South Africa is in a unique position on the African continent to foster a thriving environment for the development of body of knowledge that can lead to successful long-term, future-proofed policy planning development, planning and efficient public service delivery; all this in the increasingly unpredictable world due to rapid changes that are driven by science and technology developments.

This country is in an enviable position, as evidenced by the following factors:

  • A globally recognised engineering, science and technology community that is participating in the SKA programme, and recent launching of the continent’s first nano satellite;
  • World renowned academic institutions that have also been increasing global share of knowledge generation;
  • A solid commercial sector that dates back more than a century, with some of the local companies that have been punching above their weight on continental and global stages for decades;
  • One of the best banking industries in the world;
  • A commercially viable and competitive consulting industry that is part of the burgeoning knowledge economy, made up of both local and large global brands;
  • A well-functioning StatsSA (national statistical agency), the best of its kind on the continent;
  • Jointly at the top of budget transparency index; and
  • A stable democratic system, active civil society, rich social capital and a vibrant political environment with a successful elections track record under an independent and competent electoral commission for what will soon be 25 years.

An interplay between the factors above should put South Africa in the driving seat to develop alternative empowered futures – a required approach for long-term envisioning and effective planning. Initial research indicates that there is already a lot happening in the development of capacity and a body of knowledge by academic institutions, policy makers, planners, companies and practitioners. However, what seems to be lacking is the coordination of available foresight knowledgebase, resulting in limited visibility of existing individual cases.

In order to plan for the future, key trends and signals need to be identified and likely futures anticipated. As part of its mandate to support and strengthen planning, the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) is therefore doing work on (1) a “forecasting framework” (the areas and characteristics that should be covered in Government forecasting and foresighting), (2) how these focus areas relate to and interact with each other and (3) what systems, data and modelling already exist or are required to ensure adequate and effective foresighting for planning in Government.

The UN Foresight South Africa portal is aimed at enabling the establishment of an authoritative and sustainable community of practice for planners and development partners across the various sectors in support of an integrated approach to alternative futures. It further hopes to strengthen capacity for anticipatory work to help seer the country towards realising an empowered future.