THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE:
HELPING COUNTRIES TO WEAVE THEIR FUTURES
Outline of Key Note Address
UNDP Public Administration Reform Practice Meeting
Bratislava, April 21, 2004
Part One: Deliberate Future Weaving – a “Must”!
1. Global and Local Processes Pose Critical Choices Involving Grave
Dangers and Exciting Opportunities
The concept of “critical choice”: Confucian Xunzi (Hsun-tz"
'Yang Zhu lamented at a crossroad: if a man makes an error of
half a step in the wrong direction, when he awakens to the fact, he
will have made a blunder of a thousand li"
Thanks to science and technology the actual and potential
impact of human choice on future realities is mutating to
Humanity is positioned between material plenty for all, collective
suicide and creation of a new “humanity”.
On a lesser but still crucial scale: each country and region faces
critical choices, often for high stakes.
i. Illustrations: Joining the EU and thriving in it; global
competition and trade; unemployment; security.
2. Human Ambitions Pose High Expectations and Demands
Humanity is also in an epoch of rising expectations and
demands, as expressed in values of human rights, human
development and so on. These “push” public action to try and
realize what may in part be impossible.
This puts pressures on governments resulting in part in more
effective action, but also in divesting of responsibility and
“blowing of bubbles”.
3. "Spontaneous" Historic Processes Cannot be Relied Upon
If one could be reasonably sure that “the cunning of history” will
lead to a pleasant “end of history” without very high intermediate
costs, governments and societies could and should avoid radical
future weaving endeavor.
But this is not the case, even optimally working markets, civil
societies, informal networks and other self-organizing bodies
and processes being dense with congenital limitations.
i. They do not work optimally;
ii. To work better they need active governmental facilitation
which constitutes indirect future weaving;
iii. In terms of democratic values, only governments are
entitled to make critical future shaping collective choices.
Many ongoing and foreseeable historic processes will, or at
least may, produce dismal results unless revised, redirected and
at least monitored and over-ridden when necessary.
i. This applies, to take a relatively benign illustration, to
consequences of joining the European Union.
4. Hence the Need for Deliberative Selective Governmental "Future
It follows, that deliberative and selective governmental future
weaving is a must.
i. Comment on the origin of the concept “future weaving” –
Plato, The Statesman
Governmental: On all levels, but with growing importance the
higher the level: national; multi-national; global.
In governments: Need for “Central Strategic Brains”.
Deliberative: Based on the best thinking and judgment human
being and organizations are capable off.
Selective: Focused on what is most essential in terms of
avoiding the bad, moving towards the “good” as pluralistically
and partly consensually understood, and gearing for the
unconceivable sure to come.
Governmental future-weaving activities are of cardinal and also
fatal potent more than ever in human history.
5. Embedded Within Societal Future Weaving
Proposed minor conjecture: “Unless public opinions achieve
much higher moral and cognitive qualities, either the impact of
public opinions on governmental future weaving must be
contained or that weaving will often be for the worse with rapidly
Proposed major conjecture: Humanity is not ripe to wield the
powers science and technology gave it. “Maturing humanity” is
therefore a prime task – leading to the need for a revised
philosophy of government, going inter alia back to some
classical Chinese notions. But this is a subject which I do not
take up here despite its far-going implications for governmental
A minimum set of implications, crucial for future-weaving,
i. Social actors should engage in self-improvement;
ii. Movement towards “learning societies” is a must`
iii. Radical changes in citizen teaching and introduction of
obligatory university studies on local, regional and global
problematic are a must.
6. Deep Governance Redesign is Essential for Providing Essential
Future-Weaving Core Capacities
Little needs to be said to make the point that contemporary
governance is not well equipped for critical future-weaving
activities, neither morally nor cognitively.
A main conclusion of my studies of governments on multiple
levels and in various cultural settings, from inside and outside, is
that all present governance is obsolete and lacking essential
capacities, some less so and some more so – but all a lot!
7. Not Only Is Governance Very Lacking in Essential Future-Weaving
Core Capacities, but this Deficiency, However Glaring and Dangerous,
is Not in the Center of Governmental Improvement Approaches
It is interesting to ponder the question why most contemporary
conceptions of “good governance” and most ongoing reform
efforts neglect what may well be the most urgent and critical
need of all: Upgrading governmental and societal future-weaving
But let me take a positive approach and conclude with four
illustrative governance redesign directions.1
Part Two: Qualifying Governance for Future-Weaving: Four Redesign
i. Strong Global, Continental and State Governance
Many of the more crucial issues facing humanity are global in
nature and can only be handled on a global level. Consensus
cannot be relied upon to assure essential measures. Therefore,
strong global governance is needed. Outdates notions and
fictions of "sovereignty", "equality of states" etc. will have to be
abandoned and a structured global regime instituted, far beyond
the present United Nations, though hopefully based on it.
