Administration, businesses and civil society [24].

3. Supporting a Policy Lab for the Independent Regional Foresight Unit

Following the meeting with Minister-President Willy Borsus on 15 September 2017 and with the board of directors of the The Destree Institute on 5 December 2017, the Destree Institute revived its Foresight Unit under the name CiPré (Cellule indépendante de Prospective régionale – Independent Regional Foresight Unit) and backed the creation of a laboratory for collective, public and entrepreneurial policies for Wallonia in Europe: the Wallonia Policy Lab. This has been modelled on the EU Policy Lab, set up by the European Joint Research Centre and presented by Fabiana Scapolo, deputy head of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, during the conference entitled Learning in the 21st century: citizenship, foresight and complexity, organised in the Economic and Social Council of Wallonia by The Destree Institute on 22 September 2017 as part of the Wallonia Young Foresight Research programme.

According to its own introduction, the European Policy Lab represents a collaborative and experimental space for developing innovative public or collective policies. Both a physical space and a way of working which combines foresight, behavioural insights [25], and the process of co-creation and innovation, in other words design thinking [26], the European Lab has set itself three tasks: firstly, to explore complexity and the long term in order to measure uncertainty; secondly, to bring together political objectives and collective actions and to improve decision-making and the reality of implementing decisions; and finally, to find solutions for developing better public or collective policies and to ensure that the strategies will apply in the real world [27]. We have embraced these tasks in Wallonia, in addition to our collaborations with the European Joint Research Centre, particularly on the project entitled The Future of Government 2030+, A Citizen Centric Perspective on New Government Models.

The proposal to create a Policy Lab seemed so important to the board of directors of The Destree Institute that it decided to accentuate its own name with this designation: The Destree Institute, Wallonia Policy Lab. This decision conveys three messages: the first is the operationalisation of foresight, which characterises the type of foresight that brings about change, as advocated by The Destree Institute. The University Certificate which it has jointly run with UMONS and the Open University in Charleroi since February 2017 is also called Operational Foresight [28]. The second message is the need for accelerated experimentation on a new, more involving democracy, based on governance by actors and innovative tools such as those developed globally in recent years around the concept of open government [29]. The third message concerns the uninhibited use of English and therefore the desire for internationalisation, even if the language chosen could have been that of one of our dynamic neighbours, Germany or the Netherlands, or of another country. Unrestrained access and openness to the world are absolute necessities for a region undergoing restructuring which, today, must more than ever position itself away from the faint-heartedness of yesterday.

In parallel, having run its course at the end of December 2017, the Wallonia Evaluation and Foresight Society, founded in 1999 on the initiative of The Destree Institute and several actors who were convinced of the need for these governance tools and advocated their use, decided to encourage this new initiative by sponsoring the Wallonia Policy Lab in terms of its intellectual and material heritage. This also means that, as it did at the end of the 1990s, The Destree Institute will once again, through this laboratory, pay close attention to the assessment and performance of public and collective policies which, naturally, represent one of the key axes of the policy process.

Conclusion: bringing order to future disorder

When we talk of Policy, we are referring to a course of action or a structured programme of actions guided by a vision of the future (principles, broad objectives, goals), which address some clearly identified challenges [30]. The process of governance, which has been in place since the early 2000s, has increased the need for a better grasp of policies by involving the stakeholders. Interdependence between the actors is an integral part of modern political action, changing it from public action into collective action.

It has been argued and repeatedly stated that, in the territories, and particularly in the regions, the doors to the future open downwards. Patrice Duran, referring to Michael Lipsky, the political scientist at Princeton [31], observed that changes usually resulted from the daily actions taken on the ground by public officials or peripheral actors rather than from the broad objectives set by the major decision centres. We, too, agree with the French professor that there is no point in developing ambitious objectives if they cannot usefully be translated into action content. In other words, it is not so much developing major programmes that counts but rather determining the process by which a decision may or may not emerge and take shape [32]. It’s certainly not going to happen overnight. Particular attention must be paid to the serious implementation of the objectives we set ourselves. Developing policies means – and this something we have forgotten rather too often in Wallonia in recent decades – carefully linking the key strategic directions to the concrete reality of the fieldwork and mobilising the diversity of actors operating on the ground [33]. That is how, using all our pragmatism, we can bring order to disorder, to use Philippe Zittoun’s well-turned phrase [34].

Moreover, two early initiatives have been taken in this regard. The first, as part of a joint initiative taken in November 2017, was to transform a hands-on training activity, Local powers and Social action, organised with the Wallonia Public Service DG05, into a genuine laboratory for those public officials to create their business practices of the future. The second initiative, at the beginning of February 2018, was to put together the « Investing in young people” citizens’ panel, which is being organised on the initiative of the Parliament of Wallonia by a Policy Lab that brings young people together to identify long-term challenges. In both cases, the participants needed to be quick, intellectually mobile, efficient, proactive, bright and operational. And that was the case. More on this in due course…

The Wallonia Policy Lab is very much in line with this moment in our history: a time when we are moving from grand ideological principles to experimentation – on the ground – with new, collective, concrete actions with a view to implementing them. This way of working will finally allow us to overcome our endemic shortcomings, our structural blockages and our mental and cultural inertia so that we can truly address the challenges we face. A time when, ultimately, we must stand together.


