On January 27th 2021, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis invited a number of the country’s main stakeholders to come up with ways to identify the future of the country and contribute innovative ideas for a long-term plan. This includes mapping out what the world will be like 20 years from now, the challenges and the opportunities ahead of us, above and beyond the limitations and chances presented within short-term political initiatives.
The overall plan would primarily refer to the digital transformation of the economy, the importance of inclusive “green” growth, in combination with data explosion and the new technological realities, intergenerational solidarity, and the development of significant public (evidence-based) policies and infrastructures that will serve the needs and highlight the potential of the country. Projecting societal, technological and ecological needs into a (realistically sustainable) preferred future can arguably help us foster preparedness (beyond prediction) in case of adverse events and drive innovation effectively.
This has been followed by the official announcement about the installment of a strategic foresight unit (Foresight Team) within the Presidency of the Greek Government (i.e., at the highest political level), especially focusing on horizon scanning, weak signals identification, trend detection, multiple scenario planning, sense-making, priority setting, resilience analysis, and systems and network thinking, something that amounts to a flagship moment for the Greek public policy.
Interestingly, resilience took centre-stage in the first EU Commission annual Strategic Foresight Report. As the European Commission Vice-President for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight Maroš Šefčovič has declared, in an increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world, we cannot expect the future to become less disruptive: “Recent months have taught us that we need to equip ourselves with the means to tackle whatever challenges may arise, while keeping a political eye on any warning signs on the horizon. This is what strategic foresight is about. Anticipating – exploring – and ultimately, acting, in a collaborative manner”.
In some sense, Mitsotakis’s strategic foresight initiative explicitly aims to break with detrimental policy short-termism and the usual myopic mentality which have until now strongly characterised the political decision-making processes in the country, and arguably been fueled by chronic structural constraints, such as static planning, lack of trust, low coordination level, no sense of community across or even within ministries, lack of access across networks, and so on.
All in all, as the Greek philosopher Stelios Ramfos rightly observes, short-termism is intimately and inextricably associated with the Greek subject, who is possessed by a feeling of transcendental (combined with the thirst for divine justice) and captured by the overwhelming ties of place, blood (family), and common fate, while bearing the heavy burden of ritual‐ceremonial and eschatological (eastern Orthodox) religiousness.
This religiousness has not been allowing significant margins for the entrenched subject’s inner life to develop in a self-contained and forward-looking manner, while the Enlightenment did not succeed any powerful penetration in the Greek social imaginary, which is largely devoid of modern values. Therefore, it is customary to say that Greece’s “modernisation” block (reformist culture) has permanently been locked in an almost unequal battle with the backward-looking majority (underdog culture).
However, in any case, we must not allow past narratives and patterns trap our future thoughts; it’s time to come up with radically new ideas. In other words, it is vital to hack the past in order to creatively design the future now, so we can liberate the next generations from us. This is perhaps close to the American sociologist C. Wright Mills’s famous liberal urge to see things otherwise, so we can make all human things possible.
In the last instance, the recent decision for a systematic inclusion of strategic foresight and anticipatory and futures thinking in public policy design and implementation seems to be in line with the declared fundamental goal of Mitsotakis’s administration, that is, to keep Greece in the right side of history. Nevertheless, according to the Greek law professor Aristides Hatzis’s warning note, there has always been a great gap between political ambition, intellectual wishful thinking and the grim reality of a backwards society.
This eventually points to the pressing and urgent need for the whole educational system to build an agile foresight mindset and cultivate futures literacy as a means to diversify why and how we use the future, as well as to become aware of the images we have about the future and to learn how to recognise and use different types of futures, so as to innovate the present and at a personal level realize our full potential. Continuous active experimentation is also of utmost importance in order to encourage faster learning and embrace disruption effectively.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, not the position of Greece@LSE, the Hellenic Observatory or the London School of Economics.