Anticipating and planning for the future is not a luxury in the dynamic and complex world of social justice. It’s a necessary instrument for impactful advocacy that happens through strategic foresight. Foresight is the process of creating visions of the future and developing strategies that could help to achieve those future visions.
For social justice organizations, the use of strategic foresight is empowering, as it equips us to anticipate challenges and leverage new opportunities in creating a just and equitable society. Due to the constant influence of social, political, economic, tech, and other forces, the social justice landscape changes every day.
Foresight offers a crucial advantage in this ever-evolving environment. First, it allows us to anticipate challenges and opportunities. Foresight enables social justice advocates to identify emerging trends, potential threats, and promising opportunities. This proactive approach allows for timely responses, preventing crises, and capitalizing on favorable conditions.
Second, it helps in creating flexible strategies. Social justice challenges are complex and multidimensional, necessitating the development of strategies that may change as conditions do. Organizations using strategic foresight are better able to create adaptable plans that can withstand changing storms and take advantage of new opportunities.
Third, foresight processes are participatory and inclusive. This helps to empower marginalized communities and guarantees that diverse perspectives are heard and that the needs of the most marginalized communities are taken into account when designing and building the future. Foresight processes are crucial in creating inclusive strategies that promote cooperation and mutual understanding, which produces more equitable and successful results.
We can integrate strategic foresight into social justice work in various ways. By regularly scanning the environment for emerging trends, societal shifts, and technological advancements, strategic foresight provides valuable insights into potential future landscapes that could impact societal justice. Developing multiple scenarios of potential futures, positive, negative, and outlier possibilities can help organizations prepare for a range of potential outcomes and develop proactive strategies for navigating them. Engaging diverse stakeholders – including community members, experts, and policymakers – in foresight processes broadens perspectives and ensures that multiple viewpoints are taken into account.
Moreover, by embedding strategic foresight in an organizational DNA, a social justice organization becomes a learning organization. Employing strategic foresight requires a consistent commitment to learning, adapting, and improving strategies based on new information and developments. It is an iterative process that helps develop a culture of foresight, making us more proactive, adaptable, resilient, and innovative over time.
Strategic foresight is not entirely new in social justice organizations. Some bigger organizations employ futurist consultants to guide them in their foresight journey, such as the futures-focused humanitarian think tank IARAN. Others opt to invest in building up some of their own staff to become resident futurists to lead the integration of foresight in their social justice work. For instance, the School of International Futures have, in partnership with stakeholders in Portugal, developed the Intergenerational Fairness Assessment Framework, which includes a set of tools to support organizations in assessing proposed policies, programs, and projects to ensure that they don’t have any adverse effects on current and future generations. The Ashoka Foundation's Social Innovation Lab also provides support and resources to young people through the use of foresight to design innovative solutions to issues relevant to them. Some countries in Southern Africa are even using civic technology to support anticipatory governance.
To support humanitarian and development workers, as well as social and environmental justice leaders, in the challenging work of creating more just futures, we at United Edge have integrated the tools of foresight to the pillars of the Justice Based Approach. With strategic foresight our actions are no longer simply informed by the present and the past but also the future. In the same way that strategic foresight must be informed by justice. If not, solutions, actions, and visions could be patently unjust and might eventually create more challenges towards achieving justice for future generations and the planet.
Through foresight, we recognize our role in working for justice using the Justice Based Approach. The responsibility to act does not only rest on the hands of individuals. Those with power and influence, governments, organizations, and businesses are accountable to ensuring justice for all – for those who are here now and those who will come after us, as well. To know more about how we are integrating foresight with the Justice Based Approach and join us on your own journey of discovery, visit our website here!
Shiela R Castillo is a social development professional and futurist passionate about social justice, the environment, animal rights, and future-forward solutions to wicked problems. As United Edge Foresight Director, she leads the Strategic Foresight Workshop for Social Justice Leaders.