Why the Philippines needs futures thinking

Published August 11, 2022, 5:56 AM

by Reynaldo C. Lugtu, Jr.

Now, the problem we are facing as a country is sugar. The Philippines has been teetering on a sugar shortage issue in the last few months following the sector’s missed production target due to weather disturbances and high input costs. There are talks to have the sugar industry liberalized to open it to importations.

Not be left out is the recent pronouncements of Senator Raffy Tulfo highlighting the need to find a permanent solution to the perennial power outages and rising electricity costs in the country.

Last July 23, a report by the World Bank was released, showing the Philippines getting a 91% learning poverty rate and a 90% learning deprivation rate, one of the highest in the East Asia and Pacific region and among lower-middle income economies. Coming on the heels of this was the report of the Commission of Audit flagging the Department of Education for P2.4 billion worth of ‘outdated’ laptops.

Administration in and administration out, the Philippines faces the same problems like a broken record – education, energy, water, flood, waste, internet, corruption, and the list goes on. Administrators and policymakers address these with band-aid solutions like importations, foreign and domestic investments, or implementation of projects, unmindful of the long-term impact.

But in crafting policies, our lawmakers and policymakers need to visualize the preferred future 20 to 50 years forward. The process to achieve this is what is termed as futures thinking.

“Futures thinking (the theory and methods) and foresight (the practical application) are a set of approaches and tools designed to help their users identify emerging issues, negotiate uncertainties,articulate scenarios, develop a common vision of a desired future through wide participation,introduce innovation, and design robust policies and strategies,” as defined in the Asian Development Bank (ADB) 2020 report.

Furthermore, “futures thinking and foresight not only use data and analytics from the past but also bring in the views and imagination of a wide range of participants, including government officials and representatives of industry, civil society, and academia; it does not look only at what is possiblebut at what is desired.”

The best example of a country that progressed because of futures thinking is Singapore. In 1995, its government set up the Scenario Planning Office under the Office of the Prime Minister “to develop scenarios from a whole-of-government perspective” .It was renamed the Strategic Policy Office (SPO) in 2003 “to reflect the strengthened links between foresight work and strategy formulation”. The Office was later renamed to the Centre for Strategic Futures (CSF) in 2009 “established as futures think tank within SPO to focus on issues that may be blind-spot areas, pursue open-ended long-term futures research, and experiment with new foresight methodologies,” according to its website.

Where Singapore is now is the result of futures thinking more than three decades ago. No wonder why it was best prepared as a country to face the pandemic in 2020.

In South Korea, futures studies started in 1969 with the establishment of the Korean Society for Futures Studies (KSFS); and in 1971 released its first futures research report about “Korea in 2000”. This was the basis of the Korea Five-Year Economic Development Plans implemented from 1962 to 1981. Fast forward to 1981, the country established the National Assembly Futures Institute(NAFI),the world first futures research institute enacted and built by the formal legislative body.

We know how progressive, advanced, and powerful South Korea now, with its people enjoying high per capita incomes and comfortable lives.

In the Philippines, the Senate Committee on Sustainable Development Goals, Innovation and Futures Thinking was created during the 18th Congress on September 3, 2019, chaired by Senator Pia S. Cayetano. “Subsuming sustainable development, innovation, and futures thinking in a single committee is strategic not achieving the SDGs by 2030 but also in legislating policies that are cognizant of the interplay of social, economic, environmental and governance factors in the upcoming decades”, according to the NEDA website.

It is never too late to incorporate and institution futures thinking in our government and policy making. But it only shows and validates the lack of foresight and futures thinking in how policies and laws were crafted in the past without regard to the long-term impact to the people and society; hence, all the environmental, societal, and economic issues that the Philippines have now.

It is urgent that all branches of government institutionalize and practice futures thinking in all their policy making as soon as possible. With global warming, advancement of technologies, and geopolitical shifts happening, lawmakers and policymakers need to consider the impact of their decisions now to the future generations to come.

The author is the Founder and CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm. He is the Chairman of the Information and Communication Technology Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He is a Fellow at the US-based Institute for Digital Transformation. He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be emailed at [email protected]

 
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