Becoming Future Ready

June 20, 2022

In January 2021 we started working on a process to support national institutions in developing a ‘National Development Strategy #NDS’, a document that should outline the development path of our society and act as the ‘north star’ for the vision of the country in the decades ahead. From the inception phase, everyone recognized that the process of developing and formulating the strategy will be at least equally important as the document itself, because the vision of the country must be built by including everyone in the process, with a true nation-wide effort that will bring together institutions, organizations and movements, the private sector and academia together to discuss, debate, and find a thin consensus as to how our future should look like. Echoing the premise that ‘the future is still in the making and can be actively influenced / created, rather than what has already been decided or enacted in the past by others…’ we reasoned that we can work towards creating and contributing in a meaningful way towards shaping the future of our country, through the #NDS process, and then work as a society, together towards achieving the goals that we will set for ourselves.

In the design phase of the process, we asked ourselves several core questions whose answers guided our approach and activities. We were eager to learn if a process of developing the NDS and the strategy itself can build capabilities across society to keep up with the rapid changes of today, and what challenges lie ahead; we also wanted to embed innovation in the creation and the implementation of the #NDS while adhering to the principles that anchor our approach; we wanted to build on the best national and international experiences when developing future-oriented policies similar to the #NDS; and finally we wanted to have a process and an outcome that is complementary and accelerates existing processes in North Macedonia, like the Agenda 2030, our EU accession process, while at the same time operate in the safe space of our planetary boundaries.

We were also wary of the realities of today, our society is not immune to the polarization among citizens on key societal topics; we are also a young democratic society with all the benefits and challenges that come with that status; and often documents and papers that need to guide our behavior and activities are well done and compiled but lack the needed implementation acceleration to make more impactful change. However, we are optimistic that this process and how it is shaping up, is an excellent opportunity to bring people together, and imagine a better future for all of us.  We believe that we need to future – proof our societies, to empower them to be resilient to the changing world, and that this NDS process is an excellent opportunity to do this.

FROM INSIGHT TO FORESIGHT

Mindful of the fact that a #NDS needs to be effective in the next decades, a methodological approach was proposed and adopted by our institutions, that will try to answer the question of how we can use this strategy to help build the societal capabilities to deal with long term global and local challenges for the next twenty years.

The #NDS approach argues for informed prioritization, where we need to know what the current situation is, what the data is saying, what the outlooks for the future are, what lessons we have learned, and most importantly how we can work together to achieve them. Together means everyone. From our children and youth, our political parties, the CSOs and movements, our decision makers, the institutions that bring and implement our policies, to our academic community, who often manages to see beyond the limitations of today. Only with this type of societal mobilization we can have the intended long-term planning principle behind the NDS turned into action. Through embedding research, science, and innovation in this process, we hope to account for some of the challenges our society has, and address some of the lessons we’ve learned from past experiences in future oriented processes like this one.

One of the most important principles/lenses of our methodology is the inclusiveness and participation in the design and development process of the strategy. Namely, we believe that to really embed innovation, and a novel way of thinking about public policymaking, we must create an enabling environment where academia, civil society, businesses, and social movements can have an infrastructure to continuously construct ideas and develop a vision jointly with our national institutions. We are trying to plant the seeds of that concept and infrastructure, through organizing the first iteration of our ‘Dream Labs’ - future thinking sessions where citizens and organizations/institutions directly contribute to the formulation of our societal goals, grounded in the baseline data that our team of experts has been working on for the past months in various societal fields. UNDP has thus far organized 35 Labs that follow this structure, and we’ve had more than 1250 citizens taking active part in them, showcasing the demand for citizens driven vision of the development of the country. For some of the Dream Labs we teamed up with the UN family and organized thematic sessions together, centered around relevant development country specific issues. We streamlined the NDS dialogue into the Foresight and Futures Thinking for Policymaking course series organized by UNHCR in the country. With colleagues from UNICEF, we organized a Dream Lab with mayors and one with youth under the auspices of the President of the Republic of North Macedonia, aligned with the ongoing preparations of the country for the global Transforming Education Summit.  The consultations with youth were based on the findings of the UNICEF led ‘Rethinking the Future’ youth initiative and the digital U – Report. Together with our colleagues from FAO we organized Dream Labs with farmers in some of the key rural regions. Consultations with the private sector are currently being organized in cooperation with the Economic Chamber of Macedonia. Moreover, we are piloting a new digital platform that will contribute to capturing the citizens’ and organizations’ feedback on the process, as well as ensure that the progress of the development of the strategy is shared throughout society. Finally, through these engagement structures and a whole-of-society campaign, we hope to motivate as many citizens as we can to try and imagine a future for our country, one that will motivate and inspire them to take further action.

 

IMAGINING A BETTER FUTURE, TOGETHER

Imagining a better future together, might help our society orient and organize better amid the global pandemic and the complex and interconnected challenges of the 21st century, it can also offer a wide consultative process with citizens, and allow national institutions to ensure that they do not have any blind spots in the future planning processes. Most importantly, we hope that throughout the process we will learn about the areas where we need to further build capabilities so that we ensure that our system is well equipped to tackle the challenges of tomorrow. Through the NDS we are offering a framework for development, one that can potentially accelerate further the agenda 2030, the EU accession process, while at the same time serve as a platform for our future planning processes.

We have an important task ahead of us, we need to ensure that the NDS is based on fact-based assessment, of where we are, where we want to be, and how we want to get there. At the same time, our society will have to make a realistic assessment on what can be achieved with the resources that we have, and how to ensure that the process has the continuity needed so that our society can reach the vision it has set for itself.

As individuals we often try to imagine ourselves and what we want to achieve personally and professionally in the upcoming 5 /10 years, to build an image about ourselves for the future, and then work towards achieving that image. Our proposal is that we pursue a societal exercise that will follow that same logic, a collective imagination activity where we will aim to imagine the future of our country, establish a common understanding within our society about the priorities that we need to focus on, and build capabilities around it.