Action 2030 Blog

Eating an elephant (in other words… foresight for the SDGs in Bosnia & Herzegovina)

“How do you eat an elephant? One spoonful at a time.”

This saying applies to any undertaking whose size and proportions are immense.  Where to start is daunting. For me, the Sustainable Development Goals — an ambitious set of goals agreed to by UN Members States that establishes milestones of growth & equality within the limits of the planet — are the elephant.

No poverty. Zero hunger.  Reduced inequalities. Sustainable cities. Climate Action. Decent work. All by 2030. These are ambitious goals.  They demand that different entities of the UN work together in new ways. In order to tackle them, we need to have a plan. We need to know where to start.

How do you prioritise different aspects of human development– all are important, and all are urgent, and all are long-term issues that cannot be solved with short-fixes. It is not just about the government doing their bit, it is really about all of us. We need individual action, communal action, citizen action. How to get people on board of complex agenda such as Sustainable Development Goals? And how to do it in a complex administrative set-up such as Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Strategic foresight to approach the enormity of the SDGs

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United Nations is using strategic foresight as part of its consultations process to build momentum for the Sustainable Development Goals. In order for us to start getting our heads around the 2030 Agenda, we needed  a participatory planning process that gets beyond past and present to look into the future to create the future… it is a forward-looking approach aimed at using the future to create change in the present…”

Our work has built upon the work done in Montenegro, where UN colleagues have engaged with think-tanks, academia, statistical office and NGOs. They worked with disruptive innovators, digital champions and active youth to create alternative scenarios for Montenegro’s future.

Don’t call it a game gamification

We adapted the tool initially developed by the UN Montenegro for the post-2015 national consultations – they called it Enhanced Survey Tool – and it is exactly that, but with our adaptation it is also a collective problem solving tool.  The tool looks and feels like a board game (I still remember the odd looks we would get when we placed it, unopened, on the table in front of our stakeholders before explaining what it was!).

We used our ‘game’ that we call SDG Consultations Tool with 600 people to gauge their positive and negative associations with the past and present, their visions for the future, the way they think about the future, what values, actions, structures and threats/opportunities they identify around specific SDG/Target and solutions/ideas how to address or accelerate achievement of the SDG/Target. Through this process, we collected over 80 ’bright ideas’ that we will present to at the high level SDG Conference with policy makers as accelerating solutions that people collectively envisaged to meet targets and SDGs in our country context. The game also generates demographic data so we can disaggregate the priorities, values actions and institutional suggestions from all who engaged in this participatory process.

We also conducted a postcards from the future campaign in order to get people thinking in an imagined space of what futures could or should be. We now have over 200 tangible artifacts from the future that are personal to people in BiH. Check out  our facebook page for more on this.

The future of the future

At a minimum, everyone who has played the SDG game now knows what all of the SDGs are, and has a personal association with them.  This is no small accomplishment. Getting people to wrap their heads around 169 targets can result in a rote type exercise. This tool helped us get out of that limitation.   The  tool also helped us all see the incredible interconnectedness of the 2030 Agenda and the approaches that we need to take to achieve them.

Sustainable development requires a future-orientation. This tool helped us get people in Bosnia & Herzegovina into a creative space. A lesson learned about introducing strategic foresight to others is to try to minimise explaining what it is. It works best when it is applied and used immediately. A ‘deep dive’ into strategic foresight works well since the approach we have used is very intuitive and people get it the moment they get immersed in it.

Foresight helped us move beyond thinking that the future has to be an extension of the present. And beyond thinking that forecasting is exclusively based on quantitative data.  The next step would be us to support a shift among our partners in the government  institutions responsible for planning towards regularized human-centered, citizen derived data about the future, alongside data driven modelling which they may already be using.

We found that foresight not only helps you think collectively about the future but also makes a dent in overcoming contexts where participatory planning is difficult.  We are all equals when it comes to the future – by design no one voice can dominate. And this is a good start to Agenda 2030 that vows to leave no one behind.