Horizon Scanning - Engaging External Experts

The Horizon Scanning Team has been exploring new areas of potential horizon scanning projects as well as continuing others, such as Emerging Technologies and Supply and Demand of Resources. We thought it was good time to update you on what we’ve been doing lately, particularly how we’ve been listening to external experts when we’ve been exploring potential new areas for the programme.

How did we decide on what to look at?

In February this year, the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory held its annual Strategic Foresight Symposium. The event was held in London and there was great turn out of officials – from horizon scanners to permanent secretaries – from across Whitehall, plus because we opened up the event to experts from academia and industry, we were able to gain their insight and challenge on the wide-range of topics discussed at the plenary and breakout sessions. The observations from the event, alongside those identified in the Ministry of Defence’s Global Strategic Trends were taken to the Cabinet Secretary’s Advisory Group where a list of around twenty topics was whittled down to a few that were seen to be the most cross-cutting and worthy of further exploration. This list isn’t exhaustive as it may be that we pick up other areas to explore along the way, and if we do then we’ll let you know.

So what happened next?

Although we have involved external experts in previous projects, we wanted to do things differently by involving external experts from the very start, rather than just during certain points of a project’s life. We wanted to draw on their knowledge and expertise to shape and strengthen the scope of any potential new work, and also to see whether they felt the issues we identified were worthy of further horizon scanning research.

Over the summer, we hosted a number of roundtable sessions with renowned experts, practitioners and academics from outside government which explored futures around anti-corruption, regulation, trust, and work. A full list of those who attended can be found on our GOV.UK group page. The roundtables lasted a couple of hours each and were chaired by the two chairs of our director-level group on Horizon Scanning, Jon Day and Sir Mark Walport, with the roundtable on work chaired by Robert Devereux. During these sessions, the attendees discussed what they thought were the main futures issues and also whether there were any gaps in our thinking. To help focus the discussion we posed a few broad questions for each topic, such as ‘How much will the level of trust in society really change in the future?’, ‘How do we better define, measure and track corruption in the future?’ and ‘How can regulation respond to rapid technological change?’.

Summary of Discussions at External Experts Roundtable What happens now?

We will use the observations from the roundtables to help us to identify what are going to be the most valuable areas for further horizon scanning research. The Cabinet Secretary Advisory Group will then decide on what areas should be taken forward in terms of discrete research projects either carried out internally or externally. In the meantime, we’d like to hear from you about what you think are the future challenges (opportunity and threats) of these areas, and if you think there are other areas we should investigate by letting us know in the comments section below.



  1. Comment by Adam Cooper posted on

    Hi Farah

    This is a really interesting example of this process - and something I think would be really relevant to a course I am running on a new MPA at UCL STEaPP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy). Would you be interested/able to talk about it to our students/faculty in March?

    • Replies to Adam Cooper>

      Comment by Farah Ahmed posted on

      Hi Adam. Many thanks for the invitation. I'll be in touch shortly. Farah


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