The ForesightNZ: Untangling New Zealand’s long-term future workshop was a collaboration between the New Zealand Treasury and the McGuinness Institute. The workshop was held in Wellington at the New Zealand Treasury from Wednesday, 27 April to Friday, 29 April 2016. Thank you to all the sponsors, speakers, participants and the wider support team for making this workshop possible.
What do we want our lives, and the lives of others in New Zealand, to look like in 40 years time? What are the things we value most and why? What would be required to achieve these things? What trade-offs would we be willing to make?
About the purpose of the workshop
The future holds many challenges in improving the living standards of New Zealanders, and the Government holds some of the levers to address these challenges. The Treasury uses five dimensions (economic growth, sustainability, equity, social cohesion, and risk) to assess and measure impacts to living standards from different policy solutions. Sometimes there are obvious trade-offs between the various dimensions, e.g. mining can reduce environmental sustainability but improve economic growth. In other instances, a policy’s impact between the dimensions is more complex, e.g. investment in education can improve equity, social cohesion and economic growth but it can also negatively impact financial risk (if funded through debt).
The primary focus of the workshop was to develop a way to deal with the increasing complexity and uncertainty in the world around us. After careful consideration of how best to achieve this, we decided to use this opportunity to create a robust foresight tool in the form of a card game. Participants developed cards based on the events and trends that they believe could significantly shape New Zealand’s long-term future, and with these designed a number of games to develop a deeper understanding of the possible futures that might occur if a small number of those cards played out in real life.
We wanted participants to see connections between events and trends, and therefore to envisage plausible and thought-provoking stories about how the future might unfold. We also wanted to see them develop strategic knowledge about how a range of scenarios might together shape their thinking in terms of what New Zealand should focus on today to improve outcomes over the long term. Sitting alongside the card game is a workshop booklet outlining the thinking of participants – why these drivers were selected and what these multiple scenarios tell us about how New Zealand should position itself now for the range of futures ahead.
The workshop not only enabled young New Zealanders to gain an insight into the machinery of government, but also enabled officials to hear a youth perspective before finalising their Statement on New Zealand’s Long-Term Fiscal Position (due later this year). 36 participants aged between 18 and 25 came together from the Far North to Southland to consider the possible futures of their country over the next 40 years. You can learn more about the participants here.
About the workshop process
Day one of the workshop focused on gathering information from a variety of speakers on what the concepts of prosperity, sustainability and inclusion mean for New Zealand. Day two focused on learning and applying foresight tools, in order to turn the information from day one into a range of potential narratives about New Zealand’s long-term future. At this stage of the workshop, participants had their ideas stress-tested by experts in the field of futures thinking. The focus of day three was on communicating conclusions from the workshop to Treasury officials through storytelling and design. These observations and reflections have been published in a workshop booklet and a pack of ForesightNZ playing cards that you can download here. More on the workshop programme can be found here.
The workshop operated along the lines of our earlier workshops (see diagram above). Participants’ food and accommodation costs were covered during the workshop, as well as travel costs to and from Wellington. Find out more about previous workshops here.
About the ForesightNZ logo
The logo is designed to illustrate a focus on the long term, in this case at least forty years into the future. This logo is inspired by a Christmas card the Institute received from the Centre for Strategic Futures, Singapore (see the image on our blog). The logo uses the images of three well-known types of future events.
A black swan is (a) an unlikely, unexpected event, (b) carries large consequences and (c) is subject to ex-post rationalisation (the reasons for its occurrence are examined in hindsight).
A lion in the grass is unseen – an unwelcome event that we may encounter having manoeuvred around those lions that we can already see.
A black elephant is seen – a problem that is visible to everyone, yet no one wants to address it. It is a cross between a ‘black swan’ and the ‘elephant in the room’.
About the New Zealand Treasury
The New Zealand Treasury is the government’s lead advisor on economic, financial and regulatory policy. Its main functions are as follows:
- advising ministers on economic and fiscal performance;
- managing the financial affairs of the Crown;
- helping the government develop its overall strategy for state services;
- monitoring the performance of state sector agencies; and
- providing commercial policy advice and financial operations services.
About the McGuinness Institute
The McGuinness Institute is a non-partisan think tank working towards a sustainable future for New Zealand.