The Italian Institute for the Future (IIF) is the result of a series of urgent demands that are yet to be addressed in the Italian and international arenas. The project was born as an answer to the growing need to find solutions for the great challenges that lie ahead for Italy, Europe and the whole planet in the long run. It is often overlooked that the main problems of the current historical period – from climate change to the economic and financial crisis, from demographic growth to unemployment – are the product of past decisions taken without thinking about long-term consequences – or even of decisions not taken altogether.
Distinguished academics from different branches of learning have warned us, from various quarters and with growing urgency, that in the coming decades we will have to face even more issues linked to the limits of growth, the impact of increasing life expectancy on our already flimsy welfare system, the decline of water resources, food safety, global warming, demographic pressure in developing countries and the energy crisis – not to mention the challenges we are still unable to foresee. Physicist and cosmologist Sir Martin Rees maintains that mankind has only a 50% chance of surviving the 21st Century.
Despite these constant warning signals, current politics seems unable to imagine a long-term future. This situation is even more critical in Italy, one of the countries that think the least about the future. An entire generation of young people has been excluded from the labour market. GDP has been falling for years. Innovation remains an empty word. Governments come and go at an alarming pace. Due to the ruling class’, the economic and manufacturing sector’s and civil society’s inability to think seriously about the future, Italy is for the time being unable to present its citizens with any idea about the country’s future.
A centre for Future Studies should be the point of contact between the world of business and finance, the world of politics and that of research.
The field of Future Studies is not new. Italy can boast one of the founding fathers of this meta-discipline: Aurelio Peccei, who set up the Rome Club in 1968. The fact that Peccei came from the business world and not from academia should not come as a surprise. Indeed, even though several Future Studies centres have developed from university spin-offs, the most influential among them are independent think-tanks which are able to attract personalities unrestricted by the limited horizons of public research. A centre for Future Studies should therefore be able to steer public research towards the long-term objectives which are usually delayed by universities’ dealings and funding limits. Such a centre should be the point of contact between the world of business and finance, the world of politics and that of research. Some governments – such as the UK, the EU and the USA – are already setting up offices for long-term planning. In several countries – like India, Egypt, the United States, Denmark, France and South Africa – Future Studies institutes and think-tanks are thriving. These organizations bring together sociology, political studies, economics, science and technology in order to elaborate predictive scenarios and to individuate political guidelines. Their aim is to avoid the worst scenarios and to achieve a more desirable future.
In 1972 the Rome Club issued the ground-breaking essay ‘Report on the Limits of Development’, which brought to the fore the strategic issue of the intrinsic constrains on perpetual growth. Italy however has gradually lost its leading role in this field. Today some political think-tanks use the term ‘future’ in a defensive way, but they remain centres of private power with a view to preserve the status quo. Other parts of the world, on the contrary, have seen a revival of Future Studies’ fortunes and Future Studies centres receive funding worth thousands of euros.
The scope of the IIF is not restricted to the study and analysis of different possible futures: its aim is to contribute actively to the best possible future.
Several factors have sparked this revival: the advance in the science of complex systems which, through chaos theory and non-linear mathematical models, showed the underlying structures of complex systems like vast human clusters; the progress of data mining that is now able to individuate, thanks to increasing computing and elaboration capabilities, recurrent and predictable structures in the midst of the ‘big data’ that our technological society produces; the increased employment of supercomputers in order to elaborate virtual models that simulate a social structure and its future trends; and finally the development of innovative forecast theories such as cliodynamics, which will allow us to fulfil science-fiction’s old dream of a ‘psychohistory’ capable of employing mathematical models for the analysis of history’s recursion.
However important it might be to start examining the long-term scenarios usually ignored by institutional research, the future cannot be an object of study independent from those who study it. The study of the future can influence its fulfilment. Our objective must then be that of individuating the most desirable of the different possible future scenarios. A genuine movement for the future must develop its own long-term visions, and recommend, propose and urge the implementation of all necessary means by which such visions may become a reality. The IIF’s scope is not restricted to the study and analysis of different possible futures: its aim is to contribute actively to the best possible future.
Italy can be at the forefront of a huge new movement that places the long-term future of Italian, European and World citizens at the centre. To meet this goal our country needs a body able to consolidate an independent think-tank’s traditional activity with that of advocacy and lobbying groups; a body able to establish a dialogue between political forces, the business world, the wide public and the young; a plural and democratic body that will allow all citizens to participate in a big public debate on the future of Italy and of the world; a permanent forum to discuss and trace wider future scenarios, with the strength to push policy makers into adopting the measures needed to turn utopias into reality.
Italy needs farsighted policies: without such policies it is impossible to work towards a sustainable future. A regular forum which reunites spokespersons, from all of the country’s political forces, in order to elaborate a vision of the future of Italy could be an excellent way of encouraging long-term planning policies and reducing conflicts among different fronts without affecting diversity of opinion.
The IIF aims to reach this objective by elaborating long-term visions, individuating the most desirable futures among the various available scenarios, proposing the methods to turn them into reality, raising concern for the future among the public, the business world and the world of politics. Starting in Italy this organization could spread across the world, inspiring other existing Future Studies centres to become centres for the edification – or for the re-edification – of the future.
Italy needs farsighted policies: without such policies it is impossible to work towards a sustainable future.
Research centres on future studies are indeed able to give a double contribution. Principally, they function as a prism that breaks up the light of our time’s great problems in order to analyse their individual components with a multidisciplinary outlook. At a later stage, they put this ‘light beam’ back together and direct it towards specific objectives in the future, helping society to glance at tomorrow’s unexplored territory.
It is the younger generations’ duty to commit to the task of changing the future in which they will live. Today the young suffer the consequences of previous generations’ decision-making inability. They are aware of the fact that current problems were caused by a lack of counteraction against decisions which – although presumably advantageous in the short run – proved to be tragically ill-fated after a few decades. Young generations also know that during their lifetime they might have to face challenges and difficult choices. They have grown up thinking about the future and, especially, imagining a gloomy future. They are the only ones who can assume the responsibility of implementing long-term plans which are not to yield results within a few years, but in the decades to come. They are the only ones who will be able to evaluate – in fifty years’ time – whether the actions taken today have borne fruit.