Philippe Destatte


[1] See, for example, the definition of Policy/Politique in the MEANS programme: ensemble d’activités différentes (programmes, procédures, lois, règlements) qui sont dirigées vers un même but, un même objectif général. Evaluer les programmes socio-économiques, Glossaire de 300 concepts et termes techniques, coll. MEANS, vol. 6., p. 33, European Commission, Community Structural Funds, 1999. – My thanks to my colleagues Pascale Van Doren and Michaël Van Cutsem for helping me develop and refine this document.

[2] Philippe ZITTOUN, La fabrique politique des politiques publiques, Une approche pragmatique de l’action publique, p. 10sv, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2013. – Thierry BALZACQ e.a., Fondements de Science politique, p. 33, Louvain-la-Neuve, De Boeck, 2015. – See the broad discussion of the concept of policy in Michaël HILL & Frederic VARONE, The Public Policy Process, p. 16-23, New York & London, Routledge, 7th ed., 2017.

[3] A course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organisation or individual. Oxford English Dictionary on line. (2 April 2018).

[4] Edward C. PAGE, The Origins of Policy, in Michael MORAN, Martin REIN & Robert E. GOODIN, Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, p. 210sv, Oxford University Press, 2006. – Brian W. HOGWOOD & Lewis A. GUNN, Policy Analysis for the Real World, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1984.

[5] See the blog of the London School of Economics and Political Science:

[6] Harold Dwight LASSWELL, A Pre-View of Policy Sciences, New York, American Elsevier, 1971.

[7] Aaron WILDAVSKY, Speaking Truth to Power, The Art and Craft of Policy Analysis, Boston, Little Brown, 1979.

[8] Joint Services Command and Staff College (JSCSC), now teaching at King’s College in London.

[9] William H. PARK, Policy, 4, in Jay M. SHAFRITZ Jr. ed., Defining Public Administration, Selections from the International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration, New York, Routledge, 2018.

[10] M. HILL & F. VARONE, The Public Policy Process…, p. 20. – Patrice DURAN, Penser l’action publique, p. 35, Paris, Lextenso, 2010.

[11] H. D. LASSWELL, A Pre-View of Policy Sciences…, p. 8.

[12] Oxford Handbook of Public Policy…, p. 6.

[13] Yehezkel DROR, Training for Policy Makers, in Handbook…, p. 82-86.

[14] Ibidem, p. 86sv.

[15] Edward C. PAGE, Policy without Politicians, Bureaucratic Influence in Comparative Perspective, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012.

[16] Philippe DESTATTE, L’élaboration d’un nouveau contrat social, in Philippe DESTATTE dir., Mission prospective Wallonie 21, La Wallonie à l’écoute de la prospective, Premier Rapport au Ministre-Président du Gouvernement wallon, Charleroi, Institut Destrée, 2003. 21 – Steven A. ROSELL e.a., Governing in an Information Society, p. 21, Montréal, Institute for Research on Public Policy, 1992.

[17] Patrice DURAN, Penser l’action publique, p. 77, Paris, Lextenso, 2010.

[18] Thus, it demands that we consider all the actors and locations beyond the « core executive » involved in the policy making process. David RICHARDS & Martin J. SMITH, Governance and Public Policy in the UK, p. 2, Oxford University Press, 2002.

[19] P. DURAN, Penser l’action publique…, p. 76-77. Our translation.

[20] Ph. DESTATTE, Bonne gouvernance: contractualisation, évaluation et prospective, Trois atouts pour une excellence régionale, in Ph. DESTATTE dir., Evaluation, prospective et développement régional, p. 7sv, Charleroi, Institut-Destrée, 2001.

[21] Ph. DESTATTE, Plus de démocratie et un meilleur développement, Rapport général du quatrième Congrès La Wallonie au futur, dans La Wallonie au futur, Sortir du XXème siècle: évaluation, innovation, prospective, p. 436, Charleroi, Institut Destrée, 1999.

[22] Philippe MOREAU DEFARGES, La gouvernance, p. 33, Paris, PuF, 2003.

[23] Gilles PAQUET, Gouvernance: mode d’emploi, Montréal, Liber, 2008.

[24] Policy analysts use the imperfect tools of their trade not only to assist legitimately elected officials in implementing their democratic mandates, but also to empower some groups rather than others. Oxford Handbook of Public Policy…, p. 28.

[25] Behavioural Insights is an inductive approach to policy making that combines insights from psychology, cognitive science, and social science with empirically-tested results to discover how humans actually make choices. Since 2013, OECD has been at the forefront of supporting public institutions who are applying behavioural insights to improving public policy.

[26] See, for example, Paola COLETTI, Evidence for Public Policy Design, How to Learn from Best Practice, Palgrave Macmillan, New York – Houndmills Basingstoke UK, 2013.

[27] EU Policy Lab, a collaborative and experimental space for innovative policy-making, Brussels; European Commission, Joint Research Centre, 2017.


[29] Ph. DESTATTE, What is Open Government? Blog PhD2050, Reims, 7 November 2017,

[30] Concerning identification of the challenges: Charles E. LINDBLOM, Policy-making Process, p. 12-14, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall, 1968.

[31] Michael LIPSKY, Street Level Bureaucracy, New York, Russel Sage, 1980.

[32] Patrice DURAN, Penser l’action publique, p. 48, Paris, Lextenso, 2010. Our translation.

[33] Jeffrey L. PRESSMAN & Aaron WILDAWSKY, Implementation, Berkeley CA, University of California Press, 1973. – Susan BARRETT & Colin FUDGE eds, Policy and Action, Essays on the Implementation of Public Policy, London, Methuen, 1981.

[34] Ph. ZITTOUN, op.cit., p. 326. Our translation.

