This issue of the IDS Bulletin focuses on the role of foresight in policy-oriented international development research and seeks to draw attention to the opportunities and challenges associated with the wide range of foresight approaches and methods that help individuals and groups to think about and prepare for different possible futures.
From its systematic origins in the private sector – where the interest was in developing strategy, understanding implications of present and future trends and events, facilitating better decision-making and improving risk management – so governments and public sector bodies subsequently embraced foresight with similar objectives.
Looking to the future is – or certainly should be – at the core of development studies. While the benefit of ‘looking back to look forward’ is well recognised, foresight is more akin to ‘looking forward to look forward’. It is striking that foresight approaches and methods do not figure prominently in policy-oriented development research. Why might this be so? This IDS Bulletin suggests two possible explanations. First, most social science disciplines are more comfortable with the analysis of the past and the present than the future. Second, the model of the large, well-funded public sector foresight programme simply does not reflect the realities of much policy-oriented development research.
A principle concern of this issue is whether foresight approaches and methods can be usefully integrated into small-scale, exploratory research of relevance to the international development community.