Shaping new futures for the Pacific: Unique strategic foresight toolkit

22 May 2024

A future-oriented toolkit developed through a collaboration between The Pacific Community (SPC), UQ’s Dr Ray Maher and leading foresight practitioners will support planners, strategists and policymakers to envision different futures where Pacific nations thrive.

The Pacific Pathfinder: A Toolkit to Imagine and Create Futures integrates systems and design thinking with strategic foresight approaches to helps users identify emerging issues, integrate different perspectives, explore future scenarios, and design pathways to support strategic decision-making surrounding sustainability. It was built on a research partnership between SPC’s Strategy, Performance and Learning team and UQ’s Centre for Policy Futures, and contributes to strategic foresight research related to Pacific Island states.

The Pacific Pathfinder: A Toolkit to Imagine and Create Futures was created through a collaboration between The Pacific Community, UQ’s Dr Ray Maher and leading foresight practitioners.

“The Pacific region has a bright future ahead but is undergoing rapid and significant changes,” said Dr Maher, Deputy Director of Research and Lecturer at the School of Architecture, Design and Planning.

“Complex built environment and sustainability issues drive critical outcomes for society and the environment, but these issues unfold over timeframes that are much longer than our day-to-day experience. So, they require different ways of thinking and making decisions to help us envision different futures beyond our current unsustainable trajectory.”

The toolkit aims to inspire regional, national and community planners and strategists in the Pacific to confidently use strategic foresight tools and adapt them to suit their objectives and context. The toolkit will be especially valuable to guide future collaborations as issues such as climate change continue to escalate in the region.

Toolkit Part 1: Gathering intelligence about the future. ‘Horizon Scanning’ section showing figure of ‘Drivers of change’ by SPC and The University of Queensland Centre for Policy Futures.

Dr Maher said while the countries and territories in the Pacific region are geographically dispersed and culturally diverse, they share the objective of securing a sustainable future for the region among geopolitical uncertainty. SPC experts highlighted how the vast Blue Pacific region is facing complex challenges such as climate impacts, changing demographics, resource management, and demand for quality urban infrastructure.

The toolkit was initially developed as part of a larger research partnership between Dr Maher and The Pacific Community, which guided the organisation's Strategic Plan 2022–2031, contributed to the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent (a long-term regional plan for the Pacific), and informed UQ's Pacific Engagement Strategy.

Dr Maher worked to support members of SPC to co-design the organisation’s ambitious 10-year Strategic Plan. Pacific leaders had identified that developing a robust Strategic Plan for the multilateral organisation demanded integration of knowledge from across the organisation’s experts and UQ academics. To facilitate this, the team developed a foresight and knowledge-sharing toolkit that supported wide stakeholder engagement. This toolkit has now been expanded and formalised as the recently released Pacific Pathfinder.

Toolkit Part 2: Exploring dynamics of change. ‘Systems Mapping’ section showing figure of ‘SPC Systems Map in 2020’ by SPC and The University of Queensland Centre for Policy Futures.

The toolkit document shares reflections on using 10 foresight tools, pain points, and insights into how to use the tools most effectively, including some practical examples.

The tools include “Horizon Scanning”, which looks for early signs and signals of change happening around us, identifying what the changes are and what effects they may have when they develop.

The “Systems Mapping” tool creates a visual map of the system being considered, which shows the connections and causal relationships between different parts of the organisation and its context.

The “Scenario Analysis” tool examines different alternative futures, to help users prepare for the future and better anticipate change.

Designed to be user-friendly, the toolkit document shares insights on using 10 foresight tools, plus practical examples.

The toolkit also shares case studies of community workshops where SPC’s Strategy Planning and Learning team used the Pacific Pathfinder tools, such as a virtual session held for 70 fisheries stakeholders to discuss what investments are needed for a futures-ready fisheries and ocean sector; and a workshop with a youth council in Fiji to help imagine visions of its future.

The Pacific Pathfinder was launched to representatives of the 27 countries and territories that govern The Pacific Community at the 53rd meeting of the Committee of Representatives of Governments and Administrations, held in New Caledonia in October 2023.

Dr Maher said similar collaborative approaches that integrate systems and design thinking with strategic foresight can support organisations anywhere to understand emerging issues and position themselves to thrive despite uncertain futures.