Liège, January 19, 2018

1. What is foresight, and in what way is it strategic? [1]

 In the form in which we know it today in Europe, foresight represents an encounter and interaction between French and Latin developments, on the one hand, and those in the Anglosphere on the other. In English-speaking countries, the practice of foresight has evolved over time from a concern with military interests (such as improving defence systems) to industrial objectives (such as increasing competitiveness) and societal issues (such as ensuring the welfare of the population or ensuring social harmony). Since the 1960s, its chosen field has shifted from fundamental science to key technologies, then to the analysis of innovation systems, and finally to the study of the entire societal system. Having started out within a single discipline, namely the exact sciences, foresight has become pluridisciplinary, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary, with an openness to the social sciences [2]. In doing so, it has moved considerably closer to the French approach, abandoning many of its earlier forecasting ambitions for a more strategic focus.

The French school of foresight (referred to as la prospective) originates in the thought of the philosopher and entrepreneur Gaston Berger. Deriving from a philosophy of collective action and engagement, it deals with value systems and constructs knowledge for political purposes [3], and has likewise become increasingly strategic in nature through contact with the worlds of international organisations, companies and regional territories [4]. Taking account of the long-term and la longue durée by postulating the plurality of possible futures, adopting the analysis of complex systems and deploying the theory and practice of modelling, foresight generates a strategic desire and willingness in order to influence and affect history. As I have helped to define it in various contexts – European (the Mutual Learning Platform of DG Research, DG Enterprise & Industry, and DG Regional & Urban Policy, supported by the Committee of the Regions) [5], French (the European Regional Foresight College) created under the auspices of the Interministerial Delegation of Land Planning and Regional Attractiveness (DATAR) in Paris) [6] or in Wallonia (the Wallonia Evaluation and Foresight Society) [7] – foresight is an independent, dialectical and rigorous process, conducted in a transdisciplinary way and taking in the longer sweep of history. It can shed light on questions of the present and the future, firstly by considering them in a holistic, systemic and complex framework, and secondly by setting them in a temporal context over and beyond historicity. Concerned above all with planning and action, its purpose is to provoke one or more transformations within the system that it apprehends by mobilising collective intelligence [8]. This definition is that of both la prospective and foresight; at any rate it was designed as such, as part of a serious effort to bring about convergence between these two tools undertaken by, in particular, the team of Unit K2 of DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission, led at the time by Paraskevas Caracostas.

The main distinguishing characteristic of the strategy behind the process of la prospective or foresight – some refer to la prospective stratégique or strategic foresight, which to my mind are pleonasms – is that it does not have a linear relationship with the diagnosis or the issues. Fundamentally, this tool reflects both the long-term issues it seeks to address and a vision of a desirable future that it has constructed with the actors concerned. Its circular process mobilises collective and collaborative intelligence at every step in order to bring about in reality a desired and jointly constructed action that operates over the long term and is intended to be efficient and operational. Foresight watch takes place at every step of this process. I define this as a continuous and largely iterative activity of active observation and systemic analysis of the environment, in the short, medium and long term, to anticipate developments and identify present and future issues with the ultimate purpose of forming collective visions and action strategies. It is based on creating and managing the knowledge needed as input into the process of foresight itself. This process extends from the choice of areas to work on (long-term issues) and of the necessary heuristic, via the analysis and capitalisation of information and its transformation into useful knowledge, to communication and evaluation [9].

2. Foresight and strategic intelligence

The Strategic Intelligence Research Group (GRIS) at HEC Liège, under the direction of Professor Claire Gruslin, sees strategic intelligence as ‘a mode of governance based on the acquisition and protection of strategic and relevant information and on the potential for influence, which is essential for all economic actors wishing to participate proactively in development and innovation by building a distinctive and lasting advantage in a highly competitive and turbulent environment[10].

For its part, the famous Martre Report of 1994, in its definition of economic intelligence, delineated a process fairly similar to that which I mentioned for foresight, likewise including monitoring, heuristics, the examination of issues, a shared vision and the strategy to achieve it, all set in a ‘continuous cycle’:

Economic intelligence can be defined as the set of coordinated actions by which information that is useful to economic actors is sought out, processed and distributed for exploitation. These various actions are carried out legally and benefit from the protection necessary to preserve the company’s assets, under optimal quality, time and cost conditions. Useful information is that needed by the different decision-making levels in the company or the community in order to develop and implement in a coherent manner the strategy and tactics necessary to achieve its objectives, with the goal of improving its position in its competitive context. These actions within the company are organised in a continuous cycle, generating a shared vision of the objectives to be achieved[11].

What is of particular interest in the search for parallels or convergences between economic intelligence and foresight is the idea, developed by Henri Martre, Philippe Clerc and Christian Harbulot, that the notion of economic intelligence goes beyond documentation, monitoring, data protection or even influence, to become part of ‘a true strategic and tactical intention’, supporting actions at different levels, from the company up to the global, international level[12].

 3. Foresight in strategic intelligence

At the turn of the millennium, as part of the European ESTO (European Science and Technology Observatory) programme, the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) in Seville gathered a series of researchers to examine the idea of ​​strategic intelligence as a methodological vehicle or umbrella for public policy-making. The idea was to recognise and take account of the diversity of methods made available to decision-makers in order to structure and mobilise them to ensure successful policy-making [13]. As Ken Ducatel, one of the coordinators of this discussion, put it, ‘The concept of strategic intelligence not only offers a powerful methodology for addressing (EU) issues, but has the flexibility to connect to other forms of interaction, adapt to new models of governance and open up to technological changes and social developments that are faster than we have ever known before[14].

