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Horizon Scanning

Editor's Note to Readers

Welcome to the fifth edition of Human Capital Matters for 2014—the digest for leaders and practitioners with an interest in human capital and organisational capability. This edition focuses on Horizon Scanning.

Human Capital Matters seeks to provide APS leaders and practitioners with easy access to the issues of contemporary importance in public and private sector human capital and organisational capability. It has been designed to provide interested readers with a monthly guide to the national and international ideas that are shaping human capital thinking and practice. The inclusion of articles is aimed at stimulating creative and innovative thinking and does not in any way imply that the Australian Public Service Commission endorses service providers or policies.

Horizon Scanning is a broad area that gathers evidence about future trends and possible situations that allow for the identification of challenges and opportunities. It is an area that can facilitate innovative thinking and policy development.

The edition commences with a 2009 Swiss report Horizon Scanning in Government: Concept, Country Experiences, and Models for Switzerland that identifies emerging principles associated with Horizon Scanning. This is followed by a document developed by the Australian Department of Employment for the Australian public sector. It provides an overview of what horizon scanning is and suggests how it can be used by policy officers.

The edition also highlights research tools that can be sources of information when engaging in horizon scanning. These include the Australian Bureau of Statistics work on exploring Australian Social Trends and the Department of Employment's Labour Market Information Portal.

The final publication is a study published by the European Union in 2013 that looks at the way governments approach foresight, the issues they try to grapple with and the challenges they face in connecting foresight and policy.

Thank you to those who took the time to provide feedback on earlier editions of Human Capital Matters. Comments, suggestions or questions regarding this publication are always welcome and should be addressed to: humancapitalmatters [at] apsc.gov.au. Readers can also subscribe to the mailing list through this email address.

Contents

Habeger, B. Horizon Scanning in Government: Concept, Country Experiences, and Models for Switzerland (2009)

This report outlines the concept and purpose of horizon scanning and reviews the experiences of the United Kingdom Foresight Programme, Singapore's Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning, and the Netherlands Horizon Scan project. In addition, it develops perspectives for the establishment of horizon scanning in Switzerland.

Go to “Horizon Scanning in Government: Concept, Country Experiences, and Models for Switzerland”

Department of Employment. Horizon Scanning, May 2014

This paper was written for policy officers and shared on the Public Sector Innovation Website. It provides an overview of what horizon scanning is and how it can be used by policy officers.

It explains horizon scanning as being a structured evidence-gathering process. The process involves collecting or reviewing a broad range of evidence, research and opinions with the aim of identifying weak (or early) signals in the form of events, patterns and trends or other developments that allow for the identification of potential opportunities and challenges.

Go to “Horizon Scanning”

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2014). Australian Social Trends

Australian Social Trends (AST) is an Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) flagship publication presenting a picture of Australian society through a selection of articles. The articles aim to address current and ongoing social concerns, and focus on population groups of interest and changes over time. Each tells a story and provides a sense of the social and historical context of its topic.

Go to “Australian Social Trends”

Department of Employment. (2014). Labour Market Information Portal

The Labour Market Information Portal (LMIP) has been developed by Department of Employment as an online resource. It contains up to date labour market data to help people understand their local labour markets. Data on the website are available at the national, state, Labour Force Region, Employment Service Area and Statistical Local Area levels. The department conducts employment related research into areas including skill shortages, recruitment experiences, labour and skills needs and industry and employment trends.

Go to “Labour Market Information Portal”

Iana Dreyer and Gerald Stang, with the collaboration of Carole Richard Foresight in governments— practices and trends around the world, European Union Institute for Security Studies, European Union (30 May 2013)

This study provides the initial results of a survey of foresight activities undertaken by a select group of governments around the world.

The study was begun following the initiative by European Union (EU) in- situations to build a joint foresight capacity (European Strategy and Policy Analysis System—ESPAS) that assesses long-term global trends to help them strengthen policy planning. In addition to contributing to the discussion about this new EU activity, the study is also intended to be of interest for the wider European policy planning community and to anyone interested in learning about how governments practise ‘the art of the long view’ (Schwartz, 1991).

Go to “Foresight in governments–practices and trends around the world, European Union Institute for Security Studies, European Union”

Habeger, B. Horizon Scanning in Government: Concept, Country Experiences, and Models for Switzerland (2009)

This report outlines the concept and purpose of horizon scanning and reviews the experiences of the United Kingdom Foresight Programme, Singapore’s Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning, and the Netherlands Horizon Scan project. In addition, it develops perspectives for the establishment of horizon scanning in Switzerland.

