Archives de Tag: Foresight

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

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.




Namur (Wallonia), August 28, 2021

We are expected to look far ahead even though the future does not exist

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.

Read more…

Namur (Wallonia), July 12, 2021

Increasing rationality in decision-making through policy impact prior analysis

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.

 Read more…

Washington, November 5, 2018

Some “new” governance models in Europe and the United States

This text is an updated version of my speech at the “Round table on Governance & Law: Challenges & Opportunities” seminar held at the World Bank in Washington at the instigation of the World Academy of Art and Science and the World University Consortium, with the support of The Millennium Project, on 5 and 6 November 2018

Read More… 


Liège, October 3, 2018

The Jobs of Tomorrow… A Question of Intelligence?

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.

Read more…


Boston, April 30, 2018

From History to Foresight, Sharing Knowledge and Will

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  and Boston University  on April 29 and 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.

Read more… 


Namur, April 11, 2018

A Wallonia Policy Lab on the foresight trajectory

In line with the European Policy Lab, the Wallonia 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, and the process of co-creation and innovation, in other words design thinking, the Wallonia Lab has set itself three tasks.

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Marche-en-Famenne, 6 Decembre 2017

The place of small towns in the Metropolitan Area of Wallonia

Contrary to the ideas of those who see cities as the centre of the world, I believe we must gradually abolish the distinction between urban and rural areas through the concept of metropolisation.

Read more…


Reims, 7th November 2017

What is Open Government?

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.

Read more…


Liège, September 22, 2017

Learning in the 21st century: Citizenship, complexity and foresight

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…

Reed more…


Namur, 25th March 2017

The Premature Ambition for a European Political Community

Europe: the Union, from Rome (1957) to Rome (2017) – 1

The signing of the Treaty of Rome on 25 March 1957 was not an isolated act. It should be seen in two contexts: that of a series of plans dreamt up in the late 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century , and that of ambitious decisions taken immediately after the Second World War with the intention of restoring confidence, stabilising political, economic, social and financial relations between nations and bringing about the rebirth – or perhaps the birth – of true interdependence.

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Brussels, November 16 novembre 2016

Territorial foresight for new territorial and societal models

This paper was prepared within the framework of the COR/ESPAS Working Dinner at the European Committee of the Regions, on November 16, 2016, on the initiative of Béatrice Taulègne, Ian Barber and Karlheinz Lambertz.

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Munich, 1st November 2014

Businesses, regions and cities: cradles of the circular economy

Munich, 1st November 2014

In a paper called The circular economy: producing more with less, published on my blog on 26 August 2014, I had the opportunity to offer a definition of the circular economy, to trace the concept’s progress internationally since the 1970s, and then to touch on the practices which, according to the French environmental agency ADEME in particular, underpin such an economy: eco-design, industrial ecology, the economy of functionality, re-use, repair, reutilisation and recycling [1]. Finally, I contended that, besides the key principles of sustainable development to which the circular economy contributes, to become part of this process meant supporting policies which, from the global to the local, become increasingly concrete as and when they get closer to companies. This is what I will try to show in this new presentation.

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Brussels, September 24, 2014

The New Industrial Paradigm

It is commonplace, especially in times of economic difficulty or tensions, to hear it said or read that the crisis is not cyclical, but represents a structural transformation of the economy or society. What is being referred to is a paradigm shift.

An attempt at the clearest possible identification of the « new industrial paradigm » towards which we are said to be moving first of all requires an explanation of the three words of which the term is composed.

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Namur, August 26, 2014

The circular economy: producing more with less

A circular economy is understood as being an economy that helps achieve the aims of sustainable development by devising processes and technologies such as to replace a so-called linear growth model – involving excessive consumption of resources (raw materials, energy, water, real estate) and excessive waste production – with a model of ecosystemic development that is parsimonious in its extraction of natural resources and is characterised by low levels of waste, but which results in equivalent or even increased performance.

