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Operationalizing Anticipatory Governance

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Journal Article

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National Defense University Fort McNair United States

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The United States is confronted by a new class of complex, fast-moving challenges that are outstripping its capacity to respond and win the future. These challenges are crosscutting they simultaneously engage social, economic, and political systems. They require measures that extend the horizon of awareness deeper into the future, improve capacity to orchestrate both planning and action in ways that mobilize the full capacities of government, and speed up the process of detecting error and propagating success. The result is anticipatory governance. footnote 1 Anticipatory governance offers a set of concepts about how to deal with the twin phenomena of acceleration and complexity, which together threaten the coherence of American governance. Various Cabinet-level agenciesmost notably the Department of Defensehave internal planning systems that approximate anticipatory governance. No such system is available at the national level. As a result, government is increasingly confined to dealing with full-blown crises and is losing its capacity to design policies that enable America to shape the future. There is no mechanism at the national level for bringing foresight and policy into an effective relationship. The absence of such a system impairs the ability of the government to think and act strategically. The cost of this impairment to the Nation now rises to a level that threatens national security as conventionally defined, and even more so when it is thought of in expansive terms that go to national strength, as opposed to the more limited requirements of national defense. Faith in U.S. ability to shape the future has been a constant factor in the development of the Nation. As events continue to outpace us, the evident loss of that faith will have serious implications for our ability to continue to find common cause among ourselves.

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  • Government and Political Science

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