Horizon Scanning is only vaguely defined. In a narrow sense it refers to policy tools that aim to gather information about trends and upcoming events, economic, social and technological developments. In a wider sense it is a synonym for a range of foresight activities that aim to develop the capabilities of organisations to deal with an uncertain and complex future.
Some common ideas and principles emerged through the experiences of the United Kingdom, Singapore and the Netherlands reviews. These include:

  • The aim to mainstream horizon scanning throughout all policy areas and government departments.
  • The programs want to support different government agencies in developing their own horizon scanning activities.
  • The programs aim to build networks across professional communities and extend their activities to private businesses, think tanks and academia.
  • The programs want to connect and work closely with the academic world to ensure their activities are informed by real expert knowledge.
  • The programs need broad political support as they are aimed at generating new ideas.
  • The programs should ensure that they have an impact on decision making processes as all those involved will otherwise soon lose interest.

Horizon Scanning in Government: Concept, Country Experiences, and Models for Switzerland (2009)

This report was commissioned by the Federal Office of Civil Protection, Switzerland

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Department of Employment. Horizon Scanning, May 2014

This paper was written for policy officers and shared on the Public Sector Innovation Website. It provides an overview of what horizon scanning is and how it can be used by policy officers.

It explains horizon scanning as being a structured evidence-gathering process. The process involves collecting or reviewing a broad range of evidence, research and opinions with the aim of identifying weak (or early) signals in the form of events, patterns and trends or other developments that allow for the identification of potential opportunities and challenges.

There are no set rules for undertaking horizon scanning. The key is to gather thoughts, evidence and opinions surrounding the topic of interest from across a broad spectrum of sources. Horizon scanning involves both collection and analysis.

It is important that the information collected as part of the horizon scan is recorded somewhere.

Most people rely on commissioned research, statistics, journal articles and press reports to inform their views on a topic. However, the authors note that horizon scanning requires you to consciously look beyond traditional sources.

In addition to these traditional sources, some alternate sources of information include:

  • blogs, opinion pieces, and social media
  • talkback radio and other radio journalism
  • interviewing practitioners, clients, governments, service providers and other members of society
  • participating in and reading papers and lectures from conferences and think tanks
  • web-based videos, such as TED Talks or YouTube channels.

How do policy officers find or keep up with the tools and techniques that can help them do their job?

At the Department of Education, the Strategic Capability Branch is helping policy officers keep up with the tools and techniques that can help them do their job via a customised ‘Policy Toolkit’ on the Department's intranet.

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Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2014). Australian Social Trends

Australian Social Trends (AST) is an Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) flagship publication presenting a picture of Australian society through a selection of articles. The articles aim to address current and ongoing social concerns, and focus on population groups of interest and changes over time. Each tells a story and provides a sense of the social and historical context of its topic.

The articles draw on a wide range of data, sourced both from the ABS and other agencies. AST aims to inform decision-making, research and discussion on social conditions in Australia.

Australian Social Trends uses the ABS Wellbeing Framework to identify areas of social concern, population groups and transactions among people and entities (see ABS Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, 2001), with each AST release covering a range of the areas of social concern. The broad areas of social concern are:

  • population
  • family and community
  • health
  • education and training
  • work
  • economic resources
  • housing
  • crime and justice
  • culture and leisure
  • other areas - including environment, religion, and transport and communication.

Articles aim to balance ‘what’ analysis (relating the relevant statistics surrounding the issue, e.g. number, characteristics, change over time, sex, age and other differences), with 'why' analysis (providing context and explanation by highlighting relevant social changes and events and the timelines of these). Some topics are revised as new data becomes available. The aim of this approach is to remain responsive to contemporary concerns, while accumulating a more comprehensive picture of Australian social conditions over time.

In 2014, Australian Social Trends articles will be released on a rolling basis, so check regularly for new releases.