To Read more…

Brussels, June 19, 2014

(Con)federalism in Belgium is not a problem, it’s a solution

This text is the fair copy of my paper prepared before and during the conference organised by Philippe Van Parijs, Paul De Grauwe and Kris Deschouwer at the University Foundation: (Con)federalism: cure or curse, Rethinking Belgium’s institutions in the European Context, 11th public event of the Re-Bel initiative, Brussels,19 June 2014.

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Namur, May 9, 2014

Territorial Innovation Systems for the benefit of businesses

In most regions that are undergoing industrial restructuring, despite the benefit of considerable care and attention from the major players and undoubted strengths, many business leaders and not a few leading academics display a certain scepticism in their day-to-day approach that is in stark contrast with the collective ambition to bring about regeneration locally. Much of the effort focuses on links, synergies and interfaces between research and industry, yet the issue of channels for the distribution and integration of innovation remains sensitive. We know that the tools exist, that they are available and often effective, but we do not really see them…

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Namur, February 2, 2014

From anticipation to action: an essential foresight path for businesses and organisations

The lesson taught by Michel Godet’s famous Greek triangle is that the transition from anticipation to strategic action cannot occur without the insight, mobilisation and appropriation of the foresight process by the parties involved.

Anticipation, appropriation and action are key concepts that businesses and organisations attentive to strategic thinking, and thus to foresight, would do well to keep in mind.

Read more…

Bucharest, June 27, 2013

Foresight and Societal Paradigm Shift, Towards a Third Industrial Revolution?

A short version of this paper has been presented at the 21st World Futures Studies Federation World Conference, Global Research and Social Innovation: Transforming Futures, Bucharest University of Economic Studies, June 26, 2013.

Pour en savoir plus…

Brussels, May 30, 2013

What is foresight?

One understands better why foresight frightens all those who want to see the system of former values, attitudes, behaviours and powers perpetuated. And if, by chance, they feel obliged to become involved, they will constantly attempt to control it…

To learn more…

 Namur, February 1st,  2014

From anticipation to action is a foundational book for the prospectivist approach, penned by Michel Godet in 1994 [1]. With a preface by the American futurist Joseph F. Coates, that book was the first version of what would become, through subsequent field experiences, the well-known handbook of “strategic prospective” [2]. The work, published by UNESCO, brought to the forefront one of the trademarks of the disciple of Jacques Lesourne, who was also his successor in the chair of Industrial Foresight at the Conservatoire national des Arts et Métiers (CNAM) in Paris: the famous Greek triangle that appeared on the cover of the French edition of that work (1991). This pedagogical diagram highlights and forms a relationship among three essential components of the attitude and process of foresight: anticipation, which favours long term thinking, intellectual and affective appropriation of the challenges and the responses for meeting them, the strategic will that is expressed in collective and adequate actions. The lesson taught by Michel Godet is that the transition from anticipation to strategic action cannot occur without the insight, mobilisation and appropriation of the foresight process by the parties involved.

Anticipation, appropriation and action are key concepts that businesses and organisations attentive to strategic thinking, and thus to foresight, would do well to keep in mind.

Anticipation of my future is constitutive of my present

As Gaston Berger (1896-1960), the father of foresight studies in France, noted citing the French Academician Jules Chaix-Ruy, « the anticipation of my future is constitutive of my present”: it would be impossible in one’s life cut oneself off from these upper reaches which constitute the past and the lower slopes that will be the future. This isolation in effect renders the present absurd [3]. The capacity for anticipation allows us not only to represent a development or event as well as its consequences before it actually occurs, but also and above all to act by preventing or anticipating a favourable or fateful moment. Action, and even reaction, to the knowledge thereby generated is inseparable from anticipation. In terms of foresight, apparently at the initiative of Hasan Ozbekhan (1921-2007) of the University of Pennsylvania [4], the word ‘preactivityis used for cases where the actor takes into consideration possible changes and prepares for them, and the word ‘proactivity’ for when, having identified the advantages of the event or development in question, the actor undertakes a voluntary act intended to bring it about. It was Ozbekhan who also popularised the term ‘anticipation’ within the sphere of foresight, seeing in it “a logically constructed model and concerning a possible future, combined with a degree of confidence that has not yet been defined” [5]. The Austrian astrophysicist Erich Jantsch (1929-1980), who drew largely on its inspiration, equated anticipation with the futuribles’ so dear to Bertrand de Jouvenel or the ‘alternative world futures’ of Herman Kahn [6].

