Forward Engagement ® is a process of thinking systematically about complex, interactive, and longer-range issues in a way that is applicable to public policy. That application has evolved into the concept of “Anticipatory Governance” a systems-based approach for enabling governance to cope with accelerating, complex forms of change.
The Project on Forward Engagement was established in 2001 by Leon Fuerth to explore methods for incorporating systematic foresight into the US federal policy process, and for configuring government systems to deal with challenges that are “complex” (rather than just “complicated”). Through a graduate course (taught 2001-2010, 2013) at the George Washington University and expert seminars in Washington, DC, the project explores ways that government can organize itself to engage the future sooner, rather than later.
Now operating solely at the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University, the Project formerly operated jointly with the National Defense University. The Project was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the National Defense University, and has also been supported by the George Washington University and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
Forward Engagement is non-partisan, not-for-profit, and policy-neutral. The Project is exclusively concerned with the systems and processes by which policy is produced and implemented. Analysis, opinions and proposals produced by the Project on Forward Engagement and contained herein do not represent the views or opinions of any of its supporting institutions.
The United States is confronted by a new class of complex, fast-moving challenges that are outstripping the capacity of national leadership to “win the future.” These challenges are cross-cutting: they simultaneously engage not only traditional national security systems, but our social, economic and political systems. “Legacy” methods of organization and operation cannot meet this kind of challenge, and government is increasingly confined to dealing with full-blown crises, rather than with shaping events. Government needs to organize itself to extend warning time, improve coordination, and promote agility.
The objective of the Project is to encourage a more profound and continuous interaction between long-range thinking and actual policy-making. Encouraging this development is key to better safeguarding our society from unanticipated strategic surprise and, in particular, assuring the continued ability of democratic governance to successfully deal with an increasing rate of change in every area of human activity.
Forward Engagement ® is a process of thinking systematically through the longer-range consequences of present-day policy issues and also about the consequences of future contingencies for present-day decision-making. It is premised on a widely-observed phenomenon: that the speed and complexity of major events are defeating our legacy systems of government. Its prescription is an upgrade of system capacity: by building features into existing government processes, using designs specifically suited for management of today’s type of problems.
Forward Engagement makes a compound statement: (1) that major social change is accelerating at a rate fast enough to challenge the adaptive capacity of whole societies, including our own; (2) that foresight – the disciplined analysis of alternative futures – can provide timely warning of major issues ahead; and (3) that governance – the process by which policy is set and carried out – needs to institutionalize foresight.
The objective is not only to make theoretical points about the application of foresight to policy, but to produce a practical impact on governance in terms of attitudinal and institutional change.
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