Wales Leads on Embedding Futures in Public Policy

Originally posted as a blog at the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development website 

Great to see Wales continuing to lead the way on embedding long-term thinking and foresight in public policy at last week’s FuturesCymru2019 ‘Shaping the Future’ conference. Building on its Wellbeing of Future Generations Act 2015 and its unique appointment of a Future Generations Commissioner, the Welsh model really is a leading example globally of a public administration taking seriously the responsibility to design sustainable policies that take into account impacts over decades ahead, and to seek to preserve key social, environmental and cultural assets (framed as the ‘seven wellbeing goals’) for future generations.

Engaging proactively with uncertain futures is a vital part of the toolkit of public sector policymakers and decision-makers everywhere, but this event was a reminder that in Wales it is not an optional extra: the 2015 Act places obligations on all public bodies to report against the future wellbeing framework. This conference was a chance to help drive a culture of future-mindedness through the public sector, as delegates from public health to the fire service, national parks to the arts council heard from futures experts including Bill Sharpe and Graham Leicester (Director of the International Futures Forum), who ran sessions using the ‘three horizons’ methodology and Claire Craig, Chief Science Policy Officer at the Royal Society and formerly director of the UK government’s national Foresight programme, Foresight UK.

The Welsh experience is one to watch globally in showing how integrating long-term thinking can produce sustainable policies. This event showed that futures thinking is slowly becoming introduced across the public sector: a hugely welcome development, and one that is starting to put Wales in the front of the pack globally, along with, say, Singapore and Finland. Next time, it’d be great to see even wider participation – civil servants are on the frontline of policy formulation and delivery, but we need wider societal participation and inclusive decision-making to ensure the ‘official future’ is challenged by outside voices, and the interests of future generations are fully represented, as formative decisions are made.