19 juli 2013

“Studying the future is similar to studying history”

Interview with Boudewijn Steur

Boudewijn Steur works as strategic specialist for the Dutch Minististry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (“BZK”).

Boudewijn Steur

Boudewijn Steur

Futurista interviewed Boudewijn on his work as a strategist and his thoughts on foresight.

It might be surprising to realise that while Boudewijn focuses on the future on a daily basis, he has a background in cultural history. Boudewijn explains: “There are actually many similarities between studying history and thinking about the future. In both cases, one needs to take multiple perspectives into account, and question what ‘the margins of uncertainty’ are. Also, both in looking to the past and to the future, we need to ‘distance’ ourselves from the present timeframe and indicate causal relations, between disrupting events for example.”

“I feel that writing about history and writing about the future comes down to presenting stories and images that inspire people to think and act. Furthermore, I see my role mainly as critical thinker: if policy proposals are made, our team tries to put the long term effects in perspective, i.e. by using insights from science and think tanks. Inspiring and critical thinking can be done by referring to our history, but also by imagining the future. Most important is that we broaden our vision, away from the here and now’.

One of the projects Boudewijn works on is the ‘interdepartmental trend scan’.  The first edition of this work was published in 2010 and recently, June 2013, the update was published. (only available in Dutch: click here)

This scan is the result of the work of 18 strategists from various Dutch Ministries and the ‘Planbureaus’ (assessment agencies) working together. “We started with selecting leading documents and publications. After that we had to decide on which trends we thought met our criteria. Examples of some criteria are: the trends have to be relevant for Dutch National government (not just one specific region or ministry), it had to be an autonomous development, and it had to be relevant (expected) in 2025, not today or in 2050.”

Cover of 'Rijksbrede Trendverkenning'

Cover of ‘Rijksbrede Trendverkenning’

What was unique for this project was first of all the time scope: “Normally, when we do research on the ‘future’ we mean approximately eight years (two terms) ahead. In this case we decided to look towards 2025, about 15 years ahead. Second, usually we work on more ‘Roadmap’-like projects, Focusing on ‘exploring’ instead of ‘planning’, made the project quite different”.

Although the trend scan publication is finished, the work is far from done. “A common misconception in foresight and strategic research is that ‘the work is done when the publication (book or report) is finished’. This is not the case: now that the scan is published, the ‘touring’ starts. As with the last edition, we will be presenting the results and giving workshops on dealing with trends and discontinuity throughout different Ministries and departments. We will also be visiting local government. We want people to use and profit from our work, not for it to ‘end up on the shelf’.”

If you want to know more about Boudewijn or get in touch: visit his profile on Linkedin