Society becomes a network

A common perspective facilitates larger social and political understandings that support needed reforms, improving governance and political understanding. Interview with the former Chilean Minister and proponent of foresight.

Allie Bobak Sergio Bitar
28 April 2017

Anochecer en Coquimbo, Chile, 2014. Wikicommons/ Edu3k. Some rights reserved.Allie Bobak (AB): Generally, why is participation important in Chile, the region, and the world?

Sergio Bitar (SB): Participation is a high priority action for the endorsement and legitimacy of democracy.

Participation allows citizens to have a larger role in the formation of policies and the control of government. It helps to combat power concentrations and to increase transparency. As good governance requires wide social support, participation should be reinforced through the formation of citizens councils, for consultations and dialogue.

Local, regional and national issues are becoming more complex and an increasing flow of information is needed.  This is equally necessary to reach long-term strategic agreements.

Many political and social conflicts are the result of the limits of representative democracy. Institutional changes will be needed to complement representation with new forms of participatory democracy.

AB: What role does foresight play in politics?

SB: Democracy and governability has become more complex, and there are more groups today that influence decision-making. Hegemonic powers are declining and no one alone can impose their views and interests. The nations that prepare, will have citizens who can adapt to new jobs and prosper and the ones that do not will fall behind.

Cooperation is increasingly necessary for governing. The demands of different groups have become overwhelming, and there is a lack of a common or a community vision in many nations to address the number of demands.  So, we need more common vision, a common narrative that links people and groups and helps them to share mutual goals.

I want to emphasize the importance of narratives. Narratives bring to light values that inspire action and reconcile interests.  Foresight and long-term thinking help to form common narratives. Exploring scenarios and understanding global trends help people to decide where they want to be in the future, or what path to follow.  Politicians should use foresight to put his or her specific demands into a common perspective. A common perspective facilitates larger social and political understandings that support the needed reforms and improve governance, conversations and political understanding. Politicians can escape short-term demands and come together to discuss the long-term narratives around the “where” to go before debating the “how”.

AB: So, how do you make foresight work in politics?

SB: To make it work you need to go beyond just government, intellectuals and experts. In order to transform complex issues into wisdom and action you need to get citizens behind the big issues. For example, if you want to change the constitution, you need to get the citizens behind the movement. You need to create a system in which civil society is empowered and you are able to enlarge the debate on big issues. Society becomes a network.

Awareness, and creating awareness is a key point.  When I read the last National Intelligence Council publication Paradox of Progress I was shocked at how all the scenarios have so much uncertainty – global governability is uncertain. Humanity must anticipate or solve major problems, such as war, terrorism, climate change, etc. People need to understand the weight of these issues.

Take digitalization. Those who are not connected will be left behind and those who control big data will control more power, will be more in control of changes around jobs and work, etc. The nations that prepare, will have citizens who can adapt to new jobs and prosper and the ones that do not will fall behind. It is a clear scenario and if citizens know this they will push for change. You see similar situations with climate change, education and infrastructure.  When citizens start pushing for change, really they are demanding more strategic foresight. When citizens start pushing for change, really they are demanding more strategic foresight.

AB: Can you explore strategic foresight more?

SB: Strategic foresight is the way to link foresight to the present. It prepares you to govern better because it helps you visualize how to move ahead towards a desired future. 

Politicians react to what social organizations declare. If you provide information and education on global trends and foresight, people are more prepared to anticipate changes, take opportunities and mitigate negative impacts.

Here, the virtuous circle of participation and foresight starts to arise.  Politicians can help citizens understand what may happen with strategic foresight, and if citizens understand what may happen they are then more likely to get behind the actions of politicians to create more prosperous futures. Media of course also plays a key role in this.

AB: What is lacking to create this said “virtuous circle of participation and foresight”?

SB: Right now we are lacking dialogue between different sectors. Society becomes fragmented, sectorialized. Individualism expands and collective action decreases.   Then, each one has its own view and develops its plans separately. If you don’t have a space for interaction to begin, with more conversation and more debate, you will never have an innovation process where you use collective foresight.  If each group moves forward alone, real strategic change will not occur.

AB: What are one or two concrete things you would like to see in Chile and the world in the next 12 months to promote “participation and foresight - citizens at the heart of the future”?

SB: Participation and foresight are important for democracy.  Democracy needs a long-term view in order to be stronger and better at solving problems.

But, foresight without participation will have less impact because it is disconnected from the wide support it needs among citizens, and even if it is connected to decision-making, it will not have the power needed to act effectively.

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