Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

The Futures of Canadian Governance: Foresight Competencies for Public Administration in the Digital Era

Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

The Futures of Canadian Governance: Foresight Competencies for Public Administration in the Digital Era

Article excerpt

Introduction

Much of the current research and discussion reporting on digital governance attends to the technosphere, with studies informing of the challenges and developmental opportunities for civil service in digital management, information technology, technology trends, and social media. Several articles in this special issue collection report on the adoption and realization of digital competencies within government to deliver and improve public services or engage citizens in the digital sphere (Lindquist 2017; Brown and Toze 2017). Others develop accounts of digital policy design (Clarke and Craft 2017), and dealing with regulation in the rapidly digital public sphere (Dutil 2017). Important concerns of temporality, trend, and uncertainty are implicated across the entire project of anticipating and advising future directions of digital governance. These concerns for anticipating and predisposition are functions of strategic foresight, and demand the cultivation of rigorous futures thinking and modeling within current policy practices.

Strategic foresight develops a range of competencies instrumental in envisioning future strategies, informing planning alternatives and strategic options through application of expert, evidence, creative and collaborative methods. Foresight methods enable anticipatory reasoning and formal speculation about possible and probable future outcomes to facilitate current situational decision making. Strategic foresight methods in policy and governance contexts has enjoyed a long history, especially in Canadian public administration. However, as we consider the disruptive and abrupt changes to information and communication technology, consumer trends, new Internet media, and the impact of trends on governing, we find significant uncertainty in strategy and decision making. Governments are not organized across departments and functions to take advantage of broad-based foresight advising that might affect multiple policy functions.

Responding to the emerging challenges in digital era governance, we might address the value of foresight to three of the most relevant issues associated with governance research:

* Developing an innovative and resilient public sector for the digital age;

* Anticipating the evolution of Westminster institutions for the digital age;

* Guiding long-range planning in the face of greater uncertainty, requiring collaboration across boundaries to improve digital era governance.

These issues require qualified observations about future social and technological trajectories affecting policy design, governance, service provision, and management decision making.

Foresight artifacts and futures models are best realized as inputs to early policy formation, where possible second-order effects and future consequences of policy implementation can be anticipated before policy proposals become locked in and resistant to alteration.

The inclusion of rigorous strategic foresight into policy advising and services design ought to be welcomed by public servants, but as with any process methodology, the proof of adoption lies in cultural fit and quality of execution. Currently, there are at least three communities of advising and several policy formation paradigms within policy advisory systems (Craft and Howlett 2013), and not all may be apprised of foresight modalities. Foresight studies have typically been imported as advisories by external knowledge producers, unless commissioned in government offices by internal knowledge brokers (such as Canada's Policy Horizons group). Across many contemporary governments we have seen a growing preference for evidence-based, quantitative methods (for example, data analytics, targeted surveys and demographic estimation), which might seem incompatible with futures studies. Yet the contributions of foresight methods including trend scanning, scenarios and future proposals--provide critical insight for defining policy hypotheses, constructing policy business cases, and selecting key developing trends for deeper study. …

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