This also applied, with adjustments, to continental governance
and, first of all, the European Union, where the proposed
constitution has to be adopted.
For extensive treatment, see Yehezkel Dror, The Capacity to Govern: A Report to the Club
of Rome (London and New York, Frank Cass, Francis and Taylor Group) 2002.
To be realistic, a strong global regime will probably come about
after a number of calamities demonstrate the gross
inadequacies of present global governance bodies despite their
important and often successful work. But individual countries
should take the likelihood of a strong global regime into account
and, in the mean time, give more weight to global considerations
and play more active and constructive a role on main global
To move to the state level, future-weaving requires consistent
long-term policies, subject to learning; and often involving
"constructive destruction" as well as "tragic choices" between
present needs and future welfare.
To meet such prerequisites, democratic power concentration
within "strong states" is essential. Presidential and Prime
Ministerial regimes are required, combined with electoral
methods avoiding dependence on weak coalitions which make
effective future-weaving nearly impossible.
Suitable constitutional structures should be accompanied with
consensus-building efforts on political and societal levels on
long-term strategic policies.
Also necessary is lengthening of electoral cycles, five to six
years being a minimum required between elections.
ii. "Future-Representing" bodies
A congenital problem of democracy is that the future
generations do not vote, despite the impact of present choices
on their fate.
The unavoidable result is application of very high political
discount rates to the future and therefore giving priority to
present needs and demands over long-term achievements.
Visionary democratic leaders and future-concerned publics can
reduce the severity of the problem, but these are infrequent
phenomena on which future-weaving cannot depend. Therefore,
needed are structures protected against current pressures and
able to give much weight to long term considerations.
Coherent and professional civil services, think tanks, some
forms of Second Houses -- serve to illustrate possibilities.
iii. Upgrading Politicians
While skepticism and also cynicism on politicians is widespread,
amazingly little though is given to upgrading the quality of
politicians. This is all the more of a serious omission because
mediocre politicians are sure to fail in leading their countries
through the present epoch of shifts towards a good future.
To put it more bluntly, while the high caliber of many politicians
should be recognized, the scarcity of outstanding politicians as
needed in many countries should also be recognized.
Indeed, the situation is graver than meets the eye: Many
politicians who seem to perform quite well according to opinion
polls and voting behavior are in reality quite under-qualified and
many of their decisions are likely to be judged by future
historians as very mistaken.
Let me add that in contemplative and social science literature,
as well as in writings by politicians, systematic thought on the
qualities needed of senior politicians in the 21st century is
lacking (though empty slogans abound).
To move to some practical short-term improvement possibilities:
a) University programs should provide students interested in
politics with suitable learning opportunities;
b) "National Policy Colleges" (as well as regional and global
ones) should be set up where politicians and other policy
shapers have an opportunity to consider in depth crucial
c) Steps should be taken to have candidates to reveal more
of their true self, such as by public "interrogations";
d) Senior politicians should reveal all medical and financial
iv. Strategic Central Minds of Governments
The easiest to implement and still very important improvement
direction is to build up strategic central minds of governments.
Having discussed this subject at other opportunities and written
a lot on it, let me just mention five crucial steps:
a) Professional staff units near top level decision makers
dealing with strategic choices within long-term and
holistic perspectives have to be set up and constantly
b) "Think Tanks" to work on long-term crucial policy issues
at distance from the pressures of power are a must.
c) Top quality policy professionals have to be developed to
staff main strategic staff units and think tanks. This
requires advanced public policy university programs and
intense in-service training.
d) Actual advisors to top level decision making have to be
professionalized in strategic "future-weaving" thinking in
addition to whatever disciplinary background they have.
Intense crash-courses and workshops can accomplish
much is well designed.
e) High-level decision making processes have to be
evaluated and improved so as to assure systematic
thinking based on high quality position papers, to inform
and support top decision makers.
Let me conclude by trying the impossible, namely looking at
humanity and human governance from "above", say an outer
space tribunal. I cannot escape the feeling that it would
appreciate the technological and cultural creativity of humanity,
but condemn us who arrogantly call ourselves "homo sapiens
sapiens" as morally corrupt and governance-wise stupid. Having
some live in luxury while many suffer from extreme deprivation
will serve to condemn humanity as immoral and in part evil. And
looking at the realities of contemporary politics and governance
will serve as convincing evidence of humanity being
The few saints and outstanding politicians may spare humanity
from extreme a verdict, showing a potential for the better
however small. Therefore, humanity may be given the 21st
century as a last chance to mature morally and cognitively and
to demonstrate a capacity to govern itself.
This I think is our situation: It is up to the 21st century generation
to use for the better the awesome future-making powers given to
humanity by science and technology – but this, in turn, as one of
the necessary conditions requires radical upgrading of
capacities to govern and weave the future.
Failure will result in automatic harsh punishment, without the
need for an outer space tribunal.
It depends on us and on the governments we make.