Not everyone would agree with Albert Einstein when he famously expressed his reluctance to think about the future because it came soon enough anyway. His words seem to suggest that we are all passengers hurtling forward on some ineluctable and fatalistic course, whereas in fact the future is something which humanity can shape.
The 21st century is now ticking towards us. And it offers extraordinary potential for improvement in standards of living and well-being world-wide. Yet rarely have the risks and uncertainties been quite so stark. There are economic, social, technological and environmental forces at work which drive our long-term future. These forces are all extremely complex and they are combining to generate rapid and often quite unexpected changes. But many are within our grasp to influence.The future cannot, of course, be forecast with complete accuracy. But it is essential for decision-makers in all walks of life to be able to make well-founded assessments of the trends and developments likely to influence the future and to consider what the implications might be. Policy-makers are no exception, for it is their job to design and implement measures today that help our economies and societies meet the challenges of tomorrow.The OECD, as an intergovernmental organisation, has a vital role to play, not only in advising its member countries on day-to-day policy, but also in helping decision-makers inside and outside government to monitor future trends, identify and evaluate newly emerging issues at an early stage and promote strategic long-term thinking. It does this primarily through the OECD International Futures Programme. This Observer Spotlight provides illustrations of, and insights into, the work conducted under the Programme. It presents the reader with a far from exhaustive, but nonetheless extensive, exposé of some of the key issues for tomorrow's world. The future does indeed come soon enough. So we have to act now if we are to give it the direction we want.Observer readers are invited to visit the
International Futures Programme's website
.©OECD Observer No 217-218, Summer 1999