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Strategic Foresight and Rapid Response Group

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“The vast possibilities of our great future will become realities only if we make ourselves responsible for that future.” – Gifford Pinchot

 

The newest research work unit in the Northern Research Station brings together biological and social scientists to anticipate change and effectively integrate natural resource and social responses to change.

Our unit’s mission is to enhance strategic foresight to improve forest management in the Forest Service, other natural resource organizations, and all stakeholders.

Our goal is to help the Forest Service and its partners prepare for the unpredictable.

Research Focus Areas

Where do you begin to help prepare for the unpredictable? Our unit will focus research in three broad areas:

  • Contributing strategic foresight tools and analysis to enhance decision-making and promote forward thinking in natural resources management.
  • Developing new methods to more fully integrate multi-scale analysis of past, current, and future trends in forest-associated resources with analysis of what is driving change in these resources and understanding the implications for society.
  • Developing methods and tools for rapid ecological analysis and as well as identifying response options following significant disturbance events, such as drought, storms and wildfire.

First Steps

The new group is currently working to develop a charter and reach out to science, management, policy, and stakeholder communities to begin shaping the partnerships, research problems, and science delivery necessary to achieve our mission. Stay tuned!

Our mission: Enhance strategic foresight and the integration of social and ecological sciences to improve forest planning, management, and policy in the Forest Service, other natural resource organizations, and the private sector.

As the details of our new group are completed, we will update our web page with research projects and collaborations.

What is Strategic Foresight?

“The faster the car, the further the headlights must go.” - Gaston Berger
The need for environmental foresight has increased in recent decades as the pace of change has accelerated and the complexity of change has increased. Some have referred to the period following World War II as the “Great Acceleration,” a time of significant increase in the scope, scale, and intensity of change. The rapid pace of social, cultural, technological, economic, environmental, and political change has created a turbulent and challenging environment for natural resource management agencies and their partners. We need to “look beyond the headlights” and anticipate change.

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.” - Bill Gates, 1981
But anticipating change is exceptionally difficult. Complexity theory is revealing that some aspects of future social-ecological systems are fundamentally unpredictable. Ecological forecasts are filled with irreducible uncertainties due to drivers beyond the scope of ecology, unknown feedbacks, and unpredictable human actions. Experience in the social sciences confirms that predictions of most social phenomenon are notably inaccurate. Traditional scientific forecasting tools are blunt instruments for studying a future that does not exist. Alternative methods and perspectives are needed to develop foresight and resource management options for a future characterized by great uncertainty. 

“Futures studies helps us to ‘prepare for the unpredictable.’”  – Wendell Bell
Futures research is a transdisciplinary field that uses a variety of distinct methods and perspectives to explore alternative futures in terms of what is possible, probable, or preferable. The goal is to anticipate and prepare for potential change, develop a forward view, and use the insights (strategic foresight) gained in organizationally useful ways such as discovering threats and opportunities, shedding light on alternative future contexts for policy and strategy, helping to identify an organization’s preferred future, and preparing for a range of possible futures.

“The vast possibilities of our great future will become realities only if
we make ourselves responsible for that future.” – Gifford Pinchot
Natural resource planners, managers, and policy makers have always sought to develop and apply strategic foresight in order to make decisions that are judged to be wise in the long term. But the need for environmental foresight has increased in the era of rapid change and multiple transformations in which we live. The Forest Service Strategic Foresight and Rapid Response Group will enhance strategic foresight in the Forest Service and its partners through a program of applied futures research, communication and science delivery, and spanning boundaries between the futures community and the natural resource community.