From future states to images of identity
Purpose ‐ The aim of this paper is to review the use of scenario-building at the central government level in New Zealand and to consider an alternative technique ‐ national imaging ‐ for stimulating public discussion of the future. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The paper briefly surveys New Zealand's history of prospective government before examining scenario construction during the Foresight Project convened by the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology during the late 1990s. Both the official scenarios produced and the guidance given to sector participants to produce their own scenarios are discussed. Findings ‐ Scenario-building in a national government context has pitfalls and limitations, namely that the technique is too ambitious, too socially unitary, and too implicitly long-term to be really useful as a primary focus. Consideration of the shortcomings gives rise to an alternative procedure which focuses on developing images of national identity or conduct rather than envisioning or predicting future states. Practical implications ‐ Scenario building need not be dispensed with, but should be subordinated to democratic discussion of ways of collectively orienting to the future. Originality/value ‐ The paper introduces a new technique of "national imaging" as one that may better serve as an initial (not exclusive) tool of democratic envisioning of the future at the national level.