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Department of Employment. (2014). Labour Market Information Portal

The Labour Market Information Portal (LMIP) has been developed by Department of Employment as an online resource. It contains up to date labour market data to help people understand their local labour markets. Data on the website are available at the national, state, Labour Force Region, Employment Service Area and Statistical Local Area levels. The department conducts employment related research into areas including skill shortages, recruitment experiences, labour and skills needs and industry and employment trends. The following research reports are available:

  • Australian Jobs
    This annual publication provides a snapshot of the Australian labour market and provides information on the workforce, employment and training.
  • Labour Market Information Portal
    An online resource which contains information to help people understand their local labour markets.
  • Skills Shortages
    Reports are available on skills shortages for a range of skilled occupations on a national, state and territory level.
  • Regional Reports
    Regular surveys of employers recruitment experiences assess the extent of recruitment difficulty in particular regions and industries.
  • Labour Market and Related Payments Monthly Profile
    Monthly reports present statistical information for different types of labour market payments made by Centrelink on behalf of the department.
  • Australian Regional Labour Market Statistics
    Quarterly reports on employment and unemployment statistics in ABS labour force regions.
  • Small Area Labour Markets
    Quarterly statistics on the estimation of the number of unemployed persons and unemployment rates in identified local areas across Australia.
  • Department of Employment Leading Indicator of Employment
    This monthly report predicts movements in the growth cycle of employment.
  • Australian Labour Market Update
    This quarterly publication provides information on the labour market to help people looking for work.
  • Job Seeker Compliance Data
    The department publishes quarterly reports on a range of job seeker compliance data.
  • Council of Australian Governments research into mental health and employment
  • Employment programme evaluation information
    Provides information on how Australian Government employment services and programs are being carried out and evaluated.

Labour Market Information Portal

The Australian Government undertakes research and analysis of employment trends across Australia. This research informs government policy development and program delivery.

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Iana Dreyer and Gerald Stang, with the collaboration of Carole Richard Foresight in governments–practices and trends around the world, European Union Institute for Security Studies, European Union (30 May 2013)

This study provides the initial results of a survey of foresight activities undertaken by a select group of governments around the world.

The study was begun following the initiative by European Union (EU) in- situations to build a joint foresight capacity (European Strategy and Policy Analysis System—ESPAS) that assesses long-term global trends to help them strengthen policy planning. In addition to contributing to the discussion about this new EU activity, the study is also intended to be of interest for the wider European policy planning community and to anyone interested in learning about how governments practise ‘the art of the long view’ (Schwartz, 1991).

This study looks at the way governments approach foresight, the issues they try to grapple with and the challenges they face in connecting foresight and policy. Its focus is on foresight exercises that look ten years or more into the future. The study does not include within its scope foresight activities undertaken at the initiative of business, academic or non-governmental organisations, though some government-led activities do involve these other factors.

Foresight work includes a range of activities related to the production of knowledge about possible futures. This knowledge is not of the future, nor any real future, but rather ‘the manufactured knowledge of [a] restricted number of possibilities’ (Sardar, 2010). The output of foresight work very often involves the creation of scenarios for the future which can be analysed for their likelihood and potential impact. Foresight also commonly uses practices such as ‘trend impact analysis’, ‘horizon scanning’, or the Delphi method.

This study presents an initial tour d'horizon of a limited number of countries who undertake foresight activities: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US). The countries were chosen to represent a diverse selection of countries based on location, economic profile, power status and political regime. The analysis is based on desk research and interviews conducted with professionals in government, academia and think tanks. This study also looked at the foresight activities of a range of international organisations with mandates for public service and which interact with governments as sources of knowledge and policy advice. As foresight activity tends to be scattered across departments and not always made public, it was not possible to be exhaustive in our analysis of the countries in this study. Time constraints and language barriers may also have affected the outcome of the study.

The first part of the study identifies the main issues that governments grapple with and offers a preliminary historical overview to shed light on current practice. The second part compares the approaches to foresight taken by governments and the institutional setting for foresight activities. The third part tries to assess the conditions for fruitful foresight.

Countries seeking to conserve resources can work on joint foresight activities or make use of foresight work by international organisations, for example, the cooperation between Australia and New Zealand through the Australasian Joint Agencies Scanning Network (AJASN) and the Australia New Zealand Horizon Scanning Network (ANZHSN).

The study contains the following information about Australia:

Australia has recently begun to use government foresight systematically. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia's national science agency, has a dedicated team (CSIRO Futures) working on foresight in energy, transport and other fields. It produces ‘Our Future World’ updates every 2 years on global megatrends. Multiple other departments do some foresight work. Every 5 years, the Treasury Department produces a report on long-term issues (40 year forecast) to help short-run decision-making. The establishment of the Strategic Policy Net¬work with representatives from every department, led by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, may impact foresight use for strategic policy.

Foresight in governments—practices and trends around the world

Iana Dreyer and Gerald Stang are Associate Fellows at the European Union Institute for Security Studies.

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