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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to examine and explain the role of foresight in government, while making an attempt to ascertain why foresight is both necessary and rare. The paper aims to identify main areas where foresight is needed as well as the constraints that it faces. It also aims to provide some prescriptions and recommendations for improving both system and process.Design/methodology/approach ‐ The methodology is based on case studies and literature search on futures/forecasting. Furthermore, analysis and observations are based on the author's own participation in different governmental and research environments; in several academic circles; within "think tanks" and on the international circuit (mostly at the UN, NATO, IAEA, IIASA and OECD) as well as within the Scandinavian scene.Findings ‐ Several methodologies and techniques that are identified here may allow people to help perceive, evaluate and control the effects of their actions, present as well as future. However, they have, so far, only been used spasmodically. One reason for this state of affairs is that the difference between "well-structured" (normal) and "ill-structured" (futures type)problems has not been properly identified or satisfactorily solved. The political system faces three major problems: the problem of competence; the problem of deliverability; and the problem of legitimacy. All of these can be helped by the understanding and application of proper foresight methods and techniques.Originality/value ‐ From the design/methodology point of view, this paper draws on the combined sources of international practice and theoretical implications. Its findings are easily comprehended and hence useful for their practical application for decision making on global as well as regional problems. The concept of fully "learning to unlearn" is of primary importance, as well as that of not "discounting the future", for which several methods and techniques have been analyzed and suggested.