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Monday, April 22, 2024

Building a Resilient Future: The Urgent Need for a U.S. Office of Strategic Foresight

In today’s rapidly evolving global landscape, characterized by uncertainty and complexity, the need for proactive governance has never been more evident. As the world navigates through unprecedented challenges and opportunities, the absence of a deliberate and dedicated approach to Strategic Foresight in the United States poses significant risks to our nation’s ability to anticipate and adapt to emerging trends and events. In response to this critical gap, the Federal Foresight Advocacy Alliance (FFAA-us.org) advocates for the establishment of a U.S. Office of Strategic Foresight, which would serve as a strategic vanguard in shaping a more resilient and future-ready America. 

The COVID-19 pandemic was a stark illustration of our vulnerability to unforeseen disruptions. However, it is just one example of the myriad challenges we have faced in recent years, from natural disasters to AI to geopolitical tensions. These events collectively underscore the unpredictable nature of our world and the need for vigilantly proactive measures to mitigate their impacts, especially in the turbulent 21st century.  

This is not new. We’ve had wake up calls before. More than twenty years ago, America was reeling from the 9/11 attacks. The 9/11 Commission Report included a scathing critique: “Across the government, there were failures of imagination, policy, capabilities, and management…The most important failure was one of imagination.”  

Yet, despite “surprises” like 9/11 and the pandemic, which have touched American lives and the U.S. government in profound ways, our government has still not set itself up for success in anticipating and preparing for a wide range of adverse and fortuitous situations.  

The absence of a centralized foresight entity in the federal government results in fragmented and inconsistent approaches to the discipline, including varying levels of training and experience among staff, as well as output that is not coordinated, integrated and evaluated as part of a whole-of-government strategy. While some pockets within government agencies practice strategic foresight, it is not embedded at the highest policy-making levels. This lack of coordination, consistency, and continuity in foresight practice across government leaves us vulnerable to unforeseen threats and missed opportunities, like 9/11 and the pandemic. 

Furthermore, not having this capacity and culture leaves us thinking too little about the long-term in a society often driven by short-term results, frequent elections, and a rapid news cycle. By carving out resources to solve both present challenges and invest in future-focused activities, we can address short-term issues while also preparing for long-term uncertainty in a proactive fashion. A U.S. Office of Strategic Foresight would bridge the gap between short- and long-term planning, ensuring that our nation remains agile, adaptive, and future-ready and aligns short-term responses with desired longer-term aspirations. 

The benefits of establishing this office are manifold and far-reaching. From early threat detection to enhanced policy formulation and cross-disciplinary collaboration, such an entity would empower decision-makers with the insights necessary to navigate an increasingly complex world. By fostering a culture of long-term thinking and innovation, it would position the United States as a global leader in shaping its future, driving economic growth, and ensuring national security. 

A comparative analysis reveals that the United States significantly lags behind several others in adopting strategic foresight as a linchpin for governance and policy-making. Canada, Finland, and the European Union, for example, have set the bar for incorporating foresight into governance. They have established dedicated offices and institutionalized the use of foresight across all government agencies. To regain its leadership position and competitive advantage the United States must take decisive action to establish a U.S. Office of Strategic Foresight and assure its effective implementation. 

Its key functional units would engage in horizon scanning, analysis, scenario-based planning, and strategy development, supported by collaborative platforms and interagency coordination mechanisms. By harnessing the expertise of diverse stakeholders and leveraging best-in-class talent, this foresight team would foster innovation, resilience, and strategic agility across the government. 

The establishment of a U.S. Office of Strategic Foresight is not just a strategic imperative; it is a moral obligation to safeguard our nation’s future. The time for action is now to build a better and more resilient future for generations to come. 

For more information on the Federal Foresight Advocacy Alliance (FFAA), visit their website where you can find their Case Statement. You can also follow them on LinkedIn to stay up to date on how this effort is progressing. 

Authors

Suzette Brooks Masters

Suzette Brooks MastersSuzette Brooks Masters is a social entrepreneur, philanthropic advisor, thought leader, author and strategist in the fields of democracy, governance and futures. She prides herself on seeing around the corner and challenging conventional thinking.