The concept of anticipation is currently the subject of significant efforts at deeper examination and clarification by the futurists Riel Miller (UNESCO), Roberto Poli (UNESCO Chair of Anticipatory Systems, University of Trente) and Pierre Rossel (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne). Taking the work of the Americans Robert Rosen (1934-1997) [7] and John W. Bennett (1915-2005) [8] as their starting point, these researchers are working closely with the UNESCO’s foresight section to explore the possibility of establishing anticipation as a discipline in its own right, one that brings together a set of competencies enabling human beings to take into account and evaluate future trends [9]. This reflection is certainly lending stimulus to foresight studies, all the more so since it fits well with the efforts of the European Commission to open up foresight research. Thus the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation has for several years been investing in ‘Forward Looking Activities’ (FLA), activities that include foresight [10], just as the European Institute in Seville has done in past years by developing tools for strategic thinking in the area of public policy (‘Strategic Policy Intelligence’ – SPI) [11].

Anticipation is a key resource for businesses, insofar as it distinguishes itself clearly from mere prophetic imagination or forecasting without strategic purpose and includes methods of foresight watch and research in order to turn it into a tool of economic or territorial intelligence.

Appropriating challenges and responses to them: prime factor of change

Intuitively as well as from experience, the head of any organisation knows that steering the company would not be possible from a control tower cut off from the laboratories, workshops and the entire range of services that contribute to its operation, any more than from its external beneficiaries. The dynamics of all development and change are based on interaction, communication and the involvement of every actor. As Michel Crozier observed, resources, especially human ones, do not bend as easily to fit the objectives and ultimately – and fortunately – block any fine rational ordering [12]. It is therefore pragmatism and the reality on the ground that prevail.

Philippe Bernoux has shown that in a vision of change that is not imposed (contrary to Hirshman’s ‘loyalty or exit [13]), two principles are dominant: the autonomy of the actors and the legitimacy they give to decisions that concern them, and which they will express through their « voice« , namely, a voice raised in protest [14]. For Bernoux, author of Sociologie du changement dans les entreprises et les organisations, change means learning new ways of doing, new rules, a ‘learning by assimilation of new rules’. Change can only be a joint product, manufactured by all the actors concerned [15]. Change cannot take place without building new relationships: to change is to make possible the development of new sets of relationships. This adjustment can, moreover, come about only through people who are interrelated and through the systems of relationships which they co-create [16]. Bernoux reminds us that more than the structures of organisations and institutions, it is the interaction among actors that is a key. And that interaction presupposes true autonomy on the part of the actors, even if their scope for action is limited by the existing rules: without their capacity for action, change cannot take place. These actors are thus true agents of the process and cannot be reduced to the role of passive agents [17]. What is more: as the management psychologist Harold J. Leavitt (1922-2007) put it, whatever the power of the agent of change, whatever his or her rank in the hierarchy, the actor who has been changed remains master of the final decision [18]. This observation applies to a business which, while an institution, is also an actor: it always retains the capacity to influence an environment to which it is not subjected, to participate in the social construction of the market, to retain some of its mastery of its interactions with society [19]. Change thus succeeds only if it is accepted, legitimated and transformed by actors responsible for implementing it [20].

Let us stop thinking that we can transform a system while remaining outside it or by taking on the role of ‘grand architect’. It is because the actors are concerned and involved that they will carry out a strategy of change. To do so requires that they be co-creators and share the company’s vision and objectives, the challenges of the environment and the correct responses needed to face them. Collectively.

