Territorial foresight for new territorial and societal models

Brussels, November 16, 2016

 

A brief discussion on territorial foresight involves, firstly, restating some convictions I have about these two words [1].

 

1. Territorial Foresight

The first word is foresight. As Angela Wilkinson said, and rightly so, foresight is neither about evidence-based pessimism nor about wishful thinking [2]. Foresight has to look at the actual reality, without compromising but with acuity and honesty, in order to build solid diagnoses, identify the relevant long-term issues and propose solutions to those issues with strong strategic axes in order to achieve a vision of a common desired future.

Foresight emphasises the implementation of a process that frees itself from power and doctrines, with the aim of involving a perspective of free thought, exchanges with others, open deliberation and teamwork, while affirming the requirements of methodological rigour, a cross-disciplinary approach and collaborative intelligence, which has been so difficult to achieve until now[3].

Finally, foresight is oriented resolutely towards projects and action, that is to say a series of movements aimed at a goal. And this action resulting from foresight is designed to bring change. That means the transformation of part or all of the system. If foresight is not real transformation, it’s just literature; it is simply words, words, words.

The second word is territorial. We know that territorial means regional, urban, etc. We may consider territories as political communities, economic and social areas or built-up and green living spaces: in any event, it is only because citizens are concerned and involved that they will implement a strategy of transformation aimed at sustainable harmony. To do so requires them to be co-creators who share the vision and objectives of the territory, the challenges of the environment and the correct responses needed to face them.

So Territorial Foresight is fundamentally about change. This change can only be the result of a collective, motivational process, which is hard to implement and difficult to manage.

2. Territorial and Societal Models

Next, I will look at regional and societal models. I firmly believe that the so-called New Digital Revolution, Fourth Industrial Revolution, Industry 4.0 movement, etc. are the last resurgences, the last manifestations of the change that was observed at the end of the 1960s: the Information Society of the 1970s, the Knowledge Society of the 1980s, the New Economy of the 1990s, the Learning, Creative, etc. Societies and Regions of the 2000s, and so on. We are all aware that the key factor in this shift is the convergence between, firstly, information and communication technology and, secondly, life sciences. But despite this transformation, since we are still dealing mainly with industrial society and trying to modulate it, including sustainable development and, at the same time, supporting the Cognitive Revolution, I have named this complex transition The New Industrial Paradigm [4].

Today, when some citizens and actors think that our institutions and decision-makers, from European to local level, no longer have visions and projects, it is very important to bear in mind that, specifically, Sustainable Development is still the most important ultimate aim for our societies, countries and regions, and should remain so.

In the reference definition emerging from the report of the Brundtland World Commission on Environment and Development of the United Nations (1987) entitled Our Common Future, the two key issues put forward are the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organisation on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs [5].

Even if, generally speaking, the majority of people using this definition stop at the first sentence, it is important to emphasise the second sentence in order to clarify the concept of sustainable development. The last paragraph of the chapter is also valuable as it not only goes substantially beyond the idea of the omnipresent three pillars of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental) but also adds the entire systemic dimension to the concept of development, represented by the major contributions made by the Club of Rome and the OECD Interfuturs report prepared by Jacques Lesourne.

  1. In its broadest sense, the strategy for sustainable development aims to promote harmony among human beings and between humanity and nature. In the specific context of the development and environment crises of the 1980s, which current national and international political and economic institutions have not and perhaps cannot overcome, the pursuit of sustainable development requires:

– a political system that secures effective citizen participation in decision-making.

– an economic system that is able to generate surpluses and technical knowledge on a self-reliant and sustained basis.

– a social system that provides for solutions for the tensions arising from disharmonious development.

– a production system that respects the obligation to preserve the ecological base for development,

– a technological system that can search continuously for new solutions,

– an international system that fosters sustainable patterns of trade and finance, and

– an administrative system that is flexible and has the capacity for self-correction.

Futurists also turn paragraph 15 to their advantage because it values sustainable development as a process of change and transformation, opening the door to global ultimate aims and complementary challenges. I quote:

  1. In essence, sustainable development is a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations.

So please do not say that there is no project for Europe: there is Sustainable Development, not as a doctrine but as an aim. That really is something.

 

3. Our priorities as Europeans

What we must do urgently is gather our forces, focus on the common good and work by commitment and contractualisation, from local to European and global level, in a multilevel way, as is clearly highlighted by the Committee of the Regions. We may not need to focus specifically on metropolitan areas. Incidentally, I do not want to support the idea that cities are not the engines for a new development. Perhaps they are: if we were able to understand what is happening in cities, we might be able to improve their attractiveness and competitiveness. Through its 2015 territorial reform, the French Government has expanded its regions by merging them in order to create large metropolitan areas. However, I am not really sure that developing Strasbourg will provide greater well-being and a better quality of life in Nancy, Metz and Reims. I am quite convinced that a polycentric network of cities could be as relevant as a large metropolis. There is no reason why cities which concentrate the solutions will not concentrate the problems as well. Just remember that, in the EU, 1 in 4 Europeans are estimated to be at risk of poverty and social exclusion [6]. So we may also have questions about the future of Strasbourg.

Our priority should be to address the needs of young people in relation to jobs and economic and social security. Naturally, we are all aware of this and it has been repeated many times in our common work. By addressing social exclusion[7], preventing precariat[8] and tackling Sherwoodisation [9], we will again offer hope to the many peoples of Europe in all their diversity. And, as a consequence, this method will also separate the terrorists from their social base.

This issue will also, no doubt, provide a new key and a boost to our democracy in Europe, its countries, regions and cities.

Thank you for your attention!

Philippe Destatte

https://twitter.com/PhD2050

[1] This paper was prepared within the framework of the COR/ESPAS Working Dinner at the European Committee of the Regions, on November 16, 2016, on the initiative of Béatrice Taulègne, Ian Barber and Karlheinz Lambertz.

[2] Angela WILKINSON, The Future of Foresight in Europe, Beyond Evidence-Based Pessimism to Realistic Hope, in Shaping the Future of Society and Governance, p. 51, Brussels, ESPAS (European Strategy and Policy Analysis System), November 2016.

[3] Philippe DESTATTE, What is foresight?, Blog PhD2050, May 30, 2013. https://phd2050.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/what-is-foresight/

[4] Ph. DESTATTE, The New Industrial Paradigm, Keynote address at The Industrial Materials Association (IMA-Europe) 20th Anniversary, IMAGINE event, Brussels, The Square, September 24th, 2014, Blog PhD2050, September 24, 2014.

https://phd2050.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/nip/

[5] http://www.un-documents.net/our-common-future.pdf

[6] Stijn HOORENS, The Elephant in the Room: the many dimensions of inequality in Europe, in Shaping the Future of Society and Governance, p. 46.

[7] See The Inclusive City, in The State of European Cities 2016, Cities leading the way to a better future, p. 84-111, Brussels, European Commission – UN Habitat for a Better Human Future, 2016.

[8] Guy STANDING, The Precariat, The New Dangerous Class, p. 24-25, London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2011.

[9] Bernard VAN ASBROUCK, La Sherwoodisation ou l’obsolescence de la cité, dans La Revue nouvelle, 2015, N°7, p. 9-12.

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