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Work & Society 2040

How we look into the future

Published on 07 Dec 2020

Strategic foresight makes forward-looking policymaking possible. On the basis of a variety of scenarios, stakeholders are equipped to continuously address the new questions that arise and pursue a proactive approach. A broad range of methods are thus applied.

What the weather will be like tomorrow can more or less be predicted well. But if we want to know what our society will be like in ten or 20 years, predictions and forecasts do not work. The time spans are too long and the developments, influencing factors, and aspects mutually dependent on these are too complex. We increasingly live in a globalised and digitally networked world in which unpredictability, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are the rule rather than the exception. The coronavirus pandemic has turned the reality of our lives and work upside down within just a short period of time. A look at the dynamic developments in key technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, or hydrogen technology points to transformation accompanying us permanently throughout the next ten years as well.

Against this backdrop, anticipatory policymaking that addresses plausible developments with foresight and at an early stage – thinking ahead, so to speak – is gaining in importance. This is exactly what strategic foresight aims to achieve. With its help, stakeholders are put in a position to continuously address the new questions that arise, thereby enabling them to rethink and shape the future of work and society. An open process of envisioning the future requires that digitalisation will not be viewed solely as a risk or a threat. Rather, it exists in an area of tension where scope for action and opportunities can arise. It is therefore not a question of correctly predicting the future as such; the objective is to come up with a variety of plausible futures or scenarios that provide guidance for political action through insight.

Strategic foresight at the Policy Lab

The Policy Lab’s process of strategic foresight aims at identifying trends, tendencies, and faint signs of transformation in all their diversity. For this purpose, a toolbox tailored specifically to the needs of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) containing a range of different “future tools” is being developed.

  • Horizon scanning: continuous environment monitoring that systematically and regularly identifies themes that are highly relevant for the future of work and society and provides information on new and changing signs of transformation.
  • Deep dives: advanced compact future analyses of selected areas of technology, applications, and policymaking, as well as industries and regions.
  • Long-term scenarios: scenarios dealing with work and society in 2040 which are developed through participatory processes provide guidance for political action through insight.

With strategic foresight, the Policy Lab is consolidating its approach to systematically addressing the future beyond current legislative terms. In the process, it attaches a great deal of importance to the principles it has developed for its own work: a positive forward-looking approach; systematic dialogue orientation and participatory policymaking; linking of national, European, and international levels of discourse and policymaking; identification of new areas of action for BMAS; and the constant search for new concretisation of visions of both progress and the future.