Horizon Scanning Programme: a new approach for policy making

Published on Friday, 12 July 2013 10:52
Written by Vicki Mitchem

The Civil Service is taking a new, joined-up approach to horizon scanning to help inform current policy making.

Following on from the recent Jon Day review of cross-government horizon scanning, the Cabinet Secretary is personally championing the joining-up of existing horizon scanning within government, and with his new Cabinet Secretary's Advisory Group has commissioned several new strands of work to inform major areas of policy.

In a tight economic climate, it is more important than ever to have the best possible understanding of the world around us, and how that world is changing, so policy makers can prioritise and adapt effectively. Although a lot of horizon scanning work is already being done in government departments, the Jon Day review recommended that efforts could be more joined up. This will improve efficiency and ensure greater capability in understanding and addressing these issues.

What is horizon scanning?

The Jon Day review defined horizon scanning as:

A systematic examination of information to identify potential threats, risks, emerging issues and opportunities, beyond the Parliamentary term, allowing for better preparedness and the incorporation of mitigation and exploitation into the policy making process.

Horizon scanning is used as an overall term for analysing the future: considering how emerging trends and developments might potentially affect current policy and practice. This helps policy makers in government to take a longer-term strategic approach, and makes present policy more resilient to future uncertainty. In developing policy, horizon scanning can help policy makers to develop new insights and to think 'outside the box'.

In contingency planning, horizon scanning helps to manage risk by planning ahead for unlikely, but potentially high impact events. There are a range of possible methodological approaches, such as developing alternative future scenarios. More information about tools and uses of horizon scanning in government can be found on the Foresight Horizon Scanning Centre website.

About the Horizon Scanning Programme

The cross-government Horizon Scanning Programme aims to embed better horizon scanning capabilities in the policy-making process in the UK Civil Service and to co-ordinate activity. It will:

  • ensure implications for policy are highlighted at the right levels
  • establish a common baseline of understanding across government departments and organisations
  • minimise duplication
  • share best practice

The programme is led by the Cabinet Secretary through a group of senior civil servants, the Cabinet Secretary's Advisory Group. They are the ultimate customer for an existing network of officials in various government departments and agencies to escalate emergent trends and issues, and they will co-ordinate work on cross-cutting themes that will affect more than one part of government. They are supported by a small Horizon Scanning Secretariat within the Cabinet Office's Government Innovation Group, working closely with the Foresight Horizon Scanning Centre in the Government Office for Science. The programme will ensure greater co-ordination of existing resources.

Ministerial oversight for the programme is provided by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, the Minister for Government Policy and the Minister of State for the Cabinet Office. They are informed of the findings from Cabinet Secretary's Advisory Group meetings and any conclusions or policy recommendations arising. They will also meet periodically to review the programme and to commission further future work where required.

What are the new work strands?

Over 2013, departments will work together in 'communities of interest' to deliver horizon scanning on a series of work strands as part of the Horizon Scanning Programme, focussing on the following areas:

  • emerging technologies
  • emerging economies
  • changing supply and demand of resources
  • changing social attitudes of young people
  • the future of demographic change in the UK

Work on the implications of demographic change is led by Professor Sir Mark Walport, the government's Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA).

Source: Cabinet Office

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