Action: from aims to the process of transformation

In a famous lecture given at the Centre de Recherches et d’Etudes des Chefs d’Entreprises, Gaston Berger defined true action as a series of movements directed towards a goal; it is not, he said, “an agitation by which we try to make others believe that we are powerful and effective” [21]. As the former director-general of higher education in France rightly observed [22], these goals are first and foremost change and the processes of transformation studied in social psychology. These theories were described by the German-American scholar Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) [23]. Before becoming interested in social change, Lewin developed the experimental study of group dynamics. He worked on the concept of the equilibrium of equal and opposite forces that make it possible to attain a quasi-stationary state. The quest for new equilibrium occurs after a shift in the balance of forces in order to bring about change towards this objective. The process is marked by three stages: first, a period of unfreezing during which the system calls into question its perceptions, habits and behaviours. The actors are motivated. Next comes a period of transition, during which behaviours and attitudes become unstable and contradictory. The actors experiment with and eventually adopt some of them. Finally, there is a period of refreezing in which the system generalises the tentative behaviours that are suited to the new situation and harmonises the new practices.

As Didier Anzieu and Jacques-Yves Martin describe it: “how can one overcome the initial resistance that tends to restore equilibrium to a higher level? By ‘unfreezing’ habits little by little, using non-directive methods of discussion, until the point of rupture, shock, or a different refreezing can occur. In other words, lowering the threshold of resistance and bringing the group to a degree of crisis that produces a shift in attitudes among the group members, and then, by means of influence, among the neighbouring zones of the social fabric” [24].

Berger reminds us: the Americans Lippitt, Watson and Westley [25] pursued this line of inquiry. Thus, they divided the process into seven phases that fit quite well with the stages of a future-oriented process: 1. Developing a need for change, 2. Establishing a network of change relationships, 3. Diagnosing what is at stake in the system, 4. Examining alternative paths and choosing an action plan, 5. Transforming intentions into efforts to change, 6. Generalising and stabilising the change, 7. Determining the final relationships with the change agents. There are other models, used mainly by those futurists who draw upon social psychology and behavioural sociology in order to gain better understanding of the processes of transformation that they observe and to optimise them when they wish to implement them themselves [26].

Conclusion: will and leadership

Strategic plans do not implement themselves, as Professor Peter Bishop of the University of Houston frequently reminds us: “people implement them, and these people are called leaders” [27].

In a debate on the so-called ‘[educational] landscape decree’ held at the Political book fair on 10 November 2013 in Liège, Jean-Claude Marcourt, vice-president of the Government of Wallonia and minister of Economy, New Technologies and Higher Education, stated that “one can be progressive at the level of ideas and conservative when someone proposes the concept of change”. Apart from all ideological considerations of right, left or centre, this formulation is particularly insightful. In the political fraternity, as in the world of business or organisations, strategic capacity is impossible without a true openness to transformation. The latter can and must be driven by a leadership that, in today’s world, must be collective if it is to be effective, even if, from anticipation to action, it comes about under the aegis of men and women who are known for their ability to inspire and catalyse that change.

What brings together government officials and business leaders is the common challenge of motivating willing parties to favour anticipation, and to do so in such a way that they accept both the challenges and the strategy and thus move to take action.

Philippe Destatte

[1] Michel GODET, From anticipation to action, A handbook of strategic prospective, coll. Futures-oriented Studies, Paris, Unesco Publishing, 1994. – The French version of this book was published in 1991 by Dunod: De l’anticipation à l’action, Manuel de prospective et de stratégie.

[2] M.GODET, Manuel de prospective stratégique, 2 tomes, Paris, Dunod, 3e éd., 2007.

[3] Gaston BERGER, Le temps (1959) dans Phénoménologie et prospective, p. 198, Paris, PUF, 1964. Jules CHAIX-RUY, Les dimensions de l’être et du temps, Paris-Lyon, Vitte, 1953.

[4] According to Michel Godet, at the ‘Assises de la prospective’, organised by Futuribles at Paris Dauphine, on 8-9 December 1999.-  M. GODET, La boîte à outils de la prospective stratégique, Problèmes et méthodes, coll. Cahier du Lips, p. 14, Paris, CNAM, 5e éd., 2001.

[5] Cited by Eric JANTSCH, La prévision technologique : cadre, techniques et organisation, p. 16, Paris, OCDE, 1967.