At the time of the REGSTRAT project coordinated by the Stuttgart-based Steinbeis Europa Zentrum in 2006, the concept of Strategic Policy Intelligence (SPI) tools – i.e. intelligence tools applied to public policy – had become accepted, in particular among the representatives of the Mutual Learning Platform referred to earlier. As my fellow foresight specialist Günter Clar and I pointed out in the report on the subject of foresight, strategic intelligence as applied to public policy can be defined as a set of actions designed to identify, implement, disseminate and protect information in order to make it available to the right person, at the right time, with the goal of making the right decision. As had become clear during the work, SPI’s tools include foresight, evaluation of technological choices, evaluation, benchmarking, quality procedures applied to territories, and so on. These tools are used to provide decision-makers and stakeholders with clear, objective, politically unbiased, independent and, most importantly, anticipatory information [15].

This work also made it possible to define strategic intelligence as observed in this context. Its content is adapted to the context, with hard and soft sides and a distributed character, underpinned by scale effects, the facilitation of learning, a balance between specific and generic approaches and increased accessibility. Its process is based on demand, the need to mobilise creativity, making tacit knowledge explicit, the evaluation of technological potential, a facilitation of the process and an optimal link with decision-making [16].

From this viewpoint, foresight is clearly one of the tools of strategic intelligence for the use of policy-makers and stakeholders.

 Anticipation, innovation and decision-making

The Directorate General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission has been involved for some years in forward-looking activities (FLAs) [17], just as the European Institute in Seville had been – as we saw – when it developed strategic policy intelligence (SPI) [18] tools for use in public policy-making[19]. FLAs include all systematic and participatory studies and processes designed to consider possible futures, proactively and strategically, and to explore and map out paths towards desirable goals [20]. This field obviously includes numerous different methods for anticipation of future developments, evaluation of technological choices, ex-ante evaluation, and so on.

In 2001, Ruud Smits, Professor of Technology and Innovation at the University of Utrecht, made three recommendations that he regarded as essential. First, he stressed, it was time to call a halt to the debate about definitions and to exploit the synergies between the different branches of strategic intelligence. Next, he noted the need to improve the quality of strategic intelligence and reinforce its existing sources. Finally, Smits called for the development of an interface between strategic intelligence sources and their users[21]. This programme has yet to be implemented, and our work at GRIS could be seen as reflecting this ambition.

This cognitive approach without a doubt brings us back to the distinction put forward by psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, who refers in his book Thinking fast and slow to two cerebral systems. He describes System 1 as automatic, direct, impulsive, everyday, fast, intuitive, and involving no real effort; we use it in 95% of circumstances. System 2, by contrast, is conscious, rational, deliberative, slow, analytical and logical; we only use it 5% of the time, especially to make decisions when we find ourselves in systems that we consider complex[22]. It is at such times that we have to make the effort to mobilise tools suited to the tasks we are tackling.

This question concerns all strategic intelligence tools, including foresight. Not just because the investments to be made in these fields of research are considerable, but because, often, many of us are unaware of the extent of that which we are unable to understand. All too commonly, we think that what we can see represents the full extent of what exists. We confine ourselves to the variables that we are able to detect, embrace and measure, and have a considerable capacity to refuse to recognise other variables. We know that this syndrome of WYSIATI (‘what you see is all there is’) is devastating: it prevents us from grasping reality in its entirety by making us think that we are in full command of the territory around us and the horizon. As Kahneman puts it, ‘You cannot help dealing with limited information you have as if it were all there is to know[23].

This flaw – and there are others – should encourage us to join forces to cross methodological and epistemological boundaries and work to create more robust instruments that can be used to design more proactive and better-equipped public policies.


Philippe Destatte



[1] A first version of this paper was presented at the Liège Business School on September 28, 2016.

[2] Paraskevas CARACOSTAS & Ugar MULDUR, Society, The Endless Frontier, A European Vision of Research and Innovation Policies for the 21st Century, Brussels, European Commission, 1997.

[3] ‘(…) By applying the principles of intentional analysis associated with phenomenology to the experience of time, Gaston Berger substitutes for the “myth of time” a temporal norm, an intersubjective construct for collective action. His philosophy of knowledge is thus constituted as a science of foresight practice whose purpose is normative: it is oriented towards work on values and the construction of a political project; it is a “philosophy in action”.‘ Chloë VIDAL, La prospective territoriale dans tous ses états, Rationalités, savoirs et pratiques de la prospective (1957-2014), p. 31, Lyon, Thèse ENS, 2015. Our translation.

[4] On la prospective territoriale, representing an encounter between the principles of foresight and those of regional development, see the reference to the DATAR international conference in March 1968. Chloë VIDAL, La prospective territoriale dans tous ses états, Rationalités, savoirs et pratiques de la prospective (1957-2014)…, p. 214-215.

[5] Günter CLAR & Philippe DESTATTE, Regional Foresight, Boosting Regional Potential, Mutual Learning Platform Regional Foresight Report, Luxembourg, European Commission, Committee of the Regions and Innovative Regions in Europe Network, 2006.ünter-CLAR_Philippe-DESTATTE_Boosting-Regional-Potential_MLP-Foresight-2006.pdf

[6] Ph. DESTATTE & Ph. DURANCE eds, Les mots-clefs de la prospective territoriale, p. 43, Paris, DIACT-DATAR, La Documentation française, 2009.