Ms. Masters is a Senior Fellow and leads the Better Futures Project at the Democracy Funders Network, a cross-ideological learning and action community for donors concerned about American democracy. She is a co-chair and co-founder of the Federal Foresight Advocacy Alliance, a new collective effort championing the creation of a U.S. Office of Strategic Foresight, and serves as U.S. Adviser to the School of International Futures.

Ms. Masters is a graduate of Harvard Law School, Cambridge University on a Marshall Scholarship, and Amherst College.

Kara Cunzeman

Kara CunzemanKara Cunzeman is the director of strategic foresight within the Center for Space Policy and Strategy at The Aerospace Corporation. Cunzeman championed and founded the Strategic Foresight directorate at Aerospace and serves as its first director. In her role, Cunzeman leads an “A” team of incredible thinkers who are focused on cultivating a formalized approach to futures thinking through the discipline of strategic foresight, helping the enterprise adequately prepare its organizations and capabilities to proactively shape the future through innovative approaches across strategy, acquisition, science, technology portfolio management, policy, and operations. Cunzeman is an experienced professional who is a recognized, trusted advisor and transformative thought leader for executive leadership across government, academia, and industry. Cunzeman is a confirmed “mad scientist,” as declared by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), a member of the Federal Foresight Community of Interest, and a frequent guest speaker.

Prior to working at Aerospace, Cunzeman held roles in space systems engineering, vehicle operations, and space sensor development at Raytheon and General Atomics. Before that, she was at Packer Engineering, where her contributions were key to winning Phase II funding via a NASA Small Business in Innovation Research (SBIR) award for extracting oxygen from lunar soil.

Cunzeman received her bachelor’s degree in multidisciplinary engineering and a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics engineering from Purdue University. She is also a certified foresight practitioner and guest instructor at the Institute for the Future and the Center for Intelligence Studies, International Space University, American University, and George Washington University.

Robin L. Champ

Robin L. Champ is a visionary leader in strategic foresight and strategy management, currently serving as the Vice President, Strategic Foresight at LBL Strategies. With a distinguished career spanning key roles in both the Department of Defense and the U.S. Secret Service, Robin brings unparalleled expertise to the table. Retired as the Chief of the Enterprise Strategy Division at the United States Secret Service, Robin led the organization’s foresight and strategic planning efforts. Notably, she also co-chaired the Federal Foresight Community of Interest, showcasing her commitment to advancing foresight practices across government.

Prior to her tenure at USSS, Robin served as the Chief of the Global Futures Office at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). There, she developed a pioneering methodology encompassing stakeholder interviews, scenario-based planning, SWOT analysis, policy analysis, and crowdsourcing. This approach formed the bedrock of the Agency’s Strategic Plan, solidifying Robin’s reputation as a thought leader in the field. Robin’s influence extended even further at DTRA, where she led the Project on Advanced Systems and Concepts for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD). Through strategic studies and dialogues, she addressed critical national security and CWMD challenges, forging collaborations with esteemed institutions like the National Defense University and the U.S. Air Force Institute for National Security Studies.

Her tenure at the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) saw her at the forefront of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, where she played a pivotal role as the DLA Lead. Notably, Robin authored the DLA Transformation Roadmap and served as the Program Manager for DLA’s Balanced Scorecard, leaving an indelible mark on the agency’s strategic trajectory. In addition to her official positions, Ms. Champ is a U.S. Army proclaimed “Mad Scientist, and also serves as an “Expert in Residence” for Toffler Associates. Robin’s illustrious career has earned her accolades, including a commendation from the Vice President of the United States, the prestigious DTRA Director’s Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, and the U.S. Secret Service Director’s Impact Award.

She holds a Bachelor of Science in Journalism/Advertising from the University of Maryland, where she graduated at the pinnacle of her Advertising class. Additionally, she holds a Master of Science in National Resource Strategy from NDU’s Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF) – now the Eisenhower School, and is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Senior Executive Fellows program. A sought-after keynote speaker on foresight, Robin has graced numerous forums, including the International Association for Strategy Professionals, Federal Foresight Community of Interest, Palladium Strategy Summit, National Defense University, American Society of Microbiology, Department of Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy National Labs, OPM’s Federal Executive Institute, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

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Robin L. Champ, Suzette Brooks Masters and Kara Cunzeman

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