[6] « The possibility of acting upon present reality by starting from an imagined or anticipated future situation affords great freedom to the decision maker while at the same time providing him with better controls with which to guide events. Thus, planning becomes in the true sense « future-creative » and the very fact of anticipating becomes causative of action ». (p. 89 & 139)  » Hasan OZBEKHAN, The Triumph of Technology: « can implies ought », in Joseph P. MARTINO, An Introduction to Technological Forecasting, p. 83-92, New York, Gordon & Breach Science publishers, 1972. – Eleonora BARBIERI MASINI, Why Futures Studies?, p. 56, London, Grey Seal, 1993. – Erich JANTSCH, Technological Planning and Social Futures, p. 17 & 37, London, Associated Business Programmes, 2nd ed., 1974. Anticipations are « intellectively constructed models of possible futures ».

[7] Robert ROSEN, Anticipatory Systems, Philosophical, Mathematical and Methodological Foundations, Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1985. – R. ROSEN, Essays on Life itself, New York, Columbia University Press, 2000.

[8] John W. BENNETT, Human Ecology as Human Behavior: Essays in Environmental and Development Anthropology, New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction Publishers, 1993.

[9] Riel MILLER, Roberto POLI & Pierre ROSSEL, The Discipline of Anticipation: Exploring Key Issues, Unesco Working Paper no. 1, Paris, May 2013.

[10] Domenico ROSSETTI di VALDALBERO & Perla 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.

[11] 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, IPTS, Seville, Dec. 2001.

[12] Michel CROZIER, La crise de l’intelligence, Essai sur l’impuissance des élites à se réformer, p. 19, Paris, InterEditions, 1995.

[13] A.O. HIRSCHMAN, Exit, Voice and Loyalty, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1970.

[14] Philippe BERNOUX, Sociologie du changement dans les entreprises et les organisations, p. 10-11, Paris, Seuil, 2010.

[15] Ph. BERNOUX, Sociologie du changement..., p. 191.

[16] Ibidem, p. 11, 85 and 308.

[17] Ibidem, p. 11 and 13.

[18] Harold J. LEAVITT & Homa BAHRAMI, Managerial Psychology, Managing Behavior in Organisations, The University of Chicago Press, 5th ed., 1989.

[19] Ph. BERNOUX, Sociologie du changement…, p. 144.

[20] Ibidem, p. 51.

[21] Gaston BERGER, Le chef d’entreprise, philosophe en action, 8 mars 1955, dans Prospective n°7, Gaston Berger, Un philosophe dans le monde moderne, p. 50, Paris, PUF, Avril 1961.

[22] G. BERGER, L’Encyclopédie française, t. XX : Le Monde en devenir, 1959, p. 12-14, 20, 54, reprinted in Phénoménologie du temps et prospective, p. 271, Paris, PuF, 1964.

[23] Kurt LEWIN, Frontiers in Group Dynamics, in Human Relations, 1947, n° 1, p. 2-38. – K. LEWIN, Psychologie dynamique, Les relations humaines, coll. Bibliothèque scientifique internationale, p. 244sv., Paris, PuF, 1964. – Bernard BURNES, Kurt Lewin and the Planned Approach to change: A Re-appraisal, Journal of Management Studies, septembre 2004, p. 977-1002. – Voir aussi Karl E. WEICK & Robert E. QUINN, Organizational Change and Development, Annual Review of Psychology, 1999, p. 361-386.

[24] Didier ANZIEU et Jacques-Yves MARTIN, La dynamique des groupes restreints, p. 86, Paris, PuF, 2007.

[25] Ronald LIPPITT, Jeanne WATSON & Bruce WESTLEY, The Dynamics of Planned Change, A Comparative Study of Principles and Techniques, New York, Harcourt, Brace & Cie, 1958.

[26] Chris ARGYRIS & Donald A. SCHON, Organizational Learning, A Theory of Action Perspective, Reading, Mass. Addison Wesley, 1978. – Gregory BATESON, Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution and Epistemology, University of Chicago Press, 1972. – G. BATESON, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology, University Of Chicago Press, 1972, reed. 2000. – Jean-Philippe BOOTZ, Prospective et apprentissage organisationnel, coll. Travaux et recherches de prospective, Paris, Futuribles international, LIPSOR, Datar, Commissariat général du Plan, 2001. – Richard A. SLAUGHTER, The Transformative Cycle: a Tool for Illuminating Change, in Richard A. SLAUGHTER, Luke NAISMITH and Neil HOUGHTON, The Transformative Cycle, p. 5-19, Australian Foresight Institute, Swinburne University, 2004.