[7] Ph. DESTATTE, Evaluation, prospective et développement régional, p. 381, Charleroi, Institut Destrée, 2001.

[8] Ph. Destatte, What is foresight ?, Blog PhD2050, May 30, 2013.

[9] René-Charles TISSEYRE, Knowledge Management, Théorie et pratique de la gestion des connaissances, Paris, Hermès-Lavoisier, 1999.

[10] Guy GOERMANNE, Note de réflexion, Tentatives de rapprochement entre la prospective et l’intelligence stratégique en Wallonie, p. 7, Brussels, August 2016, 64 p.

[11] Henri MARTRE, Philippe CLERC, Christian HARBULOT, Intelligence économique et stratégie des entreprises, p. 12-13, Paris, Commissariat général au Plan (Plan Commission) – La Documentation française, February 1994.

[12] ‘The notion of economic intelligence implies transcending the piecemeal actions designated by the terms documentation, monitoring (scientific and technological, competitive, financial, legal and regulatory etc.), protection of competitive capital, and influencing (strategy for influencing nation-states, role of foreign consultancies, information and misinformation operations, etc). It succeeds in transcending these things as a result of the strategic and tactical intention which is supposed to preside over the steering of piecemeal actions and over ensuring their success, and of the interaction between all levels of activity at which the economic intelligence function is exercised: from the grassroots (within companies), through intermediate levels (interprofessional, local), up to the national (concerted strategies between different decision-making centres), transnational (multinational groups) or international (strategies for influencing nation-states) levels.’ H. MARTRE, Ph. CLERC, Ch. HARBULOT, Intelligence économique et stratégie des entreprises…, p. 12-13. Our translation.

[13] Strategic intelligence can be defined as a set of actions designed to identify, implement, disseminate and protect information in order to make it available to the right person, at the right time, with the goal of making the right decision. (…) Strategic intelligence applied to public policy offers a variety of methodologies to meet the requirements of policy-makers. Derived from Daniel ROUACH, La veille technologique et l’intelligence économique, Paris, PUF, 1996, p. 7 & Intelligence économique et stratégie d’entreprises, Paris, Commissariat général au Plan (Plan Commission), 1994. Alexander TÜBKE, Ken DUCATEL, James P. GAVIGAN, Pietro MONCADA-PATERNO-CASTELLO eds, Strategic Policy Intelligence: Current Trends, the State of the Play and perspectives, S&T Intelligence for Policy-Making Processes, p. V & VII, IPTS, Seville, Dec. 2001.

[14] Ibidem, p. IV.

[15] Günter CLAR & Ph. DESTATTE, Mutual Learning Platform Regional Foresight Report, p. 4, Luxembourg, IRE, EC-CoR, 2006.

[16] Ruud SMITS, The New Role of Strategic Intelligence, in A. TÜBKE, K. DUCATEL, J. P. GAVIGAN, P. MONCADA-PATERNO-CASTELLO eds, Strategic Policy Intelligence: Current Trends, p. 17.

[17] Domenico ROSSETTI di VALDALBERO & Parla SROUR-GANDON, European Forward Looking Activities, EU Research in Foresight and Forecast, Socio-Economic Sciences & Humanities, List of Activities, Brussels, European Commission, DGR, Directorate L, Science, Economy & Society, 2010. forward-looking activities, Building the future of « Innovation Union » and ERA, Brussels, European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, 2011.

[18] ‘Strategic Intelligence is all about feeding actors (including policy makers) with the tailor made information they need to play their role in innovation systems (content) and with bringing them together to interact (amongst others to create common ground).’ Ruud SMITS, Technology Assessment and Innovation Policy, Seville, 5 Dec. 2002. ppt.

[19] A. TÜBKE, K. DUCATEL, J. P. GAVIGAN, P. MONCADA-PATERNO-CASTELLO eds, Strategic Policy Intelligence: Current Trends, …

[20] Innovation Union Information and Intelligence System I3S – EC 09/06/2011.

[21] R. SMITS, The New Role of Strategic Intelligence…, p. 17. – see also R. SMITS & Stefan KUHLMANN, Strengthening interfaces in innovation systems: rationale, concepts and (new) instruments, Strata Consolidating Workshop, Brussels, 22-23 April 2002, RTD-K2, June 2002. – R. SMITS, Stefan KUHLMANN and Philip SHAPIRA eds, The Theory and Practice of Innovation Policy, An International Research Handbook, Cheltenham UK, Northampton MA USA, Edward Elgar, 2010.

[22] Daniel KAHNEMAN, Thinking fast and slow, p. 201, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

[23] D. KAHNEMAN, Thinking fast and slow, p. 201.

Reims, 7 November 2017


An innovative, global movement

In 2008, in his Change we can believe in project, Barack Obama highlighted the need to establish greater transparency in political institutions so that all citizens have access to information they need to evaluate the performance of the leaders. The candidate wrote that finally the governance of the country must be a source of inspiration for all Americans and must encourage them to act as citizens [1]. In addition to his desire to reduce unnecessary public expenditure, cut bureaucracy and cancel ineffective programmes, the future President of the United States announced that he wanted to open up democracy. The new Obama administration, he announced, will publish on line all information on the management of the State and will employ all available technologies to raise public awareness of State expenditure. It will invite members of the public to serve and take part, and it will reduce bureaucracy to ensure that all government agencies operate with maximum efficiency [2]. In addition to these priorities he announced compliance with the obligations on natural resources and on social inclusion and cohesion. The stated objective was to restore confidence in the institutions and to clean up Washington: imposing a strict ethical code on the elected representatives and limiting the influence of the lobbies and interest groups [3].

