In September 2015, world leaders gathered in New York for a unique visioning event. The UN Sustainable Development Summit adopted Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, also known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 SDGs encapsulate the global vision for how the world could look like in 2030. It proposes that the spoils of human progress and economic growth be more fairly shared by all, poverty be eradicated, governance be improved and the planet protected from degradation. The empowering nature of the visioning process was captured by the slogan ‘The World We Want’.

Much of the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will depend on the ability of national and sub-national public service organisations to turn words in tangible results for all citizens. That is not a given.

Public administrations in both the developed and developing countries are facing stubborn capacity constraints.

The reality of the 21st century presents additional challenges, in particular:

  1. The complexity of development issues and the need to produce integrated policy results;
  2. The volatility and uncertainty of the policy implementation environment and the requirement to be resilient and adaptive, and;
  3. The changing nature of the relationship between state and citizens and the demand for more citizen involvement.

Governments need practical tools and ‘space’ to experiment, learn and adapt in order to deal with the challenges of SDGs implementation in the volatile reality of the 21st century. The core characteristics of classical public administration are rationality, predictability and hierarchy. Many of its structures, procedures and outputs are based on these principles. Complexity, uncertainty and a demand for meaningful citizen engagement are profound challenges. ‘Foresight’, with its proven track record and fit in bureaucratic structures, is emerging as an essential addition to conventional planning and policy tools.

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