Academics help South African ministers prepare for the future

06 September 2011

A delegation from the South African National Planning commission visited the Oxford Martin School last week to take part in a two-day Futures Workshop. Led by the Minister and Chairperson of the National Planning Commission, Trevor Manuel, the group heard presentations from senior members of the Oxford Martin School, as well as other academics in the University.

The two-day workshop included presentations from leading academics on futures and scenario planning to demonstrate the kinds of practical tools and methodologies that are available in thinking about 21st century challenges. A number of other sessions offered a “deep dive” focus into topics that are particularly complex and yet a vital part of planning for the future, such as water, energy, food and transport.

In his presentation on ‘Africa and the World in 2030’, Professor Ian Goldin, Director of the Oxford Martin School, provided the Commission members with an overview of the major issues and drivers that will shape the future. Goldin emphasised that policymakers should not aim to predict possible outcomes, rather to prepare for them. He warned that the “the pace of change is going to accelerate” partly as a result of “super connectivity on a level that the world has never seen before.” Another presentation, by Professor Charles Godfray (Director of the new Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food), highlighted some of the key strategies required to redesign the global food system. Godfray, who recently co-authored a major UK government report on the future of food and farming, explained that we urgently need to address the convergence of highly influential factors in our food system: increase in global demand, threats to supply, and lack of sustainability in methods of production, distribution and consumption.

Natalie Day, Head of Policy at the Oxford Martin School, described the two-day workshop as an important part of the School’s efforts to inform policy makers around the world. “It was extremely encouraging,” Day explained, “to see ministers spend time with leading thinkers, not expecting easy answers but seeking ways to understand the complex driving forces of change and how they can best prepare for – and maybe even influence – them.”