When President Obama entered the White House, one of his first initiatives, on 21 January 2009, was to send a memorandum on transparency and Open Government to the officials at the government ministries and agencies. In this document, the new president reaffirmed his pledge to create a government of this type and asked his departments to help create a political system founded on transparency, public participation and collaboration. This openness, he wrote, would strengthen democracy and promote the effectiveness and efficiency of the government. Firstly, the president wanted the government to be transparent and to promote accountability [4] and tell the public what it was doing. Next, the government should be participatory: when knowledge is shared between the public and private spheres, it is in the common interest for the public to participate in developing policies and allow their government to benefit from their collective intelligence. Finally, the government should be collaborative, which means that it should actively engage Americans in the work of their government, harnessing innovative tools and methods to ensure that all levels of the government and the administration cooperate with each other and with the non-profit organisations, businesses and individuals in the private sector [5]. After being gradually implemented in the United States, this movement, which follows an already long-standing Anglo-Saxon tradition [6], has inspired other countries and prompted an important multilateral initiative which, incidentally, The Destree Institute joined as a civil society partner in 2017.

Thus, in 2011, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) was launched by the governments of the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa and the United Kingdom, who adopted a joint declaration [7]. The objective of the OGP is to set up a platform for good practices between innovators in order to secure concrete commitments from governments on transparency, public action, empowerment of citizens, public participation, democratic innovation and harnessing new technologies to promote better governance.

As the years have passed, more than 70 countries have joined the initiative. As of 2017, the Belgian Federal State has not yet done so [8]. France, which was a pioneer in deliberative processes and Open Data, only joined the OGP in 2014 but has held the joint presidency since 2015, becoming co-organiser of the 4th Global Summit for the Open Government Partnership, which was held in the French capital at the end of 2016. The Paris Declaration, which was adopted on 7 December 2016, reaffirms all the founding principles and values of the OGP and undertakes to push forward the frontiers of the reforms beyond transparency, to advance meaningful participation, accountability and responsiveness. The signatories to the Paris Declaration also pledge to create innovative alliances between civil society and government leading to more collaborative public services and decision-making processes. The document also calls for the development of Open Government at the local level and the launch of local participatory initiatives to bring public policies closer to citizens [9].

A citizen-centred culture of governance

To answer the question of what open government really is, we could examine the closed model of decision-making with Beth Simone Noveck, who ran the Open Government Initiative at the White House in 2009 and 2010. This legal expert and law professor, who is a Yale and Harvard graduate, considers that the closed model is the one that was created by Max Weber, Walter Lippmann and James Madison. This model would have us believe that only government professionals and their experts, who themselves claim to be strictly objective [10], possess the necessary impartiality, expertise, resources, discipline and time to make the right public decisions. This vision, which ought to be a thing of the past, restricts public participation to representative democracy, voting, joining interest groups and involvement in local civic or political activities. Yet, today, we know that, for many reasons, professional politicians do not have a monopoly on information or expertise [11].

Technological innovation and what is today called Digital Social Innovation (DSI) [12] are contributing to this change. However, we do not think they are the driving force behind the Open Government concepts as they are somewhat peripheral. Although technology does have some significance in this process, it is perhaps in relation to its toolkit rather than its challenges or purposes. Open Government forms part of a two-fold tradition. Firstly, that of transparency and free access to public information on civil society. This is not new. The British parliament endorsed it in the 1990s [13]. Secondly, Open Government finds its inspiration in the values of sharing and collaboration used within the communities linked to the free software and open science movements [14]. In this sense, public expectations could be raised, as is the case with some researchers who see in Open Government the extent to which citizens can monitor and influence government processes through access to government information and access to decision-making arenas [15].

Even if we consider that the idea of Open Government is still under construction [16], we can still try to establish a definition. Taking our inspiration from the OECD definition in English, Open Government can be conceived as a citizen-centred culture of governance that utilizes innovative and sustainable tools, policies and practices to promote government transparency, responsiveness and accountability to foster stakeholders’ participation in support of democracy and inclusive growth  [17]. The aim of this process is that it should lead to the co-construction of collective policies that involve all the parties involved in governance (public sphere, businesses, civil society, etc.) and pursue the general interest and the common good.

The international OGP organisation states that an Open Government strategy can only really develop where it is supported by an appropriate environment that allows it to be rolled out. The issue of the leadership of the political players is clearly very important, as is the capacity (empowerment) of the citizens to participate effectively in public action: this is central to the reforms it brings about, as the international organisation noted. Today, governments acknowledge the need to move from the role of simple providers of services towards the development of closer partnerships with all relevant stakeholders.[18].

Thus Open Government reconnects with one of the initial definitions of governance, as expressed by Steven Rosell in 1992: a process whereby an organisation or a society steers itself, using its players [19]. It has become commonplace to reiterate that the challenges we face today can no longer be resolved, given their magnitude, by a traditional government and several cohorts or even legions of civil servants.

Nevertheless, faced with these often enormous challenges, Professor of Business Administration Douglas Schuler rightly reflects on the capacity for action of the entire society that would have to be mobilised and poses the question: will we be smart enough soon enough? To answer this question, Schuler, who is also president of the Public Sphere Project, calls for what he refers to as civic intelligence, a form of collective intelligence centred on shared challenges, which focuses on improving society as a whole rather than just the individual. The type of democracy that is based on civic intelligence, writes Douglas Schuler, is one which, as the American psychologist and philosopher John Dewey wrote, can be seen as a way of life rather than as a duty, one in which participation in a participatory process strengthens the citizenship of individuals and allows them to think more in terms of community. To that end, deliberation is absolutely essential. It can be defined as a process of directed communication whereby people discuss their concerns in a reasonable, conscientious, and open manner, with the intent of arriving at a decision [20]. Deliberation occurs when people with dissimilar points of view exchange ideas with the intent of coming to an agreement. As futurists are well aware, the intended product of deliberation is a more coherent vision of the future [21].