[27] Peter C. BISHOP and Andy HINES, Teaching about the Future, p. 225, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Brussels, May 30, 2013

At the beginning of the 2000s, a semantic and methodological consensus was established at various levels, built upon the framework of the intellectually creative convergence between the Latin or French prospective and the Anglo-Saxon foresight, especially the initiatives taken by the K2 Unit of the Research Directorate-General of the European Commission under the impetus of Paraskevas Caracostas, Günter Clar, Elie Faroult and Christian Svanfeldt in particular [1]. A formal definition emerged from this, of the sort that we hope for, because our rationality wants it, but that we also fear, because our freedom may suffer from it. This formalisation, fostered by the work of Futuribles (Paris), LIPSOR (CNAM, Paris), PREST (Manchester) and The Destree Institute (Namur, Wallonia), has been successively adopted by the Wallonia Evaluation and Foresight Society, the Mutual Learning Platform of the European Commission and the European Foresight College, originating in and supported by the DATAR in the second half of the years 2000. It is, roughly speaking, this definition that appears in the Regional Foresight Glossary that constitutes the outcome of the work of this College:

Foresight is an independent, dialectical and rigorous process conducted in a cross-disciplinary and collective way and intended to shed light on questions of the present and the future, on the one hand by considering them in their holistic, systemic and complex setting and on the other hand by relating them, over and above their historicity, to temporality.

This is supplemented by two paragraphs, placed in the comments in the glossary, which elucidate the field:

Exploratory foresight allows evolving trends and counter-trends to be detected, continuities, discontinuities and bifurcations of the environmental variables (actors and factors) to be identified, and the spectrum of possible futures to be determined.

Normative foresight allows visions of desirable futures to be constructed, possible collective strategies and rationales for action to be developed and, consequently, the quality of the necessary decisions to be improved [2].

A rich but unsatisfactory definition

On the one hand this is a rich definition, as it emphasises a process that frees itself from powers and doctrines to involve a perspective of free thought, exchanges with others, open deliberation, and teamwork, all while affirming the requirements of methodological rigour, a cross-disciplinary approach and collective intelligence, usually so difficult to achieve. Modern foresight incorporates these systemic and complex reflections which, from Teilhard de Chardin [3] to Edgar Morin [4], including Jacques Lesourne [5], Joël de Rosnay [6], Pierre Gonod [7] and Thierry Gaudin [8], have modelled or reinvigorated foresight. The author of La Méthode (Method) states the essence when he stresses that the interaction of the variables in a complex system is such that it is impossible for the human mind to conceive of them analytically or to attempt to proceed by isolation of these variables if one wants to understand an entire complex system, or even a sub-system [9].

On the other hand, this definition of foresight now appears unsatisfactory to me and has a manifest weakness insofar as it does not clearly indicate that foresight is resolutely oriented toward action. It must also be noted that it should be oriented toward an aim: action for action’s sake, noted Gaston Berger, the leap into the absurd that leads to anything whatsoever, is not genuine action either. This is a series of movements tending toward an end; it is not the agitation by which one seeks to make others believe that one is powerful and efficient [10].

The action that results from foresight aims for change, that is, transformation of a part or all of a system. Peter Bishop and Andy Hines were not mistaken: the first words of the reference work of these professors of Strategic Foresight at the University of Houston are: Foresight is fundamentally about the study of change [11]. This change, as has been known since the work of Gregory Bateson [12], can only be the result of a collective, motivational process. Far from just thinking that one could modify the future simply by looking at it, Gaston Berger saw change as a dynamic that is hard to implement and difficult to conduct, as the American researchers in social psychology whose models inspired him had shown [13]. The theories of change and transformation processes described by Kurt Lewin[14], one of the most important figures in 20th century psychology, or of Lippitt, Watson and Westley[15], up to those of Edgar Morin [16] or Richard Slaughter cited below, all show the difficulty of changing the balances of power, of breaking through inertia and putting the system in motion.

