Building inter-generational fairness

Cat Tully writes: I’m one of the speakers at Future Generations XChange, being held in Newport in early January. It looks like an exciting programme. A lot of Wales’ public sector leaders will be there, and the event is being opened by Wales’ First Minister, Mark Drakeford. It’s another sign of how Wales has emerged as a global leader on these issues, especially since the introduction of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act in 2015.

The question of intergenerational fairness is fast rising up the global agenda – from the schools strikes to the work of the Gulbenkian Foundation, which SOIF is proud to partner.

Wales’ Future Generations Commissioner, Sophie Howe, spoke at our flagship foresight retreat #SOIF2019. Later that month I met the team at the Welsh Government’s new unit, Llunio Polisi Dyfodol ac Integredig or Futures and Integrated Policy Making. The unit is a great example of innovation in anticipatory governance – and worth reflecting on here.

Futures generations and policy-making

The unit was set up by the First Minister earlier this year. Its purpose is to integrate policy making, accelerate progress on the 2015 Act, and embed it, and improve the foresight capability of Wales’ policy-makers. The team has also produced Wales’ Supplementary Report to the UK’s Voluntary National Review, on performance against the UN’s SDGs Framework. This is part of their role in embedding more responsible, sustainability-minded governance. The unit is an interesting innovation to support civil service contribution to the goals of the Act.

Civil servants who want to embed more anticipatory forms of governance face familiar problems. How do you ensure that futures thinking is part of front-line policy design and delivery? How do you assess its impact in getting long-term futures thinking to guide policy design and decision-making? And how do you ensure that the work is relevant in a short-termist, resource-constrained policy environment?  

We can learn a lot from Wales’ experience, and I look forward to finding out more at the Future Generations Xchange on 10th January. There is real value in building international networks to connect those exploring foresight and promoting intergenerational fairness within governments. These networks can share what works, and the lessons learned so far, and showcase what an internationally responsible polity looks like in the 21st century.

My article on Wales’ future generations work for the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development was published in April. It can be read here.