Contrary to what is generally believed, true deliberation processes are rare, both in the civic sphere and in specifically political and institutional contexts. Moreover, Beth Simone Noveck describes deliberative democracy as timid, preferring the term collaborative democracy, which focuses more on results and decisions and is best promoted through technologies [22]. These processes do, however, constitute the basic methodology for more participative dynamics, such as the co-construction of public policies or collective policies, leading to contractualisation of players, additionality of financing and partnership implementation and evaluation. The distance between these simple, more or less formal consultation processes or these socio-economic discussion processes can be measured using Rhineland or Meuse models, which date back to the period just after the Second World War period and which, admittedly, are no longer adequate to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The United Nations was right when it added a Goal 17, “Partnerships for the Goals”, to the already explicit Goal 16, which is one of the sustainable development goals focussing specifically on the emergence of peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels. This Goal 17 calls for effective partnerships to be set up between governments, the private sector and civil society: these inclusive partnerships built upon principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals that place people and the planet at the centre, are needed at the global, regional, national and local level [23].

Open regions and territories

In his speech at the Open Government Partnership Forum, which was held in parallel with the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on 19 September 2017, President Emmanuel Macron stated that local authorities have an increasing role to play and are an absolutely essential part of Open Government [24]. In his election campaign, the future French president also highlighted the fact that public policies are more effective when they are constructed with the constituents for whom they are intended. And in what he called the République contractuelle [Contractual Republic], a Republic which places trust in local districts, key players and society, the former minister saw a new idea for democracy: « these are not passive citizens who delegate the governance of the nation to their political leaders. A healthy, modern democracy is a system composed of active citizens who play their part in transforming the country » [25].

In keeping with the work already carried out since the start of the parliamentary term in the Parliament of Wallonia, the Wallonia Regional Policy Declaration of 28 July 2017 embodies this change by calling for a democratic revival and an improvement in public governance founded on the four pillars of transparency, participation, responsibility and performance. Transparency concerns the comprehensibility of the rules and regulations, the operating methods, and the mechanisms, content and financing of the decisions. The aim of participation is the involvement of citizens and private actors, businesses and the non-profit sector by giving them the initiative as a matter of priority, with the State providing support and strategic direction. The text invokes a new citizenship of cooperation, public debate, active information and involvement. The responsibility thus promoted is mainly that of the representative – elected or appointed – and sees an increase in accountability. The relations between public authorities and associations need to be clarified. The text states that performance is defined by evaluating the impact of public action in economic, budgetary, employment, environmental and social matters. It establishes a desire for a drastic simplification of public institutions rightly regarded as too numerous and too costly [26].

As we can see, these options are interesting and they undoubtedly represent a step forward inspired by the idea of Open Government we have been calling for lately [27], even if they have not yet moved on to genuine collaborative governance, deliberation with all actors and citizens or co-construction of public policies beyond experiments with public panels.

Conclusion: a government of the citizens, by the citizens, for the citizens

Open Government is a matter of democracy, not technology. This model reconnects with Abraham Lincoln’s idea of government of the people, by the people, for the people, which ended his Gettysburg address of 19 November 1863 [28]. This powerful idea can be advantageous for all of the regions in Europe, for its States and for the European process as a whole. Here, as in the United States, the principle of Open Government must be adopted by all representatives and applied at all levels of governance[29]. Parliaments and regional councils, who have often already embarked on pioneering initiatives, must grasp it [30].

As Douglas Schuler stated, Open Government would make no sense if it was not accompanied by informed, conscious and engaged citizenship, if it did not mean governance fully distributed within the population, the end of government as the sole place of governance. So this observation refers back to the initial question: what skills and information do citizens need in order to understand the issues they must face? [31] We know the response of Thomas Jefferson, writing from Paris to the philosopher Richard Price in 1789: a sense of necessity, and a submission to it, is to me a new and consolatory proof that, whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights [32]. This question certainly requires a response linked to lifelong critical education, the importance of philosophy and history, and the teaching of citizenship, foresight and complexity we have discussed recently [33]. As Pierre Rosanvallon notes, it is a question of making society comprehensible for the public, of ensuring that they can have effective knowledge of the social world and the mechanisms that govern it, to enable individuals to have access to what the Collège de France Professor calls real citizenship: an understanding of the effective social relationships, redistribution mechanisms and problems encountered when creating a society of equals [34].

As we have repeatedly stated, Open Government and governance by the players require an open society [35], in other words, a common space, a community of citizens where everyone works together to consider and address shared issues for the common good. Moving from Open Government to an open State happens by extension and through the application of the principles mentioned, from the executive to the legislature and the judiciary, and to all the players upstream and downstream.

Where national governments have not yet launched their open governance strategy, they should start with the districts, cities and regions, which often have the benefit of flexibility and proximity with the players and citizens. Naturally, this requirement also implies that private organisations, too, should be more transparent and more open and become more involved.

Aligning these global ambitions, which have been adopted by the United Nations and passed on by the OECD, Europe and more than 70 nations around the world, with the expectations of our regional players appears to be within reach. It is up to us to complete this task with enthusiasm and determination, wherever we are in this society that dreams of a better world.