The profundity of the changes to be realized must also be distinguished. Making use of the work of Chris Argyris and Donald A. Schön [17], Jean-Philippe Bootz has shown that foresight operates according to double-loop models of organisational learning, meaning that its mission is to convey innovative strategies, to make structural, intentional and non-routine changes [18]. The work of Australian foresight experts Richard Slaughter and Luke Naismith, used by the Regional Foresight College of Wallonia for the past ten years, has in fact shown the difference between a simple change as a variation in a given situation, repetitive and cyclic by nature, while a transformation consists of an essential alteration. Transformation assumes the need for a fundamental transition to another level of thought and action, a change in awareness [19]. Thus, to constitute a transformation, change must be systemic, of a magnitude that affects all the aspects of institutional functioning, rather than a simple change that affects only a part of it.

Observational foresight or transformational foresight?

In the tripod that supports foresight – long term, systemic approach to complexity, and change process – the first two features are in fact means, while the last involves ultimate aims.

Foresight for transformation is substituted for observational foresight, involving cosmetic regulation. However, this cannot be taken for granted. As Crozier and Friedberg indicate, even in the most humble context, the decisive factor in behaviour is the play of forces and influence in which the individual participates, and through which he affirms his social existence despite the constraints. But all change is dangerous, as it inevitably brings into question the terms of his operation, his sources of power and his freedom of action by modifying or eliminating the relevant areas of uncertainty that he controls [20]. One understands better why foresight frightens all those who want to see the system of former values, attitudes, behaviours and powers perpetuated. And if, by chance, they feel obliged to become involved, they will constantly attempt to control it. Of course, the insurmountable task, of this indiscipline, as Michel Godet indicates, can only be practised in a context of freedom [21]. Moreover, and this is the cornerstone of the classic L’Acteur et le système (The Actor and the System), which should never leave the bedside table of the corporate manager and the political decision maker: successful change cannot be the consequence of replacement of a former model by a new model that has been designed in advance by sages of some sort; it is the result of a collective process through which are mobilised, or even created, the resources and capacities of the participants necessary for developing new methods, free not constrained implementation of which will allow the system to orient or reorient itself as a human ensemble and not like a machine[22]. Indeed, we have experienced this in Wallonia several times…[23]

A definition of foresight that better takes these considerations into account could be written as follows. Foresight is an independent, dialectical and rigorous process, conducted in a cross-disciplinary way and based on the long term. It can elucidate questions of the present and of the future, on the one hand by considering them in their holistic, systemic and complex setting and, on the other hand, by relating them, over and above historicity, to temporality. Resolutely oriented toward projects and action, foresight aims at bringing about one or more transformations in the system that it comprehends by mobilising collective intelligence.

As for the distinction between normative and exploratory foresight, even if it seems enlightening as to the method that will be used – one explores possible futures before considering long-term issues, constructing a vision of the desirable future and building the pathways to resolve the issues and achieve the vision – it can lead to believe that one can confine oneself to one without stimulating the other. Exploratory foresight consequently becomes confused with a sort of forecast that keeps its distance from the system to be stimulated. Epistemologically attractive perhaps, but contrary to the ambition of foresight…

Certainly, much remains to be said beyond this definition, which is only just one among those that are possible. Openness to discussion is fruitful. Foresight is also a part of governance, which is now its particular field, of businesses, organisations or regions. It is probably the preferred method for approaching sustainable development, which by its nature calls for change, and for managing in this so-called transition period [24]. Moreover, this constitutes one of the phases of the change process incorporated into the model of Kurt Lewin, already cited… These considerations may seem abstract. But didn’t the German-American psychologist say that there is nothing so practical as a good theory? [25]

Philippe Destatte

[1] See for example and among many other productions: A Practical Guide to Regional Foresight, FOREN Network, December 2001.

[2] Philippe DESTATTE et Philippe DURANCE dir., Les mots-clefs de la prospective territoriale, p. 43, coll. Travaux, Paris, La Documentation française – DATAR, 2009.

