The enemy to beat: short-termism
Short-termism has become one of the major problems of our time. In recent decades, the acceleration of technological change, the rise of globalisation, the digitisation of the public debate and various institutional changes have caused the political horizons of Western countries to shrink dramatically. Today's institutions face change more frequently than ever before; they must manage with increasingly rapid social, economic and technological processes; and they need to deal with a frenetic news flow in which the “current affairs” lasts only a few hours and events are rarely analysed with the necessary depth and time.
The result is an increasingly short-sighted society, where the urgent tends to overshadow the important and tactics trump strategy. The costs of this short-sightedness are high: decisions that backfire due to lack of foresight, missed opportunities, laws that quickly become obsolete, and problems that are tackled too late. Short-termism is damaging our well-being and is preventing us from effectively confronting the great challenges of our time, such as climate change, demographic ageing, inequality, or democratic discontent. Moreover, it is also putting at risk the well-being of future generations, postponing sine die costly but necessary transformations and dumping many of the inefficiencies of our system, such as environmental degradation, technological risks, or social fracture, into the future.
Fortunately, more and more countries are opening their eyes to this problem. In recent years, several governments and international organisations have launched initiatives to increase the time horizon of their political action and foster their capacities for “anticipatory governance” by strategic planning. Today, there are foresight units at the European Commission, the European Parliament, the United Nations, NATO, the OECD, and the governments of Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Portugal, the United Kingdom and Singapore, among others.
The National Office of Foresight & Strategy of the Government of Spain was created in January 2020. It is based at the Cabinet of the Presidency of the Government, at the Moncloa Palance, and it reports directly to the President and his Chief of Staff. Its team is comprised by a multidisciplinary group of researchers that includes economists, historians, environmental engineers, jurists and political scientists educated in Spain and abroad.
The official mandate of the Office is to "systematically analyze empirical evidence available to identify possible (demographic, economic, geopolitical, environmental, and societal) challenges and opportunities that Spain will encounter in the medium- and long-term, and to help the country prepare for them” (BOE).
To fulfil this mandate, the Office works closely with ministries and agencies of the Government, as well as with universities, think tanks, foundations, NGOs and organizations of the civil society. Moreover, the Office represents Spain at the EU-wide Foresight Network of the European Commission and collaborates with European institutions such as the Joint Research Centre.
The Office does not seek to “predict the future” –something that is entirely impossible– but rather to understand it better, through the use of quantitative and qualitative methods widely recognized in academia.