Philippe Destatte


[1] Barack OBAMA, Change we can believe in, Three Rivers Press, 2008. Translated into French under the title Le changement, Nous pouvons y croire, p. 180, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2009.

[2] Ibidem.

[3] Ibidem, p. 181sv.

[4] Concerning accountability, which he prefers to translate by rendering of accounts, see Pierre ROSANVALLON, Le bon gouvernement, p. 269sv, Paris, Seuil, 2015.

[5] Memo from President Obama on Transparency and Open Government, January 21, 2009. Reproduced in Daniel LATHROP & Laurel RUMA ed., Open Government, Transparency, and Participation in Practice, p. 389-390, Sebastopol, CA, O’Reilly, 2010.

[6] For the background in the United States, see: Patrice McDERMOTT, Building Open Government, in Government Information Quarterly, no. 27, 2010, p. 401-413.

[7] Joint declaration on open government,

[8] La Belgique n’est toujours pas membre du Partenariat pour un Gouvernement ouvert, in Le Vif-L’Express, 11 August 2017.

[9] Déclaration de Paris, 4e Sommet mondial du Partenariat pour un Gouvernement ouvert, Open Government Partnership, 7 December 2016.

[10] See Philip E. TETLOCK, Expert Political Judgment, How good is it? How can we know? Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 2005.

[11] Beth Simone NOVECK, Wiki Government: How technology can make government better, democracy stranger, and citizens more powerful, Brookings Institution Press, 2009. – The Single point of Failure, in Daniel LATHROP & Laurel RUMA ed., Open Government, Transparency, and Participation in Practice, p. 50, Sebastopol, CA, O’Reilly, 2010. For an empirical approach to Open Governance, see Albert J. MEIJER et al., La gouvernance ouverte: relier visibilité et moyens d’expression, in Revue internationale des Sciences administratives 2012/1 (Vol. 78), p. 13-32.

[12] Matt STOKES, Peter BAECK, Toby BAKER, What next for Digital Social Innovation?, Realizing the potential of people and technology to tackle social challenges, European Commission, DSI4EU, Nesta Report, May 2017.

[13] Freedom of access to information on the environment (1st report, Session 1996-97)

[14] Romain BADOUARD (lecturer at the Université Cergy-Pontoise), Open governement, open data: l’empowerment citoyen en question, in Clément MABI, Jean-Christophe PLANTIN and Laurence MONNOYER-SMITH dir., Ouvrir, partager, réutiliser, Regards critiques sur les données numériques, Paris, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 2017

[15] Albert J. MEIJER, Deirdre CURTIN & Maarten HILLEBRANDT, Open Government: Connecting vision and voice, in International Review of Administrative Sciences, 78, 10-29, p. 13.

[16] Douglas SCHULER, Online Deliberation and Civic Intelligence in D. LATHROP & L. RUMA ed., Open Government…, p. 92sv. – see also the interesting analysis by Emad A. ABU-SHANAB, Reingineering the open government concept: An empirical support for a proposed model, in Government Information Quarterly, no. 32, 2015, p. 453-463.

[17] A citizen-centred culture of governance that utilizes innovative and sustainable tools, policies and practices to promote government transparency, responsiveness and accountability to foster stakeholdersparticipation in support of democracy and inclusive growth. OECD, Open Government, The Global context and the way forward, p. 19, Paris, OECD Publishing, 2016.

[18] OECD, Panorama des administrations publiques, p. 198, Paris, OECD, 2017. – See also, p. 29 and 30 of the same work, some specific definitions developed in various countries.

[19] Steven A. ROSELL ea, Governing in an Information Society, p. 21, Montréal, 1992.

[20] Douglas SCHULER, Online Deliberation and Civic Intelligence... p. 93.

[21] Ibidem.

[22] B. S. NOVECK, op.cit., p. 62-63.

[23] Sustainable Development Goals, 17 Goals to transform our world.

[24] Speech by the President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron at the Open Government Partnership event held in parallel with the 72nd United Nations General Assembly (19 September 2017) –

[25] Emmanuel MACRON, Révolution, p. 255-256 and 259, Paris, XO, 2016.

[26] Parliament of Wallonia, Session 2016-2017, Déclaration de politique régionale, « La Wallonie plus forte », 28 July 2017, DOC 880(2016-2017) – No. 1, p. 3-5.

[27] Olivier MOUTON, Une thérapie de choc pour la Wallonie, in Le Vif-L’Express, no. 44, 3 November 2017, p. 35.

[28] Carl MALAMUD, By the People, in D. LATHROP & L. RUMA ed., Open Government…, p. 41.

[29] Ibidem, p. 46.

[30] David BEETHAM, Parlement et démocratie au vingt-et-unième siècle, Guide des bonnes pratiques, Geneva, Parliamentary Union, 2006.

[31] Douglas SCHULER, Online Deliberation and Civic Intelligence... p. 93.

[32] Letter To Richard Price, Paris, January 8, 1789, in Thomas JEFFERSON, Writings, p. 935, New-York, The Library of America, 1984.

[33] Ph. DESTATTE, Apprendre au XXIème siècle, Citoyenneté, complexité et prospective, Liège, 22 September 2017.

[34] P. ROSANVALLON, Le bon gouvernement…, p. 246.

[35] Archon FUNG & David WEIL, Open Government and open society, in D. LATHROP & L. RUMA ed., Open Government…, p. 41.