The importance of futures thinking in policing
By Renée Francoeur
I have finally read the report, “Planning for the Future: A Primer for Police Leaders on Futures Thinking.” Released in October 2019, it is the first of a new publication series launched to celebrate the collaboration between the Society of Police Futurists International (PFI), the Futures Working Group (FWG) — an entity previously developed and supported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) — and the National Police Foundation in the U.S.
Futures thinking has been around for a while; the FBI National Academy began teaching a graduate course on police futures in the early 1980s. Closer to home, Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S., has been offering a “Police Leadership and Management Development” course for years, which also looks at how “methods of futures thinking are exercised with some emphasis on trend identification and analysis and on how policing issues emerge.” This course is a required part of Dal’s well-known Police Leadership Certificate Program. In fact, according to Sherry Carmont, the Police Leadership Program’s program director, most students start with this course. That’s great news, because, as the authors of the “Planning for the Future” report indicate, futures thinking is a tool that is rarely used and often misunderstood in law enforcement circles.
“When we look at policing in general, we see surprisingly little written about why futures thinking matters, what it can tell us, and how leaders can integrate it into their leadership toolkit,” the report states. “That is not to say, we do not see innovation or the dissemination of good practices; however, it often seems these things happen to us rather than because of us.”
Ward Clapham, a retired RCMP superintendent and transit police chief, has been teaching futures thinking at Dalhousie for the past 10 years. I connected with him by phone recently to hear more about evolved decision-making in a traditional environment, like policing.
He told me he first heard about futures thinking back when he was taking an RCMP introduction to leadership course and a clip from Joel Arthur Barker, the author of Discovering the Future: The Business of Paradigms, was played.
“I just connected the dots to policing,” Clapham said, crediting Barker as his futures thinking mentor. “[Barker’s] rules are timeless. If you want to know where the future is going — look to the edge, look for the rule breakers… Many new paradigms are created by outsiders that are not invested in the old paradigm.”
In the corporate world, we’re always thinking about disruption and looking ahead… how can we outperform Q1’s results in Q2? In fact, here at Annex Business Media, we have an annual “innovation day” where we brainstorm how to tap into coming media trends for better revenue streams. It helps us make informed decisions, bolstered by forecasts, so we’re less reactive in safeguarding our brands.
We tackle decision making in multiple places in this issue of Blue Line, including in our Health & Wellness column. We know we can’t have (nor be) poor decision makers in law enforcement. That’s where training, in conjunction with policies and procedures, comes into play, as Isabelle and Bruno write on page 10 of our March 2020 issue. For leadership, futures thinking goes one step further — as an empowering feature to decision making. It allows you to position your agencies with the “necessary organizational agility,” as the authors of the report conclude, for success down the road, in this rapidly changing, high-tech world.
“You can lead change or be changed, as the story goes,” Clapham said.
Check out the “Planning for the Future” report at policefoundation.org/publication/planning-for-the-future-a-primer-for-police-leaders-on-futures-thinking and let me know what you think.