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From Reactive to Proactive: Cultivating a Culture of Foresight for Post-Pandemic Governance

Author

Emma Coroler

May 4, 2023

Proposed scenarios about the future should come with a pinch of salt. Without being perfectly accurate, they help prepare policymakers for better or worse. The REGROUP project funded under the Horizon Europe programme aims to advise the EU on how to address post-pandemic policy and institutional challenges by analysing the societal and political consequences of COVID-19 and considering the normative implications of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted significant inadequacies in global health governance, further exacerbated by an accumulation of economic, social, and institutional inequalities. However, such a crisis can also represent crucial turning points offering new prospects for political transformation. Entering a post-pandemic era, and looking back, one cannot help but note the record speed of technological advancements. And yet, the challenges of post-pandemic governance in Europe are particularly pressing and intricate, as they intersect with critical issues around the efficacy, fairness, and democratic nature of the EU's multi-level system. Furthermore, the COVID-19 crisis has underscored the importance of anticipating and preparing for future crises to establish a more robust governance framework by adopting foresight methodologies. As we look towards a post-pandemic European Union, it becomes imperative to consider how we can better manage global risks, enhance institutional and democratic resilience, and promote adaptable and proactive governance approaches.


Many initiatives have emerged to contribute to the revision of post-pandemic governance, including the REGROUP project funded under the Horizon Europe programme. The project gives priority to addressing the governance hindrances that have been observed during the COVID-19 crisis. Moreover, it delves into other important topics that have gained significance during the pandemic. For instance, the digitalization of society has become a vital aspect of our lives and its progress has been rapidly accelerating. Lastly, the project addresses global risks and challenges that existed prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, and seeks to provide insights that can mitigate their future impact by informing strategies and actions early on.


Launched in October 2022, REGROUP involves a consortium of 14 universities and think-tanks led by the University of Groningen, and is organized around a three-pillar methodology: diagnosis, evaluation, and prescription. By performing a diagnosis and evaluation of EU governmental structures, it becomes possible to pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses, identify areas of improvement, and determine implications for legal and institutional benchmarks. Starting in February 2024, the findings from the diagnosis and evaluation process will inform the development of prescriptive measures, in which the foresight component will be employed. The prescriptive measures will build on research done in previous work packages and provide advice for policymakers in various forms. For example, Work Package 7 (WP7), will focus on envisioning a post-pandemic European Union, based on the legal and constitutional reflection following the Conference on the Future of Europe. WP8 addresses managing global risks from institutional and societal perspectives, and informing policymakers on how these perspectives can inform the global stage. Lastly, WP9 explores potential digital strategies for democratic resilience. Each of these packages will deliver a foresight paper, which aims to set an agenda for medium to long term (5 to 20 years) scenarios and trends. The foresight papers will also serve as a foundation for creating policy briefs that pave the way for future policy decisions and actions.

REGROUP's foresight methodology relies on a two-step scenario building process that incorporates both thematic and temporal approaches. The first step involves the identification of empirical situations and likely trends and mapping out the socio-political dynamics and consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The second step involves expanding the temporal scope to encompass a broader range of potential scenarios as the timeframe increases. As the time horizon extends, the more uncertainty is involved. “Think about it as a cone,” says Piero Tortola, scientific coordinator of REGROUP. “We start with a narrow set of scenarios and as you go further in time, the cone expands”.

Tortola strongly believes that it is important to cultivate a culture of foresight among policymakers. The goal is not only to inform policymakers but also [foster] a context in in which policymaking is formulated on the basis of a long-view”. This is even more vital in light of the constant turnover of policymakers – the aim is that even when a political mandate ends, the culture of foresight will persist. Through this persistence, Tortola adds, you could “succeed in better preparing and grounding policymakers”.

While policymakers often rely on foresight as a tool, it should not be exclusively restricted to them. Tortola asserts that input from a variety of actors, such as civil society organizations and leaders, as well as citizens, is necessary for a holistic approach towards foresight. By incorporating diverse perspectives in the foresight process, policymakers can ensure that their decisions have been well-informed, based on plausible realities, and grounded on a comprehensive understanding of the issues at hand.

To this end, the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have further underscored the critical importance of this hostilic approach to building greater resilience and preparedness to deal with future crises. As the world looks to the future, there are a number of emerging trends that carry significant risks and challenges. For example, geopolitical tensions, such as the realignment of regional blocs and the rise of new global powers, can have profound implications on the global political and economic landscape. Climate change, though not only prevalent post-pandemic, is also a major challenge, with the shift towards renewable energy sources intensifying competition between countries for new resources and markets. This, in turn, could lead to a restructuring of the global economy around nations that are major producers and exporters of clean energy technologies. It is thus essential for economic players and policymakers to anticipate future trends and build the necessary foresight to respond to them effectively. This could involve greater integration of foresight into decision-making processes, the development of better foresight methodologies, and the implementation of new tools and training programs.


To effectively address all future challenges, a two-fold strategy is required. We should adopt a "local-to-global" mindset at every step, and cultivate a robust foresight culture that includes the participation of all, from citizens to policymakers, to inform decision-making.


This is an article from the Horizon Futures Watch Newsletter (Issue I, May 2023) presented by Foresight on Demand

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