[3] Pierre TEILHARD de CHARDIN, Écrits du temps de la Guerre, 1916-1919, Paris, Seuil, 1976. – André DANZIN et Jacques MASUREL, Teilhard de Chardin, visionnaire du monde nouveau, Paris, Editions du Rocher, 2005.

[4] Edgar MORIN, Introduction à la pensée complexe, Paris, Seuil, 2005.

[5] Jacques LESOURNE, Les systèmes du destin, Paris, Dalloz, 1976.

[6] Joël DE ROSNAY, Le macroscope, Vers une vision globale, Paris, Seuil, 1975.

[7] Pierre GONOD, Dynamique des systèmes et méthodes prospectives, coll. Travaux et recherches de foresight, Paris, Futuribles international – LIPS – DATAR, Mars 1996.

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

[9] Edgar MORIN, Sociologie, p. 191, Paris, Fayard, 1994.

[10] Gaston BERGER, Le chef d’entreprise, philosophe en action, Conference done on the 8th March 1955, in Prospective 7, PuF-Centre d’Études prospectives, Avril 1961, p. 50.

[11] Peter BISHOP & Andy HINES, Teaching about the Future, p. 1, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

[12] Gregory BATESON, Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Antropology, Psychiatry, Evolution and Epistemology, University of Chicago Press, 1972.

[13] Gaston BERGER, L’Encyclopédie française, t. XX : Le Monde en devenir, 1959, p. 12-14, 20, 54, in Phénoménologie du temps et prospective, p. 271, Paris, PuF, 1964.

[14] Kurt LEWIN, Frontiers in Group Dynamics, dans Human Relations, 1947, n° 1, p. 2-38. – Bernard BURNES, Kurt Lewin and the Planned Approach to change: A Re-appraisal, Journal of Management Studies, septembre 2004, p. 977-1002. – See also Karl E. WEICK and Robert E. QUINN, Organizational Change and Development, Annual Review of Psychology, 1999, p. 361-386.

[15] Ronald LIPPITT, Jeanne WATSON & Bruce WESTLEY, The Dynamics of Planned Change, A Comparative Study of Principles and Techniques, New York, Harcourt, Brace & Cie, 1958.

[16] Edgar MORIN, La méthode, 1. La Nature de la Nature, p. 158sv., Paris, Seuil, 1977.

[17] Chris ARGYRIS & Donald A. SCHON, Organizational Learning, A Theory of Action Perspective, Reading, Mass., Addison Wesley, 1978.

[18] Jean-Philippe BOOTZ, Prospective et apprentissage organisationnel, coll. Travaux et recherches de prospective, Paris, Futuribles international, LIPSOR, Datar, Commissariat général du Plan, 2001.

[19] Richard A. SLAUGHTER, The Transformative Cycle : a Tool for Illuminating Change, in Richard A. SLAUGHTER, Luke NAISMITH and Neil HOUGHTON, The Transformative Cycle, p. 5-19, Australian Foresight Institute, Swinburne University, 2004.

[20] Michel CROZIER & Erhard FRIEDBERG, L’acteur et le système, p. 386, Paris, Le Seuil, 1977.

[21] Pierre SEIN, Prospective, Réfléchir librement et ensemble, dans Sud-Ouest basque, 10 juin 1992, p. 1. – Voir aussi Michel GODET, Prospective et dynamique des territoires, dans Futuribles, Novembre 2001, p. 25-34.

[22] M. CROZIER et E. FRIEDBERG, L’acteur et le système…, p. 391.

[23] Philippe DESTATTE, Les questions ouvertes de la prospective wallonne ou quand la société civile appelle le changement, dans Territoires 2020, Revue d’études et de prospective de la DATAR, n° 3, Juin 2001, p. 139-153.

[24] Philippe DESTATTE, Une transition…. mais vers quoi ? Blog PhD2050, 12 mai 2013,

[25] Kurt LEWIN, Problems of research in social psychology in D. CARTWRIGHT, ed., Field Theory in Social Science, London, Social Science Paperbacks, 1943-1944.