Young professionals: Competing perspectives strengthen the vision

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“Visions should also address challenges and taboos,” writes Ines Gullichsen, one of NAOF’s young professionals. NAOF launched its young professionals’ programme in May 2018. The programme offers professionals at the start of their careers a broad perspective of the agency’s work, while at the same time, it provides NAOF with fresh insights and new ideas. NAOF’s young professionals blog about their experiences at VTV.fi.

According to Paula Laine, the director of Sitra’s foresight, insight and strategy operations, visioning is one of the key foresight tools that enable putting knowledge into practice. It is also helpful when preparing for threats arising from megatrends. Instead of nurturing anxiety triggered by over-stimulation from the environment, we should stop and think about what kind of future we want. Primarily, visioning concerns expressing individual thoughts and views to promote debate and discussion and even to produce competing perspectives.

The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra organised the FinnSight 2018 event at Science Centre Heureka in September. Hundreds of professionals from different sectors interested in foresight work took part in the event. The goal of the inspiring, versatile and exciting event was to highlight and further strengthen Finnish foresight work. The programme covered interactive discussions, a smorgasbord of bite-size expert presentations, as well as more traditional presentations on the theme of the event.

Competing visions can also provide a fruitful ground for desired futures. The keynote speech was given by Dr Wendy Schultz from the Centre for Postnormal Policy and Futures Studies (CPPFS). She made a compelling argument that it is also possible to build a shared vision on very different perspectives. For example, a shared vision could also be based on what the parties do not want to happen in the future. It is not necessary, or even possible, for everyone to agree on everything and combining different perspectives can also provide effective results. Open and even competing visions can create a strong basis for visualising different futures.

Many NAOF employees also use visioning in their personal lives. We have the desire to learn, look at phenomena from new perspectives and improve ourselves. We set ourselves objectives and plan how we can achieve those objectives — this is visioning at a personal level. Similarly, we can also set objectives for our everyday work. For example, we can use visioning to help us navigate our professional field, inspire team work or solve conflicts. In addition, visioning helps us move towards the shared goal of NAOF, i.e. making central government administration more efficient.

As Paula Laine stated, visioning is a foresight tool that helps us determine what kind of future we want. A vision can act as a beacon when we navigate through the flood of environmental stimuli or a climate of mistrust. If we stop for a moment to visualise, we can avoid making decisions based on instincts alone. This also enables us to recognise how we react and why we react in certain ways, and how we could better control our decision-making process. Ultimately, visioning concerns shaping the future.

In audit work, instead of just preparing for phenomena and processes arising from megatrends, we should also visualise what we would like to take place in our society and how we could promote such developments. In this regard, audit work is also development work: by reacting to phenomena affecting the society and state finances, we can also produce relevant and topical information to support decision-making.

Visioning is not just a tool to outline alternative opportunities and desired outcomes; high-quality visions also address potential challenges and taboos. The messages of Paula Laine and Wendy Schultz can be merged as follows: irrespective of whether a vision is based on dreams or threats or on consensus or conflicting views, we should let the created vision to steer our activities in practice.

A good example of successful foresight and visioning work is the decision of INTOSAI, the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions, to commit to the audit of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. NAOF also participates in this work. We have just recently started an audit of the national sustainable development management model. In Finland, the sustainable development goals are specified in the national commitment titled “The Finland we want by 2050”. This sounds an awful lot like a shared goal and an attempt to shape the future, i.e